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Such experiences have caused Saunders to get behind the LPFM movement in general. Last spring he attended the National Federation of Community Broadcasters convention in San Francisco along with hundreds of grassroots broadcasters. "I was impressed," he says, "with how committed and high-minded everybody was."
KHEN's Carpenter fits this description, and her station's "patchwork quilt" of a schedule reflects her vision. She and a hundred or so volunteers supplement syndicated material like the unapologetically progressive Democracy Now with music programs focused upon jazz, classical, world, reggae, rock and Native American styles, as well as Shellac Tracks, which is culled from old 78s. Also on tap are new-age topics, poetry and a Latino program hosted by a local foreign-studies student. To Carpenter, the diversity of these offerings enhances life in Salida and could do the same in places like Denver. "I know the frequencies are jam-packed in the metro area, and I'm not sure how to solve that," she says. "But to me, I feel there are communities there, whether they're teenagers or people from different cultures -- Vietnamese or whatever -- who need someplace where they can produce programs of cultural news and music to share."
KURA has a somewhat different mission, says Nancy Nixon, the Ouray High teacher who oversees the radio station. "We really have to please everybody," she says. "So from eight to five, we play music that appeals to our business owners -- a mix that 25- to 60-year-olds would like." The playlist assembled by music director Pitts isn't as staid as this description implies; it ranges from Blue Man Group to Jane's Addiction. Still, Nixon concedes that "it was hard for the kids to accept at first." They came around in part because evenings are set aside for edgier fare. Of 63 high school students in Ouray, 21 are on the KURA staff, which, to Nixon, "speaks for its popularity."
As a bonus, Pitts adds, the station has brought the citizens of Ouray closer together: "I'll be walking down the street and someone I don't even know will say, 'Hey, I heard you on the radio. You sounded great.'" For her, KURA has been "a wonderful experience" of the sort that should be duplicated in communities of every proportion. "It's not like we're a commercial-run station that sounds exactly like forty other outlets across the country. We're the only station like this. It's just us."
News you can lose: Hearing local news on Denver radio isn't as easy as it once was. With the notable exception of KOA, talk outlets owned by San Antonio broadcasting colossus Clear Channel have replaced in-studio newscasters with national fare purchased from the likes of CBS Radio -- and the occasional updates on music-themed stations aren't exactly what you'd call in-depth. On September 15, during the a.m. drive on 103.5/The Fox, news reader Robbyn Hart shared a grand total of two stories: a snippet about Kobe Bryant and mention of a Yoko Ono art project in which the aging avant-gardist allowed people to cut off pieces of her dress until she was down to her underwear. Afterward, the G-Man dished out a super-sized serving of sports bits. Send mine back to the kitchen.
Even less informative was a report heard on Colorado Public Radio's KCFR on the morning of September 11 -- the newscast from the previous day. This botch was so egregious that CPR put an item on the home page of its Web site, www.cpr.org, that read, "In recent weeks, Colorado Public Radio has experienced a number of technical problems. This means that we've made mistakes on the radio -- some minor, some major. We apologize for these mistakes. And we want you to know we're working hard to eliminate them." The next week, unluckily, disaster struck again at the news-and-information portion of the CPR system. Normally, BBC World Service ends at 4 a.m. to make way for Morning Edition, but on September 17, it kept right on going for around two more hours, with British announcers occasionally interrupted in mid-sentence by pre-recorded blurbs telling listeners that, for instance, "We're heading into great kite-flying weather today."
Since public radio has traditionally emphasized a personal relationship with listeners, screwups that make CPR seem like a soulless machine constitute an ugly problem. Understanding that, CPR vice president of communications Sean Nethery explains that "there isn't a single core reason behind the mistakes" -- which they're doing their best to correct -- "other than that humans put together radio stations and we make mistakes."
That does not compute.