Dial Another Day

Twenty-four hours inside Denver radio: A survivor's story.

At a few minutes past midnight on May 18, after more than half a day of uninterrupted radio listening, I felt my will to live gradually slipping away. Which was good news, actually, since I thought I'd lost it entirely during the late afternoon.

I had no one to blame for my predicament but me. I'd heard radio consumers complain that the quality of music, talk and information shows on the local airwaves had gotten worse ever since the '90s rise of corporate consolidation, when Clear Channel and other companies began taking ever larger bites out of the Denver market. Broadcasting professionals countered that, in truth, residents are blessed with more, and better, programming choices than ever before, even without satellite radio. To determine which theory more closely resembled reality, I decided to go where no sane radio fan had gone before: I would totally immerse myself in radio, radio, radio, from one morning to the next and let the brain cells fall where they might.

As a location for this experiment, I chose my office, tucked inside Westword's 969 Broadway base of operations. At approximately eight feet by eleven feet and featuring a pair of windows that don't afford a view of the great outdoors, the space seemed ideal for focusing entirely on sound. As a bonus, the ancient Sony Mega Bass boombox on my desk is able to receive a whopping 46 stations from the Denver area and beyond, not counting the FM broadcast of Channel 6's television signal. When, at one point, Barney's voice filled the room, I briefly wondered if I'd been possessed by the devil -- and as of now, the jury's still out.

Mark Poutenis
Mark Poutenis

To ensure that I learned as much as possible about the maximum number of outlets, I self-imposed some harsh regulations. I had to sample every station in turn unless I arrived at one during a commercial break. Moreover, I was required to listen for at least two minutes, in order to give each station a fair shake, and couldn't linger for more than five minutes, so playing favorites was impossible.

Additional rules? No communication with outsiders. No using the phone. No reading or answering e-mail. In fact, no reading anything. No Internet -- because after twenty hours or so of visual starvation, there's no telling how large a pornography bill I could have run up. No beverages other than water, thereby removing drinking myself into a stupor from my list of options. No food other than the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions: Count Chocula. No leaving the office except to visit the lavatory. And on those side trips, I had to wear headphones and bring a portable radio with me so I wouldn't be away from a broadcast for a nanosecond.

What follows are chronological highlights and lowlights from my 24 hours in the Denver radio bubble, which took place from 9:36 a.m. May 17 to 9:36 a.m. May 18, along with a related story (see page 34) identifying trends and themes, disturbing and otherwise. In the end, I got a sense of how much information is coursing through the ether every minute of every day.

And it terrified me.

9:36 a.m. The Fox (103.5 FM)

In the early '90s, plenty of people thought Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax, who anchor this classic-rock station, were shock jocks. Now, however, the FCC and Congress are threatening to punish radio stations for the teensiest transgression. On this morning, at least, Lewis and Floorwax don't make any. In fact, they sound about as edgy as John Tesh. Sure, Lewis reads an item in which retro-rocker Lenny Kravitz says people should forgo underwear after the first date, but the boys resist the urge to respond with wacky commentary about dangling, chafing, bulging or smegma. They spend more time talking about an e-mail thanking them for their kind words about the local high school rodeo association. Controversial!

9:43 a.m. Jack-FM (105.5 FM)

This new rock-era music station promotes itself with the counterintuitive slogan "Playing what we want." I decide it would be interesting to see how long it takes for the folks there to play what I want. The first attempt, George Michael's "Father Figure," is a failure. If the song wasn't creepy in the first place, it certainly is now.

9:45 a.m. Alice (105.9 FM)

At its peak of popularity, the Alice morning show co-starring Greg Thunder and Bo Reynolds was among the least sexist in Denver. Now that Greg is matched with Shea Maddox, have things changed? Well, as part of a contest to hire "Alice's $30,000 Apprentice," Greg and Shea interview a young woman who says the station would be better if it paid more attention to lesser-known sports. When the caller notes that she competed in the hammer throw, Greg zeroes in on what he apparently assumes is a hefty target. "You're kind of a big girl, then," he says before declaring, "Maybe you wouldn't be single if you didn't know how to throw the hammer so well." Turns out she's married and is no longer a hammer-thrower -- although she might want to come out of retirement to toss one at Greg.

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