Going Public

Money woes shake public radio's KUVO, one of America's last great jazz stations -- but a new team is determined to keep the music swinging.

he term "public radio" implies that stations operating under this banner conduct business in a more open and transparent way than do their commercial cousins. Nevertheless, the changes that have taken place at public signal KUVO/89.3-FM in recent months -- including the resignation of the outlet's general manager/co-founder and the pending departure of other longtimers -- blindsided lots of employees and volunteers, not to mention donors and listeners. As a result, there's been conjecture aplenty about what happened and why, along with rumors hinting at a potential change from a jazz format to a mix more directly targeting the Hispanic community.

Carlos Lando, KUVO's veteran program director and interim general manager, shoots down this last theory. "People have opinions about what's going on," he says, "but they're not founded on any facts."

In an effort to defuse further speculation, Lando and Michael Marez, the new president of KUVO's board, stressed a continuing commitment to jazz at a January 16 meeting and laid out an ambitious strategy intended to move the station forward. However, the board also distributed fresh details about KUVO's fiscal status that reveal the scope of the challenge ahead. In 2006, expenses for general operations and special projects added up to slightly more than $1.6 million -- a number approximately $190,000 higher than revenues the station collected during the same period.

Carlos Lando has plans for KUVO's future.
Anthony Camera
Carlos Lando has plans for KUVO's future.

Location Info

Map

KUVO

2900 Welton St.
Denver, CO 80205

Category: Services

Region: Downtown Denver

Projections for 2007 are sunnier; a $23,000 surplus is forecast. Marez feels this figure is realistic, emphasizing that he "wouldn't disrespect boardmembers by presenting them with a budget that wasn't achievable." He acknowledges that meeting the goal will require increased proceeds from membership, grants and underwriting at a time when radio advertising is down throughout the area and competition among nonprofits is fiercer than ever. Still, he thinks KUVO can flourish in this environment anyhow. "It's a very, very strong product," he says. "We just need to raise the profile of the station -- to let people know what a wonderful resource it is, and how lucky we are to have it."

KUVO was conceived in 1983 as the first public-radio station in Colorado to be primarily overseen by Hispanics; its bylaws require that at least 51 percent of boardmembers fit this description. Florence Hernandez-Ramos, the only general manager the station knew until her December resignation, loomed large from the beginning, as did several political heavy hitters. Federico Peña let KUVO types use his law office as a headquarters around the time he was running for mayor; future Senator Ken Salazar served as a boardmember in 1985, when the station first hit the airwaves; and Mayor Wellington Webb worked to put the station into the Five Points Media Center, at 2900 Welton, circa 1994. Marez notes with pride that KUVO has formally acquired the space.

During the past decade, the vast majority of jazz stations across the U.S. have either dumped the style entirely or switched to the so-called smooth-jazz sound -- a watered-down approach dominated by pop-oriented instrumentals and creamy R&B. But KUVO has stayed true to the genre without getting stuck in a rut. Specialty programs, many of which are heard on the weekends, provide opportunities to enjoy blues, soul, funk, world music and more. There's also Jazz Odyssey, an offering heard weeknights at 10 p.m. in which assorted DJs concentrate on what Lando calls "the hipper elements of the music," and Canción Mexicana, a mélange of Latin-music styles and community information presented by Hernandez-Ramos, who's committed to keeping the show going regardless of her resignation. As a bonus, Denver artists pop up frequently on KUVO playlists and during sessions conducted in its live-performance studio, and hosts such as Ed Danielson aren't forced to spin tunes chosen for them by supervisors. "They have free rein to pull a CD and play it," Lando notes. "A lot of stations don't allow that anymore; they become very predictable and basically contribute to their own demise."

Although such trend-bucking has won KUVO some well-deserved national accolades -- JazzWeek magazine named it "major market jazz station of the year" in 2005 and 2006 -- and a growing online audience, it hasn't been able to inoculate the broadcaster against financial pressure. Not that insiders are eager to talk about specifics on the record. Seven boardmembers were sent two interview requests apiece via e-mail, but only one responded. In her reply, outgoing board chairwoman Dolores Atencio deferred to Marez and Jeff Martinez, a boardmember who does public-relations work for the City of Aurora. As for Hernandez-Ramos, she declines to talk about her resignation, saying only, "We really look forward to the future. Carlos is a great guy, and he's got some great plans."

Lando is equally reticent to discuss personnel shifts, and for good reason. In early November, Atencio sent out an e-mail letting staffers know of three big changes: the elimination of positions held by business manager Frank White (who started working at KUVO in 1988), office staffer Barbara Burdick (she came aboard in 1998), and membership director Tina Cartagena, an employee since 1990 who happens to be Lando's wife. Despite this announcement, the three are still around, but that's only temporary. Marez says White agreed to stay through March, while Cartagena is operating under a consultancy contract that expires on June 30.

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