How bad is Denver radio? For an answer, look no further than my middle finger--the one I use to button-push during my drive to and from work. Earlier this decade, I was able to leave the needle set on one frequency for minutes at a time, but over the past year, that's changed. Now I skip from station to station so often that major surgery on my overworked digit seems unavoidable.
What I don't do on most occasions, however, is randomly scan for alternatives; like most people, I limit my options to ten pre-set stations even though well over forty outlets can be heard in most parts of the Denver-Boulder area. So on Wednesday, February 18, between 8:26 a.m. and a few minutes short of nine, I decided to find out what I've been missing. Beginning at the bottom of the AM dial and continuing through the FM spectrum, I visited every station I could receive in numerical order during my approximately thirty-minute commute. The following is a diary of that frightening journey, complete with a description of the (generally dreadful) programming content at the 74 aural stops I made and a listing of the time I was able to stomach lingering in each place. Travel along if you dare, and when the going gets tough, remember: At least you're only reading about it, not listening to it.
KLZ-AM/560 (21 seconds):
An advertisement by a Christian insurance agent pitching his services to Christian clients. Atheists, apparently, can go to hell.
KIIX-AM/600 (52 seconds):
"Theme From A Summer Place"--the "Stairway to Heaven" of elevator music.
KHOW-AM/630 (45 seconds):
Peter Boyles, speaking to a female caller, accuses Governor Roy Romer of hypocrisy in regard to his long-term relationship with onetime aide B.J. Thornberry. I'd take his righteous indignation over the issue more seriously if he hadn't spent the previous week collecting juvenile limericks about it.
KNUS-AM/710 (49 seconds):
Host Claudia Lamb is in high dudgeon over "Governor Wah Romeo." Maybe she should call Boyles's show.
KTLK-AM/760 (13 seconds):
A commercial about custom cabinetry. Thanks, but I like the drawers I've got.
KLT-AM/800 (21 seconds):
A promo revealing that jobs at KLT are available. Operators are standing by.
KOA-AM/850 (17 seconds):
A station known for its high proliferation of commercials blares...a commercial (for medical insurance). What a shock.
KPOF-AM/910 (21 seconds):
An evangelist with an unctuous voice tells me that I'm a child of God. I wonder: Why doesn't He send me my allowance?
KKFN-AM/950 (21 seconds):
A link touting the Fabulous Sports Babe that's as long-winded as she is.
KRKS-AM/990 (25 seconds):
A preacher asks, "Don't you think we need flexible and yet strong people who live boldly for Jesus Christ?" I guess that means dudes should work for Promise Keepers but not get paid.
KLMO-AM/1060 (28 seconds):
A dry-voiced sort recites info about agricultural futures. As far as my radio goes, he's the one without a future.
KMXA-AM/1090 (24 seconds):
A Spanish-speaking DJ sings a song while his wacky comrades chortle in the background. If I spoke Spanish, I'll bet I would have found it hilarious.
KCUV-AM/1150 (21 seconds):
A DJ and a caller engage in happy talk--in Spanish. I think I recognized one word, but I'm not positive.
KBNO-AM/1220 (21 seconds):
Spanish stand-up comedy. Obviously, taking that German class in high school was a mistake.
KRRF-AM/1280 (34 seconds):
New York-based talker Don Imus discusses a "nauseating" photo in Time magazine in which someone named Jeffrey is hugging Al Gore. His flunkies cackle, pretending that his observations are funny.
KKYD-AM/1340 (56 seconds):
This used to be a children's radio station. Now, apparently, it specializes in playing goopy pop that no one wants to hear. Me included.
KJME-AM/1390 (14 seconds):
More happy talk in Spanish. I wish I'd grown up in a country where speaking a second language was deemed important.
KEZW-AM/1430 (30 seconds):
"I'd Do Anything," from the soundtrack to the musical Oliver! I narrowly avoid crashing into a median strip.
KBVI-AM/1490 (9 seconds):
A station so desperate for advertisements that it's running an advertisement begging people to advertise on it.
KDKO-AM/1510 (27 seconds):
A not-very-interesting R&B smooch song. It makes me feel unpuckered.
KYGO-AM/1600 (40 seconds):
An okay country ballad by, I think, Don Williams. I would stick around, but the FM band awaits.
KGNU-FM/88.5 (34 seconds):
On the closest thing to a left-wing station in the area, a former Reagan-administration insider waxes nostalgic about his boss, who these days can't even get nostalgic about what happened fifteen seconds ago.
KUVO-FM/89.3 (29 seconds):
Some extremely lite guitar jazz. Makes Joe Pass sound like Joe Satriani.
KWBI-FM/91.1 (27 seconds):
A Christian fellow tells me that "good parenting starts with establishing your objectives." I bail out before he advises me to use corporal punishment but with love.
KJMN-FM/92.1 (21 seconds):
An astoundingly lachrymose Latin ballad. I look around the passenger compartment for some insulin.
KVOD-FM/92.5 (27 seconds):
An ultra-dull classical passage. It relaxes me so completely that my blood stops flowing.
KTCL-FM/93.3 (27 seconds):
A sticky Michael Penn song that every other station in the country stopped playing years ago.
KRKS-FM/94.7 (21 seconds):
A proud Christian boasts that he has "increased in the knowledge of God." Hope God isn't bothered by bragging.
KHIH-FM/95.7 (24 seconds):
An unfathomably awful smooth jazz track. Kenny G, you're a terrible saxophonist.
KGLL-FM/96.1 (19 seconds):
Two jocks--one male, one female--leaf through the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Could someone please tell them they're on the radio?
KXPK-FM/96.5 (30 seconds):
A song by a new artist who was signed because he doesn't sound like a new artist. Fresh.
KBCO-FM/97.3 (39 seconds):
A couple of Jamaicans are quizzed about whether it's okay to smoke "herb" in a reggae museum. Cheech and Chong were comedy geniuses.
KYGO-FM/98.5 (16 seconds):
A traffic report reminds me that I should occasionally look at the road instead of concentrating on what station I'm switching to next.
KUAD-FM/99.1 (31 seconds):
A generic, mid-tempo hot-country song. I'm guessing that whoever sings it looks hunky in a hat.
KKHK-FM/99.5 (5 seconds):
A commercial for the Wall Street Journal makes me feel bad for not having a real job.
KIMN-FM/100.3 (29 seconds):
It's Bruce Hornsby, or Kenny Loggins, or...does it really matter?
KOSI-FM/101 (16 seconds):
"The Best of My Love," by the Eagles. Welcome to my nightmare.
KTRR-FM/102.5 (11 seconds):
A commercial about learning to speak clearly is so clear that I instantly change the channel.
KRFX-FM/103.5 (10 seconds):
"Jumping Jack Flash," by the Rolling Stones. Good song: I'd listen to it again had I not heard it approximately 50,000 times already.
KCKK-FM/104.3 (9 seconds):
A commercial for car financing. Which I may need if I don't stop staring at this damn radio.
KXKL-FM/105.1 (21 seconds):
When a caller wins a ticket to the Country Dinner Playhouse to see Some Enchanted Evening, a DJ belts out the title song. I don't stay around long enough to find out if someone belted him for doing it.
KALC-FM/105.9 (16 seconds):
"Under Pressure," by David Bowie and Queen. I can relate.
KBPI-FM/106.7 (23 seconds):
An Offspring song--which I guess qualifies as an anomaly now that 'BPI's format has been switched to "all Ozzy, all the time."
KQKS-FM/107.5 FM (20 seconds):
A not-quite-side-splitting tale about a red-pepper spray that is supposed to repel bears but actually attracts them. I'm so captivated that I quickly switch back to AM, where...
KLZ-AM/560 (12 seconds):
...a whining male vocalist sings a love ballad to Jesus Christ. How romantic.
KIIX-AM/600 (20 seconds):
There's a song playing in the background, but it's mainly hidden by static. I like the result better than "Theme From A Summer Place."
KHOW-AM/630 (18 seconds):
Peter Boyles reveals that the more money Saddam Hussein makes selling oil, the more money he has for weapons. At least he's not talking about Romer.
KNUS-AM/710 (49 seconds):
Claudia Lamb still is, however: She claims that she was "openly laughed at" by a handful of media people after stating that "adultery is wrong." Betcha that's not the only reason they were laughing.
KTLK-AM/760 (32 seconds):
Thanks to a lane change, I'm forced to listen to a guy reading random stock prices for over half a minute. Heavy traffic can sometimes have dire consequences.
KLT-AM/800 (10 seconds):
Another treacly love song to Jesus. Some guys have all the luck.
KOA-AM/850 (22 seconds):
Mark Stout on sports. When Stout plays an audio clip of Denver Nuggets coach Bill Hanzlik saying that his team had played hard and well in the midst of being hammered by the New York Knicks the previous night, I let my finger do the walking.
KPOF-AM/910 (13 seconds):
A proselytizer describes Jesus as "the ideal man." I'm starting to get the idea.
KKFN-AM/950 (15 seconds):
The Fabulous Sports Babe is talking about all the NBA teams that want the services of Antonio McDyess, who used to play for--eeesh--the Nuggets. My finger is ready for another stroll.
KRKS-AM/990 (25 seconds):
Another tribute to Jesus in ballad form. Is it possible that there's really only one contemporary-Christian song, and all the artists share it?
KLMO-AM/1060 (37 seconds):
It's gotten to the point where even a Reba McEntire song seems tolerable. At its conclusion, a female host pipes up; she sounds like she's sitting on a helium canister with its valve wide open. Goodbye.
KMXA-AM/1090 (30 seconds):
A jaunty Tex-Mex song kicks the crap out of the grim Reba. Only my sense of mission keeps me moving.
KCUV-AM/1150 (15 seconds):
An embarrassing Latin ballad kicks the crap out of nothing. Only my sense of mission keeps me listening for as long as I do.
KBNO-AM/1220 (8 seconds):
More Spanish happy talk, accompanied by tons o' guffawing. Talk about feeling left out.
KRRF-AM/1280 (10 seconds):
An ad for a correspondence school. Financing is available to qualified applicants.
KKYD-AM/1340 (10 seconds):
For all I know, this could be the same song that was playing the last time I surfed past this station. And it hasn't improved with age.
KJME-AM/1390 (8 seconds):
Now there's a Spanish-language DJ singing on this station. Must be a trend.
KEZW-AM/1430 (4 seconds):
A commercial about something inspired by "Alice in Wonderland." The use of hallucinogens, perhaps?
KBVI-AM/1490 (17 seconds):
A forestry assistant for the City of Boulder asks locals not to rip out trees in city parks by the roots. If my hands were free, I'd rip out my hair by the roots.
KDKO-AM/1510 (24 seconds):
A pretty decent Stevie Wonder imitation from, I'd guess, the Seventies. Sounds good--but duty prevails.
KQXI-AM/1550 (8 seconds):
I find a station that I couldn't capture earlier. When I hear a minister say, "Thank God we have a covenant of grace. Can everybody say that?" it makes me wish I hadn't been able to capture it this time, either.
KYGO-AM/1600 (18 seconds):
The kind of country song that features electric piano and some tedious lug crooning, "You are the love of my life." In other words, the bad kind. Hopefully, FM will be better.
KGNU-FM/88.5 (14 seconds):
Not exactly. A commentator says it's sad that more people watch the Super Bowl than vote for president. This year it was less sad than most.
KUVO-FM/89.3 (29 seconds):
Another extra-slow, extra-smooth jazz song. Wake me when it's over.
KCFR-FM/90.1 (12 seconds):
An alleged humorist chides CBS sportscasters at the Olympics for wearing outfits with Nike swooshes. National Public Radio: fashion advice while you wait.
KWBI-FM/91.1 (11 seconds):
A contemporary Christian song that's upbeat by comparison with the others I've heard. Meaning that it sounds like something by England Dan and John Ford Coley.
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KJMN-FM/92.1 (5 seconds):
A Spanish-language commercial for...something. I'll take two dozen, please.
KVOD-FM/92.5 (15 seconds):
A classical piece that resembles background music from an episode of Dallas. How highbrow.
KTCL-FM/93.3 (21 seconds):
As I pull into my parking lot, the radio spits out a tune by R.E.M., one of the most overplayed acts of the Nineties: "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." I do, too--as soon as I turn the radio off.