Keeping up with the doings of Colorado Public Radio (CPR) is like tracking a major corporation in a perpetual acquisition mode. The statewide system of stations, overseen by Max Wycisk and run from the Denver offices of KCFR-FM/90.1, is forever looking for ways to add members to its family, whether or not the communities involved are already being served by public-radio signals. A couple of examples of this phenomenon were discussed in this space last year (Feedback, February 7, 1996): CPR purchased KERP-FM/91.9 in Pueblo without consulting with Max Valdez, station manager of a Colorado Springs-based public station, KRCC-FM/91.5, that had been beaming into the city for years. According to Valdez, he called Wycisk to discuss the move--and Wycisk responded by issuing a proposal to take over KRCC, too.
Valdez and KRCC chose to decline Wycisk's offer, but that doesn't mean CPR has put growth on the back burner. At present the network is in the midst of trying to supplement its current lineup of four stations (KCFR, KPRN-FM/89.5 in Grand Junction, KPRE-FM/89.9 in Vail and the Pueblo outlet, now known as KCFP-FM/91.9). It wants to add a new station in the Roaring Fork Valley near Glenwood Springs, a second station in Grand Junction, and translators in Cortez and Trinidad, whose construction was reportedly spurred by the efforts of residents in those communities. Furthermore, Wycisk concedes that CPR recently considered making a run at a construction permit owned by Colorado State University in Fort Collins before backing away from the deal. In short, CPR is maintaining a feverish level of activity, especially when you consider that a sizable number of Congressional representatives have been lobbying for the complete elimination of funding for public broadcasting. CPR adversaries, meanwhile, continue to imply that Wycisk's methods are wasteful, unnecessary and directly contradict one of public radio's most important missions--to produce eclectic local programming that stands as an alternative to the fare presented by commercial stations.
The Roaring Fork Valley move is vigorously opposed by staffers at KAJX-FM in Aspen and KDNK-FM in Carbondale, who say that their stations will be decimated if CPR is allowed to put down roots in the area. Specifically, CPR has filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build a station on Sunlight Mountain outside of Glenwood Springs that would broadcast at 88.9 FM. If the FCC approves this request, however, a translator system that brings KAJX into Glenwood Springs and outlying communities like El Jebel would become largely obsolete. Just as important, KAJX (which mixes information with classical music and jazz) and KDNK (a blend of news and music of practically every description) would be put in the position of fighting for donations with CPR, a much larger and better-funded operation that is dominated by a classical-music approach that many critics describe as overly slick.
Already, CPR's methods have ruffled the feathers of Allen Scott, KDNK's general manager. "They send out these solicitation letters that intimate that if you are listening to NPR's All Things Considered or Morning Edition, then you're probably hearing it on CPR," he says. "But if you're listening to those programs in the Roaring Fork Valley, you're listening to them on KDNK or KAJX. It's a deceptive practice, and while CPR indicated that they would consider changing the wording of those letters, they haven't done it."
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Bill Humphreys, general manager of KAJX, is doubtful about CPR's commitment to the communities outside its Denver base. "We do a lot of public-service announcements that are apropos to what is going on in our valley, but CPR hardly runs any PSAs, let alone providing any local coverage of events going on here," he says.
Such complaints are common among CPR haters--and so is the rumor that CPR refuses to air PSAs submitted by any nonprofit group that doesn't pay underwriting rates to the network. Wycisk denies this claim and urges organizations throughout CPR's listening area to submit announcements. "What happens in Grand Junction is every bit as important as what happens here," he says.
Despite reassurances such as these, a significant number of public-radio fans and supporters remain leery of Wycisk. When he traveled to Glenwood Springs in February to present his argument in favor of expanding CPR into the Roaring Fork Valley, he was greeted by a mob of folks who disagreed with virtually all of his points. Wycisk does not seem especially concerned by this response, stating that "the reaction is not coming from listeners or potential listeners--it's coming from people who are involved at other existing stations." But the commissioners of Pitkin County, where the station would be built, were so concerned about the possible negatives surrounding a CPR presence that in March they filed an application with the FCC for the same frequency Wycisk covets. This preemptive strike will probably delay the appearance of any outlet at 88.9 FM for months, perhaps years. But CPR is definitely not planning to wave the white flag. "We feel that multiple signals in an area reinforce one another--they don't subtract from one another," Wycisk states. "And we've heard from people in Glenwood Springs and other communities who want CPR to be part of their broadcasting mix."
Harry Griff, a onetime vice-president of the board of directors at KPRN in Grand Junction, warns anyone with this point of view to be wary. KPRN merged with CPR in December 1990 amid promises that programming on the network would be tailored for Western Slope listeners within eighteen months; instead, all of KPRN's volunteers were sacked early the next year, and the station became indistinguishable from KCFR. Griff, who resigned during this turmoil, notes, "Our station had been founded on the sweat, blood, money and efforts of a lot of folks so that it would play a mix of music--and we lost that in the merger."
That wasn't the only change to strike KPRN. During the early Nineties the station had a small news staff that contributed reports to CPR, but no more. As another Grand Junction-based CPR critic, Mickey Krakowski, points out, "KPRN has a beautiful facility, but if you walk by the station, you'll see the control board, but you'll never see a person sitting behind it. It's nothing but a robot."
Frustrated by the unvarying music on CPR, a gaggle of Grand Junction residents raised $8,000 to build a translator that would bring KVNF-FM, a public-radio signal emanating from tiny Paonia, into the city--a fact that Griff finds highly ironic. "It's an anomaly that we have a population base of 120,000, but we have to go to a smaller community to get a good public-radio station," he says.
Using KVNF as a model, Griff, Krakowski and others formed Grand Valley Public Radio (GVPR), a collection of like-minded public-radio types dedicated to creating a Grand Junction-based station. Two years ago the FCC gave the group permission to operate a station, dubbed KAFM, at 88.1 FM, but the approved power rating was very low--just eighteen watts. GVPR subsequently put in a request with the FCC to allow the station to move to 102 FM, in what's known as the commercial band, at a higher wattage. But there's a rub: Also applying for that frequency are a number of for-profit enterprises as well as GVPR's nemesis--Colorado Public Radio.
Why would Wycisk want a second Grand Junction station? "Our long-range plan is to develop two entirely different services around the state," he points out. "One would be all news and information, and the other would be all classical music--which is something that listeners around the state have been asking us to do for a very long time. So that's a major goal." (Minnesota Public Radio, which CPR has used as a blueprint for years now, has a similar system.)
At this point, it's unclear who will land at 102 FM, but given the competition among various broadcasters for the coveted frequency, CPR's application should not be considered a slam dunk. However, the folks at GVPR suggest that they may choose to begin operations at the low-power, 88.1 FM space rather than wait around for the powers that be at the FCC to make up their minds. Wycisk isn't sitting still, either. He pledges to "develop freelancers and community-based funnels to relay story ideas to us from around the state" as a precursor to having actual staff reporters at CPR stations--a vow that he's been making for years now. And he does not deny that he's still shopping for other signals. When he's asked if his decision against obtaining the Fort Collins construction permit can be construed as evidence that CPR isn't interested in establishing a foothold in northeastern Colorado, he quickly answers, "Not at all. That's very much a direction we're interested in moving."
Those of you living in small Colorado towns should consider that a warning.
Although fans of grassroots public radio have been extremely vocal in describing the downside of Colorado Public Radio's efforts to link up with other stations in the state, a variation of the concept has been embraced by numerous regional outlets. The High Country Community Radio Coalition (HCCRC) was formed eight years ago--not in an effort to undermine the independence of its various member stations, but to protect and preserve it. Among the offshoots of HCCRC is Thin Air, a three-year-old news project that's supported by two signals in Utah (one in Park City, the other in Moab) and eight in Colorado, including Paonia's KVNF, Carbondale's KDNK, Aspen's KAJX, Boulder's KGNU-FM/88.5 and broadcasters in Crested Butte, Durango, Alamosa and Telluride. Put together by reporters Jon Kovash and Matthew Lewis, the news staff at Telluride's KOTO-FM, Thin Air recently earned first-place prizes for series reporting and enterprise/investigative reporting from the Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado branch of the Society for Professional Journalism. Call KGNU-FM at 449-4885 to learn when you can hear Thin Air locally, or check out current and past editions online at www.kgnu.org/thinair
Mike Croft presents "Out," a new Monday event at the blue room nightlounge that makes its debut on June 16. The concept is a mixture of DJs and live acts, and the opening lineup gives you an indication of where it's coming from: Turntable jockeys Greg Ebersol and Westword profile subject Craig C ("Grade C," May 8) are joined by Groove Kitchen and the Gunks. Also part of the mix is a fashion show, this week featuring designs by D-Range and Ladybug--and Croft swears to donate 5 percent of proceeds to the Colorado Friends of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama would be very pleased. On Thursday, June 12, Bruce Cockburn plays for the first of two nights at Chautauqua in Boulder, and Ian Tyson warbles at the Houston Fine Arts Center. On Friday, June 13, Baggs Patrick celebrates the release of his new CD, Circus in My Head, at the Mercury Cafe; the Frantic Flattops buzz the Bluebird Theater; and the Snatchers, the La Donnas and Electric Summer (which you read about "Punks of the Rising Sun," May 15) combine forces for what may be the last show at the Grimace Warehouse, 774 Santa Fe--call 274-5432 for details. On Saturday, June 14, Chuck Berry plays the KOOL Koncert '97 at Mile High Stadium alongside versions of the Temptations, the Four Tops and Tommy James & the Shondells; Moore takes a drive on Thrillstreet at Cricket on the Hill; Dismemberment Plan cuts up at the 15th Street Tavern, with Acrobat Down and the Gamits; and LD-50 establishes some good chemistry at the Lion's Lair. On Sunday, June 15, the Rocky Mountain Music Association sponsors a showcase at Five Points Plaza featuring the Cool eMCees, Bobby Wells, Ricky Earl and many others, and the Zambieland Orchestra, featuring members of Leftover Salmon and the Dixie Dregs, salutes Col. Bruce Hampton at the Fox Theatre. And on Wednesday, June 18, King Rat crawls at the Cricket, with Plop Squad and Backspackle.
Finally, the body of singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley was found on June 5; he drowned in Memphis six days earlier. Westword contributor Brad Jones profiled Buckley in "State of Grace," which ran in our November 9, 1994, issue. Find it online at the address below.
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