KUNC improves its signal in metro Denver and beyond

KUNC-FM is licensed in Greeley, but many listeners in the Denver-metro area seem to like it as well -- when their radios can pick up the station, that is. The signal was particularly weak along the foothills in western Jefferson County communities such as Golden and Arvada. But within the past couple of weeks, the outlet has begun broadcasting on a translator at 91.7 FM as well as its regular 91.5 FM frequency, and according to KUNC general manager Neil Best, "We've been getting very good responses from people who live in the area."

This is hardly the only antenna-related improvement KUNC's made. In recent years, the National Public Radio affiliate has broadened its reach into Denver via a variety of technical changes.

In June 2007, KUNC moved its main antenna from its previous locale, just north of Ault, to Buckhorn Mountain, northwest of Fort Collins. This switch brought almost all of Denver proper, as well as its most populous suburbs, into its broadcast pattern; Best says he's been able to get the station on his car radio as far south as Castle Rock. But western Denver suburbs and, especially, Boulder, needed additional help, since FM operates by line-of-sight and the mountainous terrain created an assortment of dead zones. A translator originally at 99.9 FM but now set for 102.7 FM was installed to solve the problems in Boulder -- and a few months back, the aforementioned 91.7 FM translator opened up on Lookout Mountain. This addition is no magic bullet: "It hasn't really helped us on the the backside of the mountain," Best concedes. But "it's doing a really nice job for us in Golden and that area," he says.

The translator network offers growth opportunities for KUNC, and while Best emphasizes that Northern Colorado remains the station's home base, he's enthusiastic about the opportunity to supplement his already sizable audience with Denverites. There are already plenty of them tuning in: The station's cume -- a stat similar to a newspaper's circulation -- was 142,000 in Denver and Boulder circa the spring of 2008. More will be able to come aboard now, encouraged by KUNC's format, which combines information and diverse music on a single signal rather than segregating news and classical music as does Colorado Public Radio. Also appealing: The outlet spends far fewer days fundraising than does its more powerful neighbor to the south. Whereas CPR recently devoted the better part of two weeks to donations collecting, KUNC has been able to gather what it needs to keep running in four or five days per annum, with a lot of space between each date. For example, the next fundraising session is slated for July 23; the drive after that comes around on October 29.

Best actually has positive things to say about the fundraising concept. He thinks it keeps the station accountable to its listeners. But that doesn't mean he wants to inundate the public with it. "We've used the phrase 'More programming, less on-air fundraising' since '98 or '99," he says. "It took a healthy dose of courage and optimism and insanity the first time we told people we were going to do an entire drive in one day. But we've been able to do it as efficiently as possible, and I think folks now know that they can't wait until the last day of the drive -- because the last day is the only day."

For Denver public-radio listeners, that's a welcome change.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts