Live From Denver -- Almost
Brian Christopher, known to his loyal listeners as B.C., mans the 7 p.m.-to-midnight slot weekdays on the Fox, and he does so with an extremely local slant, talking knowledgeably about Denver happenings and interacting directly with Colorado callers who make the classic-rock requests that dominate the program. But there are a few things about B.C. that most of his fans don't know.
To wit: Christopher doesn't do his request-fest from Denver, but from his home studio in Panama City, Florida -- and the only portion of the presentation that's live is the first hour. By the time Denverites hear him sign off for the last time each night, he's likely been asleep for hours. As well he should be: During a typical day, he also does a morning show for the folks in Panama City and an afternoon-drive shift that airs in...San Diego?
A couple of comparatively new technologies make Christopher's transcontinental radio gymnastics possible: WAN-casting (the first three letters stand for "wide-area network") and voicetracking. The former gives a disc jockey in any fully wired part of the country complete access to a given outlet's music library. As a result, says Fox program director Mike O'Connor, "A DJ can do his show following the prescribed formula for our radio station from a distant location" with studio-quality sound, not the buzzy/clicky tone associated with calls over standard phone lines. Voicetracking, meanwhile, allows Christopher, with the help of a local producer (in the case of the Fox, Scott Less), to speak directly to Denver listeners about their favorite tunes, or whatever. Some of these conversations are heard live, but many others are taped and sprinkled throughout the subsequent four hours of airtime, when Christopher is no longer sitting in front of his microphone. Christopher also records the occasional rap, plus some generic phone greetings along the lines of, "You're on the air with B.C. What would you like to hear?" Producer Less then splices this query together with a sound bite from a caller making a request. When the song in question spins seconds later, it seems for all the world that B.C. is doing the listener's bidding even though they never actually spoke. O'Connor concedes that with some judicious editing, longer, more ornate back-and-forth chats could be simulated, but he says "that's maybe taking fakery perhaps one step too far. We're not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes."
That's debatable: Christopher doesn't talk about being in Florida on his show, and the Fox's Web site, www.thefox.com, makes no mention of it. Moreover, the results are so seamless that even people familiar with the media can be fooled by them: When MSNBC yakker John Gibson filled in for KHOW's Peter Boyles a number of months ago, lawyer/pundit Larry Pozner drove to the station with the intention of taking him to lunch -- only to learn that Gibson was doing the show from the East Coast.
Granted, it's still simpler for a station to run a syndicated program than a WAN-cast. But the disadvantage of syndication is its lack of local content. In the B.C. model, however, a station can take advantage of national-caliber air talent while at the same time speaking to the station's audience about things directly relevant to it.
Couldn't a local DJ do this in a much more uncomplicated way? Probably. But there's another consideration: money. O'Connor, one of the straightest shooters in local media, lays it out: Rather than having some $18,000-a-year kid hosting your nighttime show on a station in a small market, you can spend eight or nine thousand dollars on a top DJ doing a WAN-cast. And it works in a Denver-sized market just as well. Brian Christopher is a DJ that would cost me $100,000 to grab: He's that good. But with this technology, we're able to have him do a customized show for Denver for a much lower cost."
According to O'Connor, Clear Channel, the Texas conglomerate that owns the Fox, is on the leading edge of WAN-casting, and he expects the practice to become much more prevalent. He predicts that a number of other local radio figures, possibly including the Fox's Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax, will add shows for other cities to their agendas after the first of the year. Another prospect for such duty is KBCO's Oz, who had been doing a custom show for a Santa Monica, California, broadcaster until the impending divestiture of the station brought the gig to an end.
O'Connor doesn't soft-peddle the negatives inherent in this trend. He acknowledges that fledgling DJs will potentially have a harder time getting started in small markets, and suggests that wannabe jocks in bigger areas may have to slide through the door via, for instance, the promotions department. He also warns that "there's a risk for the industry if the technology is over-utilized. Radio stations, through their heavy amounts of research and fine-tuning of formats, have not allowed a lot of young talent to develop into personalities; they've been restricted to reading liner cards. That's one of the reasons why we've had such a terrible time finding good morning shows over the last two decades, and why so many stations have taken the easy way out and picked up one from the satellite."
None of that matters much to Christopher, though: Right now, he's enjoying the spoils that the computer revolution has brought his way. He was deejaying at KIOZ-FM in San Diego when he plugged into the Fox just over a year ago. Then, earlier in 1999, "I got the opportunity to transfer to Florida, which is where I really wanted to be," he notes. "So we were talking about it, and somebody said, 'We've been doing Denver, and Denver's been working beautifully. Why can't we do San Diego long distance, too?' And everybody looked at each other and said, 'Why not?'"
His days are full ones. He gets up around 4 a.m. to do the morning show at classic-rocking WPPT-FM in Panama City. Once he wraps up there, he returns to his beachside home, which is attached to his personal studio. ("It's very sweet," he says. "I own it lock, stock and barrel.") From there, he does the programs for San Diego and Denver, as well as assorted freelance voice-work for another thirty stations across the country. He's not finished until around 8:30 p.m., but he doesn't regard the workload as onerous thanks to the generous compensation he's receiving ("It's been very lucrative for me"), and because "when I want to take a break, I can go into the house, walk to the refrigerator, eat some lunch, watch a little TV." His satellite dish helps him keep in touch with current events in Denver, as does the Internet and producer Less; he also travels to Colorado about once each quarter to make public appearances. And because of the proximity of the studio to his house, he can do live cut-ins with ease. "If the Avs win a playoff game late at night while we're in the record mode, I can be digitally locked and live on the air in Denver in about fifteen seconds," he says. By doing things the right way, he believes, the technology is "a bonus for the listener, not a bummer."
Even if he's two time zones away.
Of course, technology is only an advantage when it works -- and in the case of Clear Channel, which moved its headquarters from downtown to a sparkling new facility at the northwestern edge of the Tech Center in November, it hasn't always. The South Monaco digs are being used by seven of the eight Clear Channel properties in Denver -- Lee Larsen, regional vice president and general manager for the firm, jokes that KBCO remains in Boulder "so we don't contaminate them" -- and most employees are pleased with the building's roominess and assorted amenities. Still, the transition from analog to a digital format has been a bumpy one. Larsen is convinced that the shift will be beneficial in the long run: "Tape can break, stretch and get misplaced, but with this system, everything is on the hard drive, so you don't have to make multiple copies. You just put something into the hard drive, and any of the stations in Denver can use it -- and, with the Internet, so can any of the stations in the whole company."
But getting it to function consistently is another matter. Minor problems seem to crop up daily: Typical was a December 7 computer glitch -- or, in Larsen's words, "a hiccup" -- that knocked all the Clear Channel AMs off the air for ninety seconds.
How are the Clear Channelites handling such gaffes? Some better than others. Mike Loftus, who was producing KOA's Colorado Morning News, recently got so fed up that he took himself off the show. "The Colorado Morning News is the most complicated show in radio to run, and he just got too rattled," says Larsen, who notes that Loftus is currently handling production chores for the aforementioned Peter Boyles. (At press time, Shannon Scott, best known as Jay Marvin's longtime foil, was overseeing Colorado Morning News.)
But even though the Clear Channel structure's rooftop remains uncompleted, and more parking spaces already need to be added, Larsen thinks that the staff has weathered the worst of the storm. With a heavy sigh, he says, "It's almost over."
A followup: The November 11 edition of the Message included an item about an October 28 column by the Denver Post's Diane Carman in which she wrote, "A pimp's a pimp, after all, even if he looks good in a headdress," about Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, whom she accused of doing a political favor for a campaign donor, Louisiana-Pacific Corporation. This line stirred up Campbell's office, which called the Post to complain, and incensed David Cournoyer, director of public education for the American Indian College Fund, who joined other members of the local Native American community in demanding an apology from the newspaper for what they saw as blatant racism. Finally, on December 12, Cournoyer and company got what they wanted, and in a big way: In a full-page, advertisement-like letter "to our readers" that was deducted from the news hole of the "Denver and the West" section, Post president and publisher Gerald Grilly wrote that "an October 28th column written by the Denver Post needlessly offended American Indians. It crossed a line of insensitivity that is uncharacteristic of this newspaper's coverage and its many deep roots in Colorado." He added, "We are sorry for offending, for insulting. We are determined to prevent this episode from dividing our community, and to prevent it from damaging excellent relationships that have taken generations to establish."
This unusual response, which has caught the attention of Editor & Publisher, more than satisfied Cournoyer, as did a meeting in which he was joined by Post editor Glenn Guzzo, editorial-page editor Sue O'Brien, and Grilly, who precipitated the get-together. About Grilly, who was out of town and unavailable for comment, Cournoyer notes, "I think his heart's in the right place, and he said the right things." Neither was Cournoyer upset that Carman did not add an "I'm sorry" of her own. "We consider her a lost cause," Cournoyer says. "And besides, our issue with the paper is an institutional one. The main question is, how did this column get past the eyes of so many different editors and gatekeepers? Those are the people we need to reach, and we were heartened to hear that the paper is committed to sensitizing those people to what we're talking about."
How does Carman feel about all this? Beyond saying, "I wasn't involved in the decision," she declined any comment. Editor Guzzo, who previously said in this space that he would have apologized had he been in Carman's situation, is reluctant to speak for her, but he does allow that "she's led me to believe that she was pleased with the way the paper was reacting." To anyone who might see Grilly's words as evidence that the Post will start tiptoeing around politically correct subjects, he adds, "The apology was really about the last line in that column, and only the last line -- and that in no way reflects on the determination of this paper to be very aggressive in reporting about public affairs and the performances of public officials."
To put it another way: If the folks at the Post determine that Campbell deserves criticism, he'll receive it -- but probably without any reference to what he's wearing on his head.
The splashy release of transcripts from videotapes made prior to the Columbine slayings by killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold says less about Time magazine, which broke the story in its current issue, than about the astoundingly inept Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, whose attempts at spin control (illustrated by the Rocky's December 12-14 series on the Columbine investigation) allowed this latest debacle to happen. More fallout is sure to follow -- and already, more surprising charges are leaking out. On December 13, for instance, Brian Rohrbough, whose son Daniel Rohrbough died in the rampage, told KHOW host Peter Boyles that he's heard that Columbine crime-scene photos circulated through, of all places, the Jefferson County jail. His likely source for this information? Bob Enyart, this week's Westword cover subject ("Thank God for Bob!," ), who says he saw the pics during fifty days of incarceration for the spanking of his stepson, Stephen Mayns.
Is any of this true? Even Rohrbough admits he has no proof, and after looking into the allegations, Channel 9 dropped the story because it lacked evidence. But it speaks such volumes about how the Jeffco sheriff's department has handled things since April 20 that it can't be dismissed out of hand. Or do you really believe that Time agreed to keep the videotape info confidential and then printed it anyway?
Have comments, tips or complaints about the media? E-mail "The Message" at Michael_Roberts@westword.com.
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