Colorado Public Radio has been trying to unload 1340 AM for ages, with no luck. Now, after years of simulcasting its news programming on the signal in order to retain the outlet's license, the organization has decided to launch an original, rock-oriented station at the frequency this fall and has asked former CPR classical staffer Mike Flanagan to get it started.
What's the concept?
"Minnesota Public Radio is a lot like Colorado Public Radio -- it's got a classical station and a news station," notes Flanagan, who'll be program director for CPR's new baby. "And about five years ago, they started a format that goes into contemporary radio. And NPR does a feature called 'All Songs Considered,' featuring all the cool little bits of music they put on during the news. So there are some trends elsewhere about doing this, but we'll be giving it a different spin. We'll have local artists -- not 100 percent local, but that will definitely play into it. And because the public-radio audience is sophisticated and smart, indie rock naturally goes toward that -- but it won't be totally an indie rock station. We'll tap into a lot of different genres, with live hosts -- people who'll hopefully know a lot about music and offer a really good, authentic sound.
"We're going to go after probably a younger audience than a lot of people think about when they think about public radio," he continues. "But there are also all kinds of people like me who don't want to only listen to Crosby, Stills and Nash -- who want to hear something challenging and different, something new. I want to hear what My Morning Jacket is up to, and the new Bon Iver album -- and I don't think I'm alone."
This description suggests a format intended to fit between KBCO's relaxed mix of contemporary artists and rock staples and the vibrant take on new sounds served up by Radio 1190, the University of Colorado at Boulder student-run station for which Flanagan has worked as a general manager since 2005 -- and he doesn't disagree. At the same time, however, he's quick to stress that "we're going to have a good relationship with 1190 -- and I'm going to be more sensitive to not step on their toes, because I have a real affection for them and want them to be successful."
Flanagan's career in radio began at age sixteen, at a small station in Oklahoma, "back when the Beatles were still together." Circa the 1980s, he worked at KFML, which he describes as "one of the early underground stations in Denver" before moving on to KDKO and Colorado Public Radio, where he was the host for the midday Mozart feature from 1991 to 1999. He subsequently took up residence at KWAB, which "did the progressive talk-show thing before Air America," he notes. After that experiment folded, he bounced around a bit -- serving as a part-timer at 99.5 The Mountain, among other gigs -- before landing at Radio 1190.
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At present, there are more questions than answers about the new station. In fact, Flanagan doesn't even know what the call letters will be. (It's currently known as KCFR-AM in an echo of KCFR-FM, the main Colorado Public Radio news channel -- but the designation will have to change once simulcasting ends.) The target date for the debut is October 1, but Flanagan says that's not entirely firm. As he points out, "There are lots of things that have to be done between here and there, like buying a record library and hiring a staff." He thinks there'll be "four or five openings pretty soon," with the prospect of more to follow.
In the meantime, he says, "Our mission is the ongoing search for timeless, contemporary music -- and I think it'll be a lot of fun. At least I hope it will be."
More from our Media archive: "Colorado Public Radio's morning news beating KOA, but bond rating remains negative."