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Progress?

Jay Marvin faced some large issues.
Tony Gallagher

There's less to AM 760 talk-show host Jay Marvin than there used to be. Due to concerns over Type 2 diabetes, he put himself on a diet-and-exercise regimen last year and managed to drop a modest amount of weight. Unfortunately, this reduction didn't significantly improve his health -- so at the recommendation of his doctors, he had gastric bypass surgery in late December. Since then, he's freed himself of eighty pounds, with more falling by the wayside on a daily basis; he stepped on the scale one mid-March morning to discover another four pounds had vanished overnight. As a result, he says, "I've got a serious pants problem."

To date, AM 760's audience isn't experiencing similar shrinkage, even though the outlet recently lost its best-known program -- the midday block hosted by Al Franken, who walked away from the broadcast last month in order to run for the Senate in Minnesota. But neither is listenership booming. Despite signs of a leftward course correction among a significant portion of the populace (epitomized by the results of the 2006 election and President George W. Bush's anemic poll numbers), AM 760, like many other progressive talk-radio stations around the country, continues to limp along ratings-wise. Moreover, financial uncertainties at Air America Radio, which supplies much of AM 760's programming, don't bode well for the future, particularly given the fact that Franken, the face of the network since its launch, has moved on. Air America filed for bankruptcy in October; on March 6, a newly formed company called Green Family Media formally purchased the remnants for just $4.25 million.

At present, folks at the Denver branch of Clear Channel, the Texas-based mega-conglomerate that owns the signal, insist that they're still behind the project, and there's evidence to support this claim. Late last year, Kris Olinger, the head of AM programming for Clear Channel's local properties, took over as AM 760's program director from longtimer Jerry Bell, who was named managing editor of the cluster's news department.

Olinger says the switch was driven by corporate restructuring, not any dissatisfaction with Bell's performance. But upon taking charge, she immediately began tweaking Marvin's morning-drive show, most notably by assigning veteran KOA personality John Emm to act as a newsman and sometime foil. Even so, she denies that such changes reflect urgency on her part to speed the station's growth. "No one was expecting that progressive talk would come out of the gate and have huge ratings," she says. "We all knew it was going to be a building process."

Air America launched in March 2004, several months before taking root in Denver, with a mission to break the right wing's stranglehold on talk radio and perhaps even land a Democrat in the White House come November. That didn't happen, of course, and while Air America kept adding stations (its website currently lists about seventy affiliates, down by approximately a dozen since last summer), it also lost the services of big-name talent such as Public Enemy leader Chuck D and comic Janeane Garofalo, who left in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Since then, Sam Seder, Garofalo's former co-host, has seen his profile rise thanks to occasional appearances on Countdown With Keith Olbermann, but most of his cohorts remain little known among talk-radio aficionados. That includes Franken's replacement, Portland, Oregon's Thom Hartmann.

This dearth of stars makes Marvin's presence on AM 760 all the more important. He already was known in Denver from a KHOW gig circa the late '90s, and his February 2005 return suggested that Clear Channel saw the station as more than a cog in the failed campaign to elect John Kerry. Two years later, Marvin has established a sizable following; his show is typically jammed with callers. Still, he acknowledges that his Arbitrons aren't spectacular. "I lag behind the rest of the station at times," he says. "Some of that has to do with the strength of our signal, and some of it has to do with how competitive the mornings are. I have to compete against the Colorado Morning News [on KOA] and Peter Boyles [on KHOW], but also against things like NPR."

Indeed, KCFR-AM, Colorado Public Radio's news arm, may be AM 760's prime challenger for progressive listeners -- although some diehard lefties actually think National Public Radio programming is too conservative. According to an analysis by a public-radio insider who merged public stations' listenership data with figures from commercial broadcasters, KCFR sometimes drew more than double AM 760's audience share over portions of 2005 and 2006. No doubt Morning Edition, NPR's popular early staple, accounted for a hefty chunk of that crowd.

Olinger thinks one way to counter KCFR's syndicated fare is with additional local programming; she says she'd like to find a place for more of it in AM 760's lineup, albeit without specifying when she might succeed at doing so. In the meantime, she's looking for ways to expand the signal's appeal by making it clear that there's more on tap than a gusher of Bush bashing.

"We'll still talk about the presidential race and the war in Iraq -- but I'd like to see the product broaden a little bit, so that we're talking about any of the issues that are affecting our listeners," she notes. "Obviously, we're going to be talking about them from a perspective that might be a little left of center. But we're also going to talk about anything that might be interesting and important, whether it's lifestyle issues, entertainment, the stock market, what's happening with the economy, the city's performance removing snow or fixing potholes..."

If this approach risks alienating AM 760's current listeners, who may not find the station's mix as appealing if it's watered down, it could attract non-ideologues with inaccurate preconceptions about the genre. "There are a lot of people out there who believe talk radio is just angry white males arguing," Marvin says. "They don't realize there's an alternative out there."

And it might not be as weighty as they think.

Dino gets spanked: It's hard to believe that Dino Costa would ever pass up the opportunity to gab about his exploits; if there's anything he loves more than truth and justice, it's the sound of his own voice. But he declined to discuss a recent two-show suspension from Raw Sports, the FSN Rocky Mountain program he hosts. Fox Sports spokeswoman Amy Turner offered a no-comment, too, on the grounds that the issue was "a personnel matter."

Fortunately, other sources less susceptible to mute buttons reveal that the genesis of Costa's punishment was a comment he made about Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets, a team he's ticked off previously. After Costa got into an F-word contest with Nugget Kenyon Martin last February, he either was stripped of his Pepsi Center media credentials, or he voluntarily surrendered them and then couldn't get them back, depending on who's telling the tale. Cut to earlier this year, when Anthony arrived at the FSN studio to appear on a national program, Best Damn Sports Show Period. Costa reportedly thought he was going to guest on Raw Sports as well, and when that didn't happen, he publicly dissed Melo as "weak." Shortly thereafter, Fox Sports execs informed Costa that he would be benched for the next two editions of Raw Sports.

No one's saying if Fox Sports made this move in response to complaints from the Nuggets, but Costa has given the squad another reason to be upset with him. The most recent edition of Costa's "chronicles" (viewable on his website, www.dinocosta.com) attacks Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke for his continued association with "Eddie's Kids," a children's charity financed by Edward Wedelstedt, who's been referred to as "the porn king of Denver"; in March 2006, Wedelstedt was sentenced to thirteen months at a federal prison work camp. Costa's screed claims that Kroenke doesn't care about the victims of pornography. Rather, "he only cares that you dip into your pocket with dollars coming out."

It's unlikely that Costa will repeat this rant on Raw Sports, which returns to FSN this week. However, a listen to Radio Colorado Network, where Costa is a staffer, reveals that the yakker spent a considerable portion of a recent broadcast boasting about turning down Westword's request for an interview.

Talking at length about not talking at length? Dino, you've done it again. With troubles at Air America and sluggish ratings, AM 760 struggles to convince liberals that they have a place on talk radio.


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