Commercial-Free FM Hip-Hop, New Digs and Big Grant Signal KUVO's Growth

Rocky Mountain Public Media
The new Buell Public Media Center houses KUVO and the Drop.
While the past year has challenged media outlets, there have been a few bright spots for KUVO.

Last year, the jazz station at 89.3 FM — which had been based at the Five Points Media Center since 1994 — and its hip-hop channel, the Drop, officially moved into the Buell Public Media Center, at 2101 Arapahoe Street. Offically, the new center also houses Rocky Mountain PBS, Rocky Mountain Public Media, the Colorado Media Collaborative and the Community Media Center, although most employees of those outlets are working remotely. 

Tina Cartagena, KUVO’s senior vice president of radio and new media, who has been with the station since 1990, says that because of COVID-19, most of KUVO’s staff are still working from home, though the offices are open to on-air hosts and engineers. Other staff could start working on site in May. Eventually, KUVO will broadcast concerts from the building's Bonfils-Stanton Performance Studio.

The station was recently awarded a $225,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The grant will help fund the station's Jazz Media Lab and allow KUVO to work with other jazz stations supported by the foundation, including KMHD in Portland, Oregon, KNKX in the Seattle/Tacoma area, and WBGO in Newark, New Jersey.

“It's an opportunity for us to actually work with the other four jazz stations in a way that we've never done before,” Cartagena says. “We're going to all come together and look at who's out there, what are the new things happening in the jazz community, and be able to talk.”

Maurine Knighton, the foundation's program director for the arts, says, “Jazz radio plays an essential role in supporting the field of jazz, a vital art form with a rich history embedded in the fabric of this country and an exciting, evolving future. These stations have always been critical partners to artists and venues, and never has that been truer than today, as they’ve served as the central platform for connecting artists with audiences and for voicing issues affecting musicians and venues during the pandemic.

“As the largest national funder of jazz," she continues, "we are dedicated to helping ensure the sustained vibrancy of jazz, one of very few contemporary art forms original to the U.S. This program is a pivotal piece of that greater commitment.”

Each of the stations participating in the Jazz Media Lab will receive general operating support grants of $225,000 over three years to help stabilize operations during a period of economic uncertainty. Part of the Jazz Media Lab’s mission is to help these five stations spread jazz to new and younger audiences.

click to enlarge The Drop team. - ROCKY MOUNTAIN PUBLIC MEDIA
The Drop team.
Rocky Mountain Public Media
In the meantime, the Drop, which KUVO launched on its HD2 channel in 2019, just started broadcasting at 104.7 FM, with the opportunity to reach new listeners as well.

“This station has always been about the people,” says Nikki Swarn, the Drop’s general manager and program director. “From our name to how we engage with our listeners, it’s all about our Colorado community. Without this local support, our 104.7 FM signal wouldn’t be as impactful. This is such a special time for public media, especially here in Colorado. We owe a huge thanks to our community, our listeners and our partners for helping make this possible.”

The station plays a pivotal role in parent company Rocky Mountain Public Media's plan to expand and extend its relevance to more diverse communities across Colorado.

“The Drop is so much more than a radio station,” Swarn notes in a statement. “We are truly a lifestyle brand. The station provides a place in the media landscape for a variety of musical genres and reinforces a sense of community for a diverse listenership. Listeners can Drop into the music, cultural issues and community resources in one place. It’s a movement built by and for the people of Colorado.”

Cartagena says people can listen to KUVO or the Drop from anywhere in the world via HD streams, but adds that it was important for the hip-hop station to also have a spot on the FM dial.

“It just opened up another audience to us," says Cartagena. "And who wouldn't want to listen to that music commercial-free?”