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Denver Open Media Reboots Open Music Sessions With Radio Focus

Natalie Tate performing during Open Music Sessions in 2016.
Natalie Tate performing during Open Music Sessions in 2016. Kenneth Hamblin III
The Open Media Foundation had to cancel Open Music Sessions its long-running monthly public-access television series that focused on musicians — after the City of Denver cut ties with the nonprofit that operates Denver Open Media last year.

But thanks to recent grants from the Fort Collins-based Bohemian Foundation and Denver Arts & Venues, OMF will relaunch the show tonight, July 5, with Greeley-based synth-pop act NGHT WLVS and Philadelphia rapper Kuf Knotz. These sessions are free and open to the public.

While Open Music Sessions won’t be broadcast on television, the shows will be streamed via Facebook and on Denver Open Media’s two new, higher-power radio frequencies, 92.9 FM and 89.3 HD3. According to Denver Open Media founder and executive director Tony Shawcross, when the organization first launched its public-access radio station in 2016 at the low-power frequency 104.7 FM, the station only reached about five to ten miles from its tower at the Taxi complex in RiNo.

“We’re keeping the same focus that we had with the low-power FM, which is nothing but local creative content,” Shawcross says. “It’s mostly music, but also podcasters and people who are doing public-interest shows. But over 90 percent of content right now is music, and it’s all from local bands.”

Anyone can submit music to broadcast on the station, Shawcross says; more than 10,000 songs have already been added. People can vote on songs, and the website has an automated scheduling algorithm that plays songs that get the most votes.

“So really, the listeners of the radio station can really decide what gets played,” he says. “And so the more people who participate in that, the more the community is running the station. We’re really shifting Denver Open Media away from what it used to be — a public-access TV station — to what it is now, which is a community radio station. We’re still trying to do as much as we can with the website and video outlets online, but our only broadcast outlet now is the radio station.”

Shawcross concedes that there has been some downsizing, because the operation of the community radio station requires fewer people than it took to run three TV stations and Denver’s public-access station.

Another change at Open Media is that station manager Ann Theis, who was with the organization for twelve years, is leaving to take a post as director of media programs for the community and education channels for Brookline Interactive Group's Public VR Lab. Today marks her final day with the organization, and there will be a sendoff and a tribute to her tonight.

Theis says that when she joined Denver Open Media in 2007, a year after Shawcross founded it, many systems had to be created, curriculums developed, equipment purchased, rules, policies and procedures created, and intern positions posted.

"Originally, I ran DOM solo with one ten-hour-a-week after-school youth intern," she says. "Slowly the systems grew, the membership and content submission grew. Over the last decade, we developed a wonderful community of media-makers of all ages and all skill levels. People from all over the metro area who care about our local community: education, music, arts, comedy and activism. In 2018, we had six 15-hour weekly TV station interns, in addition to radio and social media interns, 328 individual members, 41 organizational members, hundreds of youth trained each year, and nearly 2000 shows submitted annually."

Shawcross says that he's inspired by Theis's lifelong commitment to making sure media isn’t just a tool of the wealthy, "but that everybody has an opportunity to really engage and contribute to the awareness of their community and the values of their community through mass media. She’s really recognized across the nation as a leader in community media, and she’s dedicated her whole life to it.”

Next week, Shawcross and Theis will travel to Portland, where they’ll receive a joint award from the Alliance for Community Media for the nationally recognized model that they built.

Theis started a free after-school youth program in 2008 with intern Sacha Heppell, who recruited youth; Theis developed the program and taught and mentored the participants. One of the members of that group was Jameson Courville, who has been working by Theis's side for the last year and a half as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, helping the organization with marketing/outreach, membership and mentoring in the after-school program, which is still free. Courville will step in to manage the day-to-day operations of Denver Open Media and the youth program.

"He has a strong desire to continue the legacy he is part of and see new generations of youth and community make their own media," Theis says of Courville.

Denver Open Media and the Open Media Foundation have mentored and provided job skills to hundreds of people over the last decade, Theis notes. "Yet so many of them had to leave Denver to get work, whether it be in TV, film or other creative/entertainment based industries like comedy and performance," she continues.  "There is really a media/entertainment sector drain in Denver, and it can't support the workforce it creates. I hope that one day, we see the creative communities better supported in Denver, with more outlets and jobs in the creative industries that make people flock to Denver instead of leaving it."

Open Music Sessions, featuring Kuf Knotz and NGHT WLVS, 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, July 5, Denver Open Media, 700 Kalamath Street, free.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon