Whitten, who is still making arrangements with CPR and declined to comment for this story, has been a major champion of local music. Her voice has been a constant companion of Front Range music fans since she started in radio more than a decade ago at the University of Colorado's Radio 1190.
She joined CPR's staff in September 2011, just a month before 102.3 launched as OpenAir. In an undated interview on CPR's website, Whitten stated, "Today I am lucky enough to live out my early dream of being a radio host on OpenAir, though this reality far outshines any fantasy I had built."
And her reality at CPR was stunning. Her segments have been featured nationally on All Songs Considered, Morning Edition and Heavy Rotation.
When Westword named her Denver’s Best Indie Radio DJ in 2018, we wrote:
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The influence of Jessi Whitten, music director and assistant program director for Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir, can be heard across the airwaves. The radio veteran's taste is vast and eclectic, but her secret weapon is an intense knowledge of her home state's music scene. Whitten's programming blends local and international acts, and she helped push the likes of Esmé Patterson and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats beyond state lines. Prior to helping launch CPR's OpenAir in 2011, she was at Boulder's famed Radio 1190, a college station known for producing listener-favorite on-air personalities. In addition to deejaying and directing OpenAir, Whitten contributes to NPR Music and has made appearances on NPR's Morning Edition and All Songs Considered, as well as on New York public-radio station WNYC.
"Some people are just lucky, and I certainly was to end up at CPR," she added in the CPR interview. "It’s rare to work for an institution that carries the same values that you hold dear, and I definitely have found that here at Colorado Public Radio."
CPR's independent music station has seen radical shifts in the past two years. In late 2018, program director Mike Flanagan retired from the station, and in 2019, Willobee Carlan, who had a strong background in commercial radio programming, took over the post, soon rebranding OpenAir as Indie 102.3, ruffling feathers across the city's music scene. While many of the longstanding DJs have stayed on, the programming at the station has gone in a more commercial direction under Carlan's tenure.
"We’re all very excited for Jessi," says Carlan. "She has expressed an interest in building on her professional development and her community stewardship. This is a great opportunity for her. She is well deserving of that. We’re exploring how to continue our relationship beyond what she’s done here at CPR."
Both Carlan and Whitten have confirmed that they are in negotiations about the possibility of her continuing to have some on-air presence.
"She’s a great on-air talent," Carlan adds. "A lot of people respond to her and a lot of people like her, and so do we. It’s bitter sweet. It’s sad to see her go. If we can find a way to keep her involved, it’s great."
Whitten, who will begin in her role at Levitt in March, will head up the nonprofit's fundraising and marketing efforts.
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“I’ve admired the Levitt Pavilion and its staff for years so I’m thrilled to be joining the team,” Whitten says in a statement from Levitt Pavilion. “Making exceptional music experiences accessible to the community has always been my passion, so I can’t wait to jump in.”
Levitt, like Whitten, has championed obscure local bands, putting on more than fifty free concerts a summer, most featuring largely unknown Denver acts who are paid industry-standard rates for their performances.
"We are extremely excited to have Jessi join the Levitt Pavilion Denver team," says Levitt Pavilion Denver Executive Director Chris Zacher. "Over the past decade, Jessi has been an influential fixture in Denver’s arts and cultural scene. Jessi's work with Colorado Public Radio, the Narrators, and High Plains Comedy Festival has helped to bring incredible amount of awareness to Colorado-based artists. In her role with Levitt, Jessi will be helping to expand programs, working on capacity-building, and serving as a voice as we work to execute our mission to provide free and open access to the arts for all Coloradans.”
Update, January 8, 2019: This story has been updated with comments from Willobee Carlan.