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KUNC Tackles Broadcasting the "Colorado Sound"

In 2001, the University of Northern Colorado was on the brink of selling public-radio station KUNC to KCFR, the Denver station owned and operated by Colorado Public Radio. The amount on the table was $1.3 million, but upon hearing the news, general manager Neil Best approached the Board of Trustees with the idea that if he raised $2 million in sixty days, then the KUNC license would pass into the hands of Community Radio of Northern Colorado.

And, holy shit — he pulled it off.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and change is afoot again. Like most NPR affiliates, KUNC has been operating with a mixture of syndicated content, with programs like Fresh Air, and locally produced news and music shows. But recently, Best decided that KUNC would better serve the community as a 24-hour news station. As it turns out, this is great news for fans of its music programming, because a sister station, the Colorado Sound, launched three weeks ago.

“We’ve seen audiences change,” Best says. “In the last decade, we’ve seen our music audience get smaller. IPods, MP3 players, streaming radio stations – there are lots of reasons for the change in musical base. We felt like we needed to become the all-news station on KUNC. But we also have great faith in music bringing a community together. We look around and we see a very vibrant music community here, and one that we very much want to be connected with. We have not given up on music, but we recognize that an awful lot of people at 9 a.m. are still looking for news. That’s driven our decision. We really do believe that there’s a vibrant Colorado music community that we want to support.”

It’s a brave move; as Best noted, times have changed. People have handheld means to listen to exactly what they want to at any time. But rather than concede defeat to the incessant technological advances, Best placed his faith in the fans of local music and the idea that they still want to listen to music on the radio. The Colorado Sound was born.

Ron Bostwick, a twenty-year veteran of Colorado music radio, has been tasked with the 6-10 a.m. shift. He claims that the new station is bringing a certain type of radio sound that hasn’t been around in a while.

“We are all radio lovers – we’ve all been in the business for a long time,” Bostwick says. As cliché as it sounds, we’re just playing music that we really enjoy that doesn’t get exposure these days. With a name like the Colorado Sound, it really reflects the commitment that we’re making to Colorado music. We’re really giving exposure and play to bands that might not normally get a lot of radio signal of our strength. I can’t tell you how many people have said words to the effect of ‘I haven’t changed my station since I found you guys.’”

Besides the fact that he’s up for work at 4 a.m. every day, Bostwick says that there’s little to differentiate the different shows that run throughout the day, largely because of the expertise of programmer Keefer Fungham.

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“I think that’s the thread that runs through the programming,” Bostwick says. The music is programmed by Keefer, who sits right next to me at the station. He’s been in the radio and music business for more than thirty years, and he’s got a really eclectic taste in music. That really shows on the air, and I like it.”

As the station is only in its third week, Bostwick says that the listening figures are hard to gauge, though the responses via e-mail, social media, and phone calls has been positive. And of course, that’s important. For Bostwick, the secret is simply to play the music that he and the other DJs want to hear. Based on recent playlists listed on the station's website, some local bands that have gotten airtime include Plum, the Epilogues, Dressy Bessy, Sound of Ceres, Pandas & People and more.

“I think that those of us who are here who are on the air and programming the music are all music and radio lovers, and we just try to program a station and a sound that is one we would listen to,” he says. “That’s what we’re working at doing, and that’s what we are accomplishing. We’re just putting out a sound that we like, and we believe that other people will like it, too. It seems like they do.”

The Colorado Sound can be found at 105.5 FM or coloradosound.org.

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