The radio station is barely discernible in Denver. Static interrupts beats and languages that are unfamiliar to most Westerners’ ears. But KETO-FM 93.9’s founder, Endale Getahun, swears he has taxi-driver friends who can hear the station from as far away as Littleton.
That his low-power FM station, located on the campus of Aurora Central High School, can reach across the metro area is a source of pride for Getahun. The Ethiopian immigrant, whose main line of work is running a transportation business, is a community-builder, a familiar face to much of Aurora’s city brass, and his goal for 93.9 is to speak to the various immigrant communities in Aurora and beyond in their own languages, radio waves willing.
Political upheaval drove Getahun’s parents from their native Ethiopia to Colorado in 1984, where they enrolled in school. Getahun was twelve.
Assimilating to his new home meant that he would watch a lot of television, especially the news. Drawn to anchors like Tom Brokaw and their rich, commanding voices, Getahun decided to pick up a video camera himself in high school. His first production was a documentary for his class’s graduation at East High.
After graduating, he moved to Washington, D.C., and became a freelance TV producer. D.C.’s large Ethiopian population inspired him to pitch a show about Ethiopia, for Ethiopians, to the public-access station. The show was called ECT, short for Ethiopian Community Television, and aired from 1 to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Getahun also shot photos and videos for embassies and worked on the Hill and at the Pentagon and the White House.
Although he had found a niche in D.C., he wanted to return home to Colorado. His parents were here, and he wanted his two young children to be close to them.
The idea to start his own radio station was born sometime around 2000, when the Federal Communications Commission created the low-power FM radio service. LPFMs allow for non-commercial educational broadcasting with an approximate service radius of 3.5 miles.
Getahun applied for a construction permit for an LPFM three years ago. After some difficulty finding a home for his 100-foot tower, paying for expensive lawyers and engineers and acquiring donated equipment, he launched 93.9 this year, on September 11, which is also New Year’s Day in Ethiopia.
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan got to know Getahun in 2015, when a delegation of about twenty people, from residents to city officials, traveled to Ethiopia for a Sister City visit.
Hogan touts Aurora’s diversity, including the fact that Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek Public Schools report that students go home to parents who speak some 140 and ninety languages, respectively.
“It’s this unbelievable diversity that we have that is a starting point, if you will,” he says. “We work very, very hard in the city to help in a whole number of ways to facilitate integration, to get out information to be able to make these folks from other countries feel comfortable in the city.”
He says 93.9 is another tool to bridge the divide between Aurora and some of its newest residents.
“I think there’s a universal expectation that when you move to another country, no matter what country and no matter what reason, eventually you’re going to have to learn the local language,” Hogan says. “And the local language here is English. But while some people can pick it up in six months, others take six years, and there’s no reason to be in isolation for six years simply because you can’t speak or understand the local language.”
“The idea to get news, to get important information, in your own language is just so helpful,” he continues. “In this day and age of instantaneous communication, it’s a terrific idea, and I just salute Endale for coming to us and saying, ‘Isn’t there a way we can get this done?’”
Though he has a professional background in TV, Getahun switched to radio because he knows that’s how immigrants are used to receiving information. “Immigrants tend to have an experience, in any country they’ve moved to, or if they’re a refugee, the means of getting information is radio,” he says. “In those areas” — specifically refugee camps — “there’s no power connection, no Internet, no TV. But at least they will carry a radio with them and have an old battery. We’re trying to fill the gap to continue to keep up with the information to keep their culture and music so they can feel welcome.”
Nearly 20 percent of Aurora’s residents are foreign-born, compared to 16 percent in Denver. Most of Aurora’s foreign-born residents are from Mexico (about 30,272 out of a total 70,544), and Ethiopians represent the second-largest immigrant pool, with 2,984 residents, according to a city report. The foreign-born population from Africa grew a whopping 70 percent between 2010 and 2014.
Getahun’s radio station reflects that diversity. Listen for more than five minutes, and it’s clear that KETO-FM 93.9 doesn’t stick to just one genre or even language. Much like the residents of Aurora, the radio station’s selections come from across the globe. In twenty minutes, the station can play six songs from six countries.
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Getahun says limited equipment means that 93.9 must focus on music for the time being. Not that he minds. He seeks out local music producers who might have an online audience and invites them to play their music on the station. He likes to bring in different local DJs from various backgrounds to select music that more mainstream radio stations have dismissed as too foreign. “We’re the newcomers, and we don’t tend to have that connectivity and belonging to Colorado,” he says.
If he can get the right donations — he especially needs microphones — Getahun wants to start booking talk-show hosts from different ethnic backgrounds. He wants to translate news from Aurora’s city council, school district and police department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the various ethnic communities in and around the city, from Mexicans to Germans to Nigerians. He wants to bring translators employed by Aurora Public Schools on to communicate news to parents, and to have conversations with the chief of police, the mayor, and even President Trump, if he ever comes to Colorado.
“This is a very small radio station with a big vision,” Getahun says.
Donate to 93.9 at GoFundMe.