On July 8, we reported that less than two years after its much-ballyhooed debut, Orange & Blue 760, an iHeartMedia radio station that pledged to be "all Broncos, all the time" was dead. However, preview messaging on the station was deliberately vague about the format that would replace it.
Now we know: That outlet will be mated with a newly purchased FM signal, at 93.7, and rebranded as Freedom 93.7, a conservative talk purveyor. And according to several knowledgeable sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the new entity will be anchored by the program starring right-wing icon Rush Limbaugh, whose show was first acquired for broadcast on sister station KOA in October 1993, more than a quarter-century ago.
There's some irony in this transition, for which iHeartMedia has already designated a web address. Among the many previous iterations of the station was AM 760, which specialized in progressive talk — the ideological opposite of Limbaugh's style — until it was ignominiously axed in 2014.
That's not all. The Limbaugh move was made in part to open up space on KOA for ex-Bronco Alfred Williams, who jumped to iHeartMedia from 104.3 The Fan in late February but is contractually prevented from broadcasting until August. Sources provided a preliminary weekday schedule for the reconfigured KOA, and while nothing is set in stone, the current plan calls for Williams to be paired in the afternoon-drive slot, where he achieved his success at 104.3 The Fan, with JoJo Turnbeaugh, a longtime on-air talent (he once gabbed for KISS-FM) who lately has been working behind the scenes as the senior vice president of iHeartMedia's Denver cluster.
The acquisition of Williams appears to have triggered a series of events at iHeartMedia. Executives reportedly had the Freedom 93.7 concept in mind as early as April, but the move was delayed because of negotiations with Limbaugh's handlers. Some wariness on their part was understandable: After all, KOA's original station, at 850 AM, is a 50,000-watt blowtorch that sends its signal across the entire region — and while 760 is also a 50,000-watter, it's failed as a destination again and again over the decades.
Moreover, 93.7 FM isn't a full-power station. Rather, it's a translator that has been beaming classic hits from KCKK/1510 AM as spun by DJs led by the legendary Hal Moore, whose teaming with the late Charley Martin created perhaps the most popular duo of Denver radio's golden age.
Nonetheless, iHeartMedia acquired 93.7 FM from Lakewood's Hunt Broadcasting LLC for a reported $1.8 million and is using its digits, rather than 760, as part of the new station's moniker. In essence, the decision is a symbolic raising of the white flag by iHeartMedia, which seems to understand that 760 will never be a successful standalone and has cast it in the role of a mere simulcaster.
As for Moore, an inquiry about the disappearance of what had been known until recently as 93.7 The Rock triggered this auto-reply from general manager Janice Hunt: "To our listeners: Hal 'Baby' Moore retired after a wonderful career in radio. One of the best ever in Denver! If you go to our Facebook page you will see Hal's sign off. You can leave your messages for Hal on Facebook. Hal will be missed by so many listeners! I know he is enjoying sleeping in!"
Here's the Facebook post to which Hunt refers:
"Yes, we sold the FM," Hunt's response continues. "You can still listen to all the great songs on 1510 AM, 92.9 FM in Boulder. Tune in, streaming or simply asking Alexa, play KCKK. We appreciate the continued support from our listeners."
At this writing, the home page for the station continues to list both 93.7 FM and 1510 AM, but it also includes references to just two DJs, Brian J and Jimmy Rock.
Freedom 93.7 isn't the first station of its kind in the iHeartMedia universe. Freedom 970 went live in Portland, Oregon, in 2009 and has done well in the ratings there thanks to a slew of nationally syndicated yakkers. Among the programs on its schedule are Kilmeade and Friends, starring Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade; The O'Reilly Update, a fifteen-minute salvo from disputatious ex-Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly; and three hours with current Fox News star Sean Hannity.
Could these shows pop up on Freedom 93.7? The most obvious conflict involves the program hosted by Mark Levin, which is already heard locally on KNUS 710, the competitor that will be most directly impacted by the new station.
The proposed KOA schedule leaked to us begins, as it does now, with Colorado Morning News. Afterward, however, listeners would hear Lewis & Logan, starring Rick Lewis and Dave Logan, currently the afternoon-drive show.
If things play out that way, Lewis, who's been doing double duty with an ongoing morning-drive gig at 103.5 The Fox, would be at the microphone for as many as six hours in a row on a daily basis.
Lewis & Logan is expected to be followed by talk-show host Mandy Connell in much the same early-afternoon time period she currently occupies, leading up to Williams and Turnbeaugh.
While this sequence could still shift, the resulting shakeup is certain to be among the biggest in the history of Denver radio — with Rush Limbaugh leading the charge.
One more thing: Our sources say no firm decision has been made about the future of Broncos TV, a tie-in to Orange & Blue 760 that airs at 6:30 p.m. weeknights on Channel 20, but it's expected to continue in some form. What it will end up looking like is anyone's guess — but we doubt the aforementioned colors will be in its name.