While Colorado Public Radio is definitely the state's most powerful public-radio broadcaster, 91.5 KRCC in Colorado Springs has long been the undisputed number two. Now, however, KRCC has joined the CPR fold in a blockbuster deal that symbolizes the latter network's growing ambition.
As part of an agreement announced this morning, Colorado College, which operates the Springs signal, has agreed to work with CPR to create a new public-media center that will encompass the station and the Rocky Mountain PBS Regional Innovation Center. KRCC, meanwhile, will become a Colorado Public Radio affiliate, albeit one that CPR president Stewart Vanderwilt stresses will retain its voice and importance to its listenership.
"We've committed to local staff for KRCC," he says, "and we're committed to investing so there are more journalism resources based there to cover the issues that are important to Colorado Springs and southern Colorado."
The partnership is the latest in a series of moves by CPR that have positioned it to challenge the Denver Post as Colorado's top journalism organization, with its acquisition of Denverite last March the most prominent example. How has CPR been able to accomplish these objectives in a media environment that's typically marked by contraction, as witnessed by this week's massive layoffs by iHeartRadio, including cuts at multiple stations in Colorado?
"There are three elements to it," Vanderwilt maintains. "First, we have a very supportive community. Secondly, we see collaboration as a pathway to scale. We seek to collaborate not to make things smaller, but to make them more robust. And third, we are unencumbered by having to deliver a significant margin to an out-of-state owner for whom local service is not a primary goal. Nothing against free enterprise; it's important to our underlying economy. But in our case, we seek revenue and resources for one purpose, and that's to invest in the service."
According to Vanderwilt, he and Colorado College president Jill Tiefenthaler, who announced this week that she'll be leaving her post in August to become CEO of the National Geographic Society, had "some high-level conversations about how partnership and collaboration is probably the best pathway to the scale and impact of public media. We talked in broad terms about the opportunity to create a public-media center with KRCC as the anchor and how CPR could bring the resources to make that happen."
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Tiefenthaler echoes these thoughts in a statement that reads: "This partnership with CPR preserves KRCC's regional identity and Colorado College’s educational mission. Listeners will benefit because this collaboration brings more resources to cover the news in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, and KRCC’s news will now have wider distribution via CPR. It also provides valuable learning and internship opportunities for our students."
As for how CPR will benefit, Vanderwilt feels that "it will make our service more reflective of the overall state by having content produced in Colorado Springs and southern Colorado. And we're also excited to be working with them to create student internships. Some of these students — we don't know when or who — will be the future leaders of public media, and we need to help create that pipeline on behalf of our entire system."
The plan will take a while to come together, he concedes. "We need to work with the team to design and build out the media center. But over the course of six to twelve months, we will see and hear the affiliation of KRCC and Colorado Public Radio."
Vanderwilt seeks to reassure those who fear the deal will lead to the further homogenization of public radio. According to him, "Colorado is too diverse with unique voices and individual communities to be served with one singular approach. Diversity brings authenticity and human connection. So we will look for things that we can scale so that we're not spending twice on the same thing, but that's mostly in systems and operations. The idea is having content coming to Colorado Public Radio from more communities in the state."