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Colorado Public Radio dials back on new talk show

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In the July 2008 blog "Colorado Public Radio Plans Two-Hour Weekday Info Block," Sean Nethery, CPR's vice president of programming, said that "in a matter of weeks, not months," the service would formally announce the expansion of its weekday news program, Colorado Matters, from thirty minutes to an hour in length. As a bonus, this supersized effort would be paired with an hour-long daily talk show that Nethery likened to a local varation on Talk of the Nation, a National Public Radio favorite hosted by Neal Conan.

Months, not weeks, have passed since then without the talk-show launch or the arrival of a pumped-up Colorado Matters. So are these plans dead? Not entirely, Nethery says -- but they're not nearly as ambitious as they once were. The two-hour, Monday-through-Friday block will now be one hour in length, with the talk show airing on only one of those days. Moreover, the debut won't happen before springtime at the earliest, with no firm date in place.

Why? Nethery blames the economy, which has wreaked havoc on many other local media entities. Included among this number is the the Rocky Mountain News, currently being offered for sale by its owner, E.W. Scripps, and Clear Channel's eight Denver radio outlets, which recently laid off a reported eighteen staffers as part of nationwide downsizing.

In comparison with these outfits, and many struggling non-profits, CPR is in decent shape, Nethery stresses. For one thing, no layoffs have taken place, and he says none are anticipated at present. Yet challenges remain due in part to a major investment -- last year's purchase of KFDN/88.1 FM for $8.2 million. This purchase allowed the service to move KCFR, its Denver-area news-and-information arm, from the AM dial to the FM band. Unfortunately, 1340 AM, where KCFR had been heard for years, remains on the block after a year, and when he's asked if there's current interest in the signal, Nethery offers a rueful chuckle before saying, "Nothing to report." Hence, the station is simulcasting KCFR's programming instead of generating cash to help offset the earlier buy.

Things could be worse. Nethery says recent fund drives have gone "okay," and to date, there hasn't been a catastrophic decline in the amount of corporate or institutional giving, Still, he goes on, "some clients aren't renewing" due to the fiscal storm, including McStain Neighborhoods, a Louisville-based homebuilder, and others probably won't be able to pony up what they'd planned because "contributions from stock gifts may not necessarily have the same value as they did before." Furthermore, mail donations "are a little behind" anticipated levels, he allows, and there's no telling if the next fund drive, which is on the calendar for a couple of weeks from now, will attract enough donations to compensate.

With these factors in mind, CPR is "making budget savings wherever we can," Nethery says -- and while new expenditures haven't been taken off the table entirely, they're no longer as sweeping as originally envisioned. The new, hour-long Colorado Matters will only be heard Monday through Thursday, while the thus-far-unnamed talk show, with host Dan Drayer at the helm, is going from five days a week to Friday only, in the CM slot. This alteration means Colorado Public Radio won't have to hire as many folks as anticipated. "We were going to add three new positions plus additional production help," he divulges. "Now, we're going to add one new position plus additional production help."

Specifically, CPR is looking for someone to fill a senior producer position vacated sometime back by Bruce Kennedy, as well as sign up another Colorado Matters producer and a part-timer versed in the basics of audio production. The search began over the holidays, and Nethery believes it could go on for a while due to the skill set the jobs require. "We need people who have done live programs in public radio is much as possible," he says. "That's where we don't have a lot of experience. We have experience in every other side of journalism, from public-radio production to print journalism, but not the experience of doing live programs." Indeed, CPR has only gone live of late amid August's Democratic National Convention and on election day in November.

Because Nethery isn't sure how long it will take to bring the right people aboard, he can't say when the information block will arrive. He feels certain it won't air prior to April 1, but expects it to be available before the end of spring. Maybe. "We'd rather do this very well than wear the people we have down to the point where they can't produce," he says.

As a result, there's a very real chance that the talk show and beefier Colorado Matters may take their bows approximately a year after the original announcement was supposed to be made. Talk about the best laid plans...

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