OpenAir, an indie-music affiliate of Colorado Public Radio, debuted in October 2011, creating new content for the underutilized 1340 AM signal. Since then, the station's developed into one of the small pleasures on the traditional dial, and its love for local music paid off with a mention in yesterday's New York Times article about the Denver scene. But with a CPR pledge drive underway, how's it doing financially? The answers we got were vague.
Last week, we spoke with CPR president Max Wycisk about the service's ambitious new arts initiative. In the midst of the conversation, we asked about OpenAir, which had staged a "warp drive," in which all donations were matched, on Wednesday as a precursor to this week's larger and more extensive fundraiser.
However, Wycisk avoided giving any figures about how much money was collected during the warp drive or how close it had come to hitting the day's goal, despite the various ways we asked about it. Instead, he chose to focus on the station's quality.
"The first question was, 'Could we produce a good radio service?'" he said. "And it's exceeded my expectations. So it's a matter of building on that going forward. And it's kept expenses down. So financially, it's about where we thought we'd be. I think we've exceeded our programming goals and we're just about on track with our financial side."
Wycisk added that "we often hear from people who say, 'I've been listening to Colorado Public Radio news and classical for a long time, so OpenAir is just an added bonus for me -- so I'm upping my contribution.'"
Could Wycisk quantify the figures in this case? If so, he chose not to -- although he stressed that "there's real reinforcement there. Of course, some people only listen to one of our three services. But donors tend to listen to more than one."
Here's hoping that's not just spin. In our post about OpenAir's soft launch, we noted that the station tended to explore "the safe side of adventurous," and that's pretty much the case now. At times, the programmers, led by station overseer Mike Flanagan, tend to gravitate to mid-tempo or slower selections played mainly on acoustic instruments, which can give some sets a certain sameyness. Moreover, the older songs thrown into the mix are often fairly predictable: a Johnny Cash here, a James Brown there.
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Fortunately, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. Santigold, Japandroids and other acts that break the typical OpenAir mold get occasional spins, and some of the picks for tunes from the past are pleasingly eccentric -- the other Saturday morning, I was startled to hear King Crimson's "Discipline." And even when OpenAir doesn't venture too far from its usual approach, the results are usually both entertaining and musically stimulating, anyhow. The station isn't as excitingly erratic as CU-Boulder's Radio 1190, whose signal can be tough to pick up while driving around Denver, but having an outlet that regularly spins Tame Impala is still a very good thing.
As long as CPR continues to support OpenAir, these attributes should grow and build. The rub comes when the network decides the station needs to support itself -- and we have no idea how close it is to doing so thus far.
More from our Media archive: "Colorado Public Radio on refinancing, fund drive, launch of OpenAir."