Going Public

Page 10 of 11

A new building is priority one for Wycisk, too, and, like Bridges, he downplays the possibility of trolling for new stations. "Our board of directors want to beef up our financial reserves, so if something happens in the future, Colorado Public Radio is prepared to deal with it. But now we're pretty much stretched." Even so, he stops short of promising that CPR will stay on the sidelines if a plum station comes on the market. "What a plum means to us is, 'Are there a sufficient number of people in an area who want Colorado Public Radio programming?'" he says, staying on message as doggedly as a presidential candidate. "If that came about, we would talk to the people who were interested and make a decision. But nothing's automatic."

Meanwhile, CPR has other radio projects on the horizon. In addition to putting up a new station in the Roaring Fork Valley, the network has won FCC approval to upgrade a translator in Craig to full-power status. And CPR also has an application for a station pending in Vail, where it has a single station beaming the mix of classical music and NPR shows that it broadcast prior to the two-channel split.

Also on record as wanting the Vail frequency are Denver's KUVO, supported by the local jazz society, and a Memphis, Tennessee, organization called Broadcasting for the Challenged -- and the presence of these multiple applicants has brought the FCC's frequency-awarding procedure to a grinding halt. Last July, the FCC announced a window during which conflicting applicants could attempt to determine among themselves who would get the station, and KUVO and CPR tried. KUVO's Hernandez-Ramos says there was agreement to combine NPR programming with KUVO's jazz shows during the week. But things broke down over the weekends: KUVO wanted to run its ethnic-oriented originals, while CPR insisted on high-profile NPR blocks. No Car Talk, no deal.

The third party, Broadcasting for the Challenged, wasn't involved in these talks, and Wycisk hints that the company is interested simply in receiving a payoff to go away. "There are national organizations that over the past few years have applied for hundreds of frequencies," he says. "Because of FCC regulations, you don't have to show anything about ability to broadcast. In the Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado Public Radio bought out a couple of national organizations that were happy to go away. But we don't know what the status of the one in Vail is -- whether they would be happy or not."

They wouldn't be. Stephen Simpson, Broadcasting for the Challenged's attorney and spokesman, says the operation is a branch of Flinn Broadcasting, owned by George Flinn, a wealthy Memphis doctor; Flinn's portfolio contains major commercial radio stations in Memphis and New Orleans, and he has a significant stake in KDEN-TV, a Longmont television outlet that mainly screens infomercials and home-shopping shows. Simpson refers to Broadcasting for the Challenged as a philanthropic cause for Flinn, who hopes it will turn into a national network with programming for the disabled community. A station in El Dorado, Arkansas, has been approved by the FCC, with nineteen other applications pending.

When he's told how Wycisk characterizes Broadcasting for the Challenged, Simpson bristles. "It's unfortunate when you get people like that taking potshots," he says, adding, "When you're first starting out, these big groups try to squash you. But we're not going to be squashed."

Publicly, at least, Colorado Public Radio is doing its best not to come across like a bully. Cooperation is the key, whether it's in the Roaring Fork Valley or beyond. For example, CPR's Classical Public Radio Network is making its programming available free of charge to stations in Idaho, Alabama and Washington state in anticipation of nationally syndicating it beginning this summer. Whether these productions will have fees attached down the line is unclear. "The programming marketplace in public radio is an odd one," Wycisk says. "With the exception of National Public Radio, people tend to think of programming as something they don't pay for. But that's changing, so we'll just see how it works."

The High Country Community Radio Coalition is grappling with program distribution, too. At its annual meeting, held earlier this month in Moab, representatives of a dozen community and public-radio stations (ten from Colorado, two from Utah) met to discuss ways to support each other. Among their decisions was one to set up the coalition as a nonprofit so that they can jointly apply for grants to produce programs unlike those heard on CPR -- most prominently, Thin Air, overseen by Jon Kovash. As KGNU's Durlin puts it, "We sort of reaffirmed the idea of producing shows that are viable alternatives to what they're broadcasting."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts