Going Public

Page 6 of 11

Mary Suma, KDNK's general manager, says, "We're not afraid of the competition" from Colorado Public Radio, in part because her station plays little classical; its schedule features a few NPR shows but is dominated by eclectic sounds, "from Broadway standards to heavy metal." (CBS journalist Ed Bradley, an occasional visitor to the Roaring Fork Valley, has helmed a handful of music shows at KDNK, billing himself "The 60 Minutes Man.") But KAJX executive director Tom Eirman has more to worry about, since classical music is among his station's specialties. KAJX has been supplying classical sounds to the folks of Aspen and beyond for 22 years, which some locals see as proof that CPR's classical service won't be filling a crying need. Hence, KAJX may have to reinvent itself or die.

Eirman, though, puts on a brave front. "Max tells me that he would like to see all the stations be healthy," he says, picking his words as carefully as he can. "And I guess I'll believe him until I'm shown otherwise."

Boosters of two stations in the Durango area -- KDUR, which operates under the umbrella of Fort Lewis College, and Ignacio's KSUT, located on land governed by the Southern Ute Tribe -- aren't nearly as trusting.

Several years ago, CPR filed for a frequency in Durango even though the existing stations were already giving the area a wide variety of public-radio programming: KDUR mixes diverse music with news and information from the BBC and the progressive Pacifica news service, among other sources, while KSUT runs most of the best-loved NPR productions plus music ranging from jazz to classical.

In 1998, Wycisk traveled to the area to argue that CPR would enhance rather than undermine the public-radio scene. But the welcome he received was none too toasty. Nancy Stoffer, KDUR's station manager, sat in on a meeting with Wycisk but was unimpressed: "I didn't think there's a real necessity for them here," she says, "and I wasn't very fond of some of their practices." She mentions that around this time period, CPR sent fundraising letters to a percentage of Durango households even though the network wasn't broadcasting there at the time, creating potential confusion; some people may have thought that their checks were supporting local stations, not an operation in Denver they couldn't hear.

Beth Warren, KSUT's executive director, also had a sit-down with Wycisk, and over lunch with her and an associate, the CPR president laid out his plan. "The general theme of what he was saying was that they would do all classical and wouldn't duplicate our programming, except maybe Car Talk and Prairie Home Companion, which everyone knows is where you raise huge amounts of money," Warren notes. "He very eloquently outlined what an outsider might have thought was a concept where we could all hold hands and there wouldn't be any problem. Then he looked at us and said, 'That's my vision. Why don't you share your vision?' And I looked him in the eye and said, 'If you're assuming our vision includes you, you're mistaken.'" She adds, "He blushed -- and the rest of the lunch was pretty quiet."

KSUT executives next went to the editorial board of the Durango Herald, the community's daily newspaper. The session prompted an editorial that concluded, "Tell CPR to take a hike -- and don't forget, it's an election year. Our congressman just might like to hear about an issue that pits the citizens of his district against an intruder." As a capper, KSUT looked up the mailing addresses of everyone on CPR's board of directors and sent each a letter from the chairman of the Southern Ute Tribal Council. "I was fairly certain that Max's board had no knowledge of KSUT or that we were tied to a sovereign nation," Warren says. "And we wanted to communicate that to them directly."

There's no telling how much of an impact this tack had. But CPR lowered its profile in Durango, and even though its application before the FCC remains active, Sean Nethery, CPR vice president of communications and marketing, says this won't be the case for much longer. Educational Communications of Colorado Springs, a religious broadcaster, had applied for a frequency in the Roaring Fork Valley that conflicted with CPR's -- so in exchange for pulling out of the Aspen area, CPR has agreed to give ECCS its frequency in Durango.

The other sizable population center in Colorado that CPR has yet to tap is Colorado Springs, a city that already receives much of the programming featured on the two-channel system. KRCC, a public-radio station licensed to Colorado College, broadcasts all of NPR's biggies, including All Things Considered, Fresh Air and Car Talk, interspersed with specialty shows and contemporary music. "When the Grammy nominees are announced," says KRCC's Mario Valdez, "our staff actually knows who they are." Covering the other base is nonprofit KCME, which also reaches Cañon City, Florence, Salida and Manitou Springs via translators and is dominated by classical music. "KCME has been here since 1979, and we serve the community -- the local arts community," declares Jeanna Waring, KCME's general manager. "We are staffed by real people 24 hours a day, and our roots go deep. So my question to people is, how much do they think that CPR is going to serve the community by just importing satellite programming? Because that's not my idea of localism and serving the community. If you believe that, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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