Going Public

Page 7 of 11

Despite such vehement opposition, Colorado Public Radio has made a number of attempts to get into the Colorado Springs market, most of them covert. Wycisk confirms that over the years he's had several chats with representatives of Colorado College, which his daughter attended, regarding the availability of KRCC. "Their answer was, 'We're doing just fine,'" he says.

During the second half of the '90s, Wycisk also had dialogues with representatives of KEPC-FM, a station owned by Pikes Peak Community College, which uses it as a teaching tool -- and he got the same sort of disinterested retort. But now, even as CPR's Nethery swears that Colorado Public Radio hasn't sniffed around the Springs in ages, numerous well-placed sources say renewed contact was made last summer, with one person having heard tell that a broker representing Colorado Public Radio made inquiries as recently as last month.

These reports cannot be confirmed, and neither can speculation that CPR is considering buying an AM station that it could keep or swap for KEPC. George Sanchez, spokesman for Pikes Peak Community College president Joseph A. Garcia, says a call regarding the availability of KEPC from person or persons unknown was received in August, but it was forwarded directly to the broadcasting department, whose spokesmen decline comment.

In addressing the topic, Wycisk says no recent conversations with the college have taken place, and he denies that CPR is hungry for a place in Colorado Springs to call home.

"In Colorado Springs, there's KCME, a full-time jazz and classical station, and KRCC, which doesn't do local and regional news but brings in a lot of NPR programming. And that's a major service," Wycisk says. "The question is, is there a reason for Colorado Public Radio to be there? And if there is, it might be in the form of some of our programming appearing on a station not owned by us. The main thing is to get important information to people. But there's no reason for Colorado Public Radio to be in Colorado Springs to broadcast All Things Considered."

Reassuring words -- but KRCC's Valdez isn't convinced. "They're always looking to try and find ways to get into the Springs," he says. "They just don't always say so."

Why is it important that Colorado Public Radio get bigger? In Wycisk's view, such increases guarantee that more people benefit from CPR's programming and create opportunities to improve and extend the programming itself. But there are plenty of other possible reasons, many of them having more to do with financial realities than benevolence.

For one thing, size protects against the possible elimination of funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- an oft-stated goal of conservative politicians. CPR gets a considerable chunk of change from this source, just over $450,000 last year. But this constitutes only 7 percent of its budget. Smaller stations are much more dependent on federal monies: KSUT's Warren says 35 percent of her station's revenue comes courtesy of the government. If elected officials think too many people have their hands out (a scenario that could happen if Wycisk's dream of multiple stations in every locality comes true), they may turn off the tap. While CPR is positioned to overcome a setback like this, other outlets might not be.

In addition, greater resources have allowed Colorado Public Radio to refine what's among the most sophisticated fundraising apparatuses in the state. In the late '80s, CPR began following the teachings of David Giovannoni, whose company, Audience Research Analysis, has a contractual relationship with both NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In essence, Giovannoni argues that public-radio stations should use techniques previously perfected by commercial broadcasters, like focus groups and audience surveys, to determine what listeners want -- particularly those most likely to make contributions. This methodology allows for more effective targeting of potential donors. In the past, insiders say that CPR has addressed mailings to zip codes whose residents have elevated per-capita incomes. Such ploys may not seem in keeping with public radio's most egalitarian ideals, but they sure are smart business.

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