New Morning Denver Show on KNUS Radio Pairs Jeff Hunt and Bill Thorpe | Westword

Jeff Hunt and Bill Thorpe on Politics, Faith and the Taylor Swift Tie to New KNUS Show

"Bill is the independent thinker, and I'm the rock-ribbed, MAGA-loving conservative," says Hunt.
Bill Thorpe and Jeff Hunt are the new morning team at 710 KNUS.
Bill Thorpe and Jeff Hunt are the new morning team at 710 KNUS. JeffreyGrounds Photography
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Denver radio veteran Bill Thorpe cites an unexpected inspiration for The Jeff and Bill Show, the new morning-drive program on 710 KNUS, which teams him with conservative thought leader Jeff Hunt.

"If you really want to know how this happened," Thorpe says, "blame Taylor Swift."

Of course, Swift has been accused of crazier things lately — like, for instance, dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in order to promote President Joe Biden's reelection campaign. (A recent poll showed that one in three Republicans believes this laughably loony conspiracy theory.) But the Tay-Tay connection to Thorpe and Hunt taking over the high-profile weekday slot from George Brauchler, who left the gig to run for district attorney in the new 23rd Judicial District, involves a very different man from her past.

According to Thorpe, who served as Brauchler's producer (a role he also played for Denver talk-show dean Peter Boyles  before he retired in 2022), "George was off one day and Jeff was filling in when Taylor's bodyguard had just gone back to Israel," to reportedly fight Hamas following the October 7 attack. "Jeff and I got into a conversation about whether or not she should take a public position on the conflict, and it quickly escalated. And that was the spark. Station management was listening, and they liked what they heard — and they thought, 'What if we take that and combine it with other things we like about them together and turn it into a show, because it's unlike anything else we've heard on Denver radio.'"

Hunt offers another reference point cited by the KNUS brain trust for the pairing with Thorpe. "They essentially wanted to create a political version of the Skip Bayless-Shannon Sharpe sports-discussion show," he says, referencing Undisputed, a Fox Sports staple that now finds the proudly irksome Bayless facing off against the likes of ex-footballers Richard Sherman and Michael Irvin because former Denver Bronco Sharpe inked with ESPN.

In his career, Hunt has embraced faith and politics with equal fervor. He studied philosophy and religion at Westmont College and earned advanced degrees in divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and political management from George Washington University prior to campaigning for failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney and others. But he made his name locally as executive director of the Centennial Institute, a think tank affiliated with Colorado Christian University, and as the co-chairman of the Western Conservative Summit, an annual convention that draws some of the biggest names in right-wing politics and media to Denver. For example, Donald Trump gabbed at the get-together in 2016, and his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, headlined in 2018.

man in blue shirt talking on radio
Bill Thorpe has been a Denver radio mainstay for decades.
JeffreyGrounds Photography
KNUS has long been the Summit's radio sponsor, with Hunt helping to coordinate on-air appearances by big-name attendees. The station has also been the home of the Hunt-hosted Frontier Freedom Hour, a weekend offering paid for by the Centennial Institute. But Hunt says that show is ending in a few weeks and his current agreement with KNUS isn't being underwritten by his other employer. In his view, there's no conflict between his efforts at the institute and the KNUS studio.

"The roles and responsibilities Colorado Christian University has for me are the same as they are for employees of Salem," the firm that owns KNUS, he stresses. "I'm expected to be respectful on the air and to not embarrass the university or the company. They both expect decorum and that I will represent the organizations well."

For his part, Thorpe is hardly a behind-the-scenes guy being given his first forward-facing gig. "I've been in Denver radio for three decades and have basically worked for everybody in town except for Bonneville," he says, name-checking the outfit that owns such broadcasters as 104.3 The Fan and KYGO. Over the years, he's served stints with radio-station groups such as Jacor (subsequently rebranded as iHeart), Entercom (now Audacy) and Crawford, and even hosted talk shows on the now-defunct KNRC, funded by gazillionaire Phil Anschutz and run by his son-in-law, Tim Brown, in the early 2000s.

That's just the beginning of his experience. "Almost nobody in Denver radio knows that for the past twelve years, I've worked on satellite music radio for Westwood One, doing things like an evening show that's aired on 150-plus radio stations across the country," Thorpe says. "I'm currently doing stuff for them on modern-rock and classic-rock stations that go from southern Texas to the coast of Oregon to New Hampshire. And I'm also heard on the Armed Forces Network at 1,000 military bases. You can even hear me in space, on the International Space Station."

Ideologically, "I sit on my own island," Thorpe adds. "I don't fit neatly into any box. At my core, I dislike both political parties, but I'm self-aware enough to know why I sit on that island — because sometimes my beliefs can be a paradox. But that gives me the freedom to ask difficult questions that most people wouldn't ask."

Taking such a tack on a conservative radio station such as KNUS carries plenty of risks. For proof, look no further than Boyles and Brauchler, who both found themselves pilloried by Trump devotees whenever they took positions not blessed by The Donald. But such enmity doesn't bother Thorpe.

"I think it goes back to my childhood," he says. "My father always told me that I had an underdeveloped sense of fear. That's why I'm not afraid of criticism — and in many ways, I will lean into that and look for an opportunity to have those conversations. They don't have to be adversarial, but I think it's fair to ask people, 'Why do you think that way? What motivates you? What are your choices?'"

Hunt notes that "Bill is the independent thinker, and I'm the rock-ribbed, MAGA-loving conservative." He defends his simultaneous embrace of conservative Christianity and Trump — whose personal life and behavior hardly conform to the blueprint laid out in fundamentalist churches — by talking about another personal hero, onetime Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

"In 2006, I was working for Rick, who's a wonderful family man: He loves his wife, he takes care of his kids and was a great U.S. senator," he says. "But in 2006, the main question in the election was, 'Who's going to get us out of Iraq?' And all that other stuff was secondary. Rick was doing great work for PEPFAR [the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] in Africa, but the only thing that mattered was this question about Iraq" — which is why he feels Santorum was defeated.

man in tie with headphones on radio
Under Jeff Hunt, the Centennial Institute has operated at the intersection of conservative politics and Christianity.
JeffreyGrounds Photography
In contrast, Hunt sees Trump as "the right man for the right time" because "in the two elections coming up, the Republican primary election and the general election, he's the best person to answer the main questions now. In the primary election, the main question is, 'Who is best to take on a rigged system?,' where opponents are going to impeach you and charge collusion with Russia over phone calls. And in the general election, the central question is probably going to be, 'Who can best handle the border?' That's why I think Donald Trump will win."

For Thorpe, the idea that every Trumpian foible should be overlooked for pragmatic reasons is more troubling. He recalls a conversation he had back in 2015 with a fellow radio host, "and I told him I felt like the emperor had no clothes, and that at the end of the day, if things kept going that way, the GOP wouldn't have the same structure and standing it did twenty years ago."

Has this quasi-prediction come true? "I think there's still time to put the fire out," Thorpe replies. "But unfortunately, I seem to hear and see too many people cheering the flames. Now, they're free to make that decision. But I'm also free to stand there and say, 'Excuse me. Can we talk about the fire?'"

He's grateful that Hunt is willing to do so in a manner that's collegial rather than confrontational. "It's like a Thanksgiving dinner conversation," Hunt allows. "You get the family together, and you may passionately believe your positions, but even when you disagree, you're still family. Bill and I definitely get worked up over our differences, even though we agree a lot more than we disagree. But we're two people who can stake out our positions and explore them, but also admit when we're wrong — and we can still have a good relationship. We remain friends and family at the end of it."

Indeed, Thorpe emphasizes that he and Hunt have known and liked each other for many years: "We have a long friendship, and I have a lot of respect for him as a person, as a father, as a businessman. We have a lot of commonalities in terms of growing up in Colorado, our marriages, even the number of kids [they each have four]. We both have strong faith, too, but we come to different conclusions in different areas. That's a dynamic that I don't think anybody in the country has been willing to explore."

And if you don't like it, just know that it's all Taylor Swift's fault.
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