On Friday, September 21, at Shove Chapel, on the Colorado College campus, a memorial will be held to remember Mario Valdes, the man largely responsible for turning Colorado Springs' KRCC-FM into the city's foremost public radio station. He died of lung cancer on September 14. He was just 54.
As noted in this Colorado Springs Gazette article, Valdes began volunteering for KRCC in 1979, when the station was being severely under-utilized; during the summer, it simply went dark. By the following year, Valdes was named the outlet's manager, and in 1984, he signed up with National Public Radio, a move that immediately made KRCC a major player in the Springs marketplace. Valdes was a fierce defender of this status, speaking out forcefully against attempts to encroach on KRCC's territory by Colorado Public Radio and its acquisitive leader, Max Wycisk.
In early 1996, CPR purchased a KERP, a small station in Pueblo, and in an interview with Westword at the time, Wycisk emphasized that the community didn't have an NPR affiliate. But because KRCC (as well as classical-music purveyor KCME-FM) had long served Pueblo listeners, Valdes saw the move as blatantly aggressive. According to Valdes, Wycisk didn't bother to give him a heads-up about the purchase. Moreover, when the two of them belatedly met to discuss the issue, Valdes said Wycisk offered a formal proposal to buy KRCC, too -- an opportunity Colorado College turned down flat.
In the 2002 Westword feature "Going Public," Valdes alluded to this earlier incident in straight-forward fashion. "They're always looking to try and find ways to get into the Springs," he stressed. "They just don't always say so." He also provided this memorable critique of CPR's overall approach: "They sound soulless; it's just background wallpaper. But the dilemma is, people like it. So Max is right in a way. He's discovered what people's tastes really are. In a way, though, that makes him a prisoner of that information -- because his choice now becomes, 'Do I ignore the information or do I follow the information? And if I follow the information, how far do I follow it? To the gates of hell? Until I become Satan's roommate?'"
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Rather than taking this path himself, Valdes continued to fight the good fight. When he and Colorado College couldn't agree about budgetary matters, however, he left the station in 2006, about a year before succumbing to cancer. Nevertheless, the radio pros he left behind are among those most impacted by his passing, and information about the memorial is prominently posted on the KRCC home page. Call the station at 719-473-4801 or 800-748-2727 for further details about the service. -- Michael Roberts