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¿Qué Pasó, Denver?

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Quinn guesses his stations might have twice as many listeners as the Arbitrons suggest, and he insists that convincing advertisers he's right isn't difficult: "We've been very successful in the last few years at keeping them with us, because after they buy in, their cash registers start ringing." To back up this claim, he cites reports assembled by the accounting firm of Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co., to which all stations west of the Mississippi submit records of their ad revenues on a monthly basis. The results of these surveys aren't made public, and Quinn declines to share his. But, he says, "Our stations haven't been far off the top ten here in Denver, which is pretty incredible when you look at the ratings. Business is booming."

KJME's Neidig whistles the same tune. His father, Andres Neidig, bought the station in early 1989, and he's doing well enough to support an eleven-person staff playing what the younger Neidig refers to as "a mix of Mexican country and Mexican Top 40." From Arbitron's perspective, its ratings are nonexistent, but Neidig feels that has to do with Arbitron's inability to get a handle on its fans: "A lot of the Hispanics in our audience don't have a lot of education, or they just won't take the time to fill out a diary for two weeks straight. To them, it's like someone asking, 'What did you have for breakfast three days ago?'" He says he can tell how many folks are tuned in because of the support they give advertisers and their response to events sponsored by the station. In September, a KJME-promoted concert by the Mexican band El Recodo drew more than 4,000 people to the Denver Coliseum, and last year 7,500 folks jammed the National Western Stock Show facility for an appearance by Mexican singer and movie star Joan Sebastian -- and Neidig says another 2,500 were outside, clamoring to get in. "It was a huge success that didn't get any coverage at all," he notes. "It really opened my eyes." He's also expecting big things from a turn by the Mexican act Grupo Modelo at a Friday, October 29, pre-Halloween bash at the Regency Hotel.

Like all program directors of mom-and-pop stations battling out-of-town behemoths, Neidig emphasizes his station's grassroots connections: "We do local traffic updates and local news in the mornings, and during all the natural disasters that Mexico has been experiencing, we were the only ones in direct contact with Mexico City updating people about things. And when a hurricane hit El Salvador last year, we were the only station doing fundraisers, having people go by Denver fire stations and drop off donated goods. The other stations only care about putting money in their pocket, but we care about the local community." As more and more Latinos make Denver their home, he adds, "There's the potential for a station like ours to get a lot bigger. I don't see a Mexican or Hispanic station being number one in the general market for a while, but in another three or four years, it could happen."

On this point, at least, Quinn agrees. He isn't going out of his way to lure Anglos to his spots on the dial: "Our target first and foremost is the Spanish-speaking population." But, he says, "the Latin pop boom has been very good to us, and it's helping people realize that the growth in this market is absolutely astounding. The winds of change are blowing."

On October 20, six months to the day after the shootings at Columbine High School, news broke that a student there had been arrested after allegedly threatening to finish the job begun by killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. In reporting this story, local TV stations such as Channels 4 and 7 did not identify the teen, noting that Jefferson County authorities had not released his name, and the Denver Post and the Denver Rocky Mountain News took the same tack the following morning. But those who caught the October 20 newscast on Channel 2 not only heard the suspect identified as Eric Veik, but they saw what appeared to be his high-school yearbook photograph. The next evening, the station didn't use his name, but the photo popped up again.

Channel 2's move wasn't especially revelatory. It's likely that the majority of Columbine students and their families already knew the student's identity, and anyone else who wanted to know it could figure it out easily enough. The News article reproduced several quotes Veik had given to the paper back on April 21, and since the News's Web site (at www.rmn.com) includes a complete Columbine archive, anyone with Internet access can confirm their suspicions in less than five minutes by looking up the original piece. Indeed, Veik, who'd helped Harris and Klebold make a controversial video prior to the attack, became a bit of a public figure last spring because of his openness to the press. A Nexis-Lexis search reveals 63 articles that mention him in publications ranging from U.S. News & World Report and the Washington Post to France's International Herald Tribune and London's Sunday Telegraph.

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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