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The Message

Erik Dyce, director of marketing for the Denver Division of Theatres & Arenas, is paid to boost Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and he takes the task seriously. He's currently lobbying every bureaucrat and elected representative within the sound of his voice to put Red Rocks on the back of the Colorado state quarter, which is due for minting in 2006. "I can't think of another icon in Colorado that says more about who we are than this prestigious venue," he says.

With that in mind, Dyce is involved in the planning or production of several media-oriented Red Rocks projects: a CD, a DVD, a film and possibly even a Live From Red Rocks television series. Because Red Rocks is owned by the City and County of Denver, these ventures mean that the government here will be exponentially expanding its business relationships with a cast of characters quite unlike those usually found at council meetings. Like, for instance, perforated hip-hopper 50 Cent.

Renowned for surviving an attack during which he was shot nine times (putting him at least one life up on the average cat), 50 Cent made last year's biggest- selling album, the appropriately titled Get Rich or Die Tryin'. He also toured extensively, with one memorable stop taking place at Red Rocks. The man born Curtis Jackson headlined August 30's Coors Light Mountain Jam, which co-starred Korn, Evanescence, P.O.D. , the Roots and the Doors of the 21st Century (a period of time during which onetime Doors leader Jim Morrison has been, and will continue to be, dead).

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The show was filmed with a vengeance. Dyce says twelve regular cameras, supplemented by eight high-definition models, captured the proceedings. "We're in post-production, with a release date toward the end of May," he notes of the flick, titled Live on the Rocks. "Our goal is to eventually produce a very important movie, a cross between Woodstock and The Real World." At present, it's unclear whether the picture's theatrical debut will coincide with the release of a DVD, or if sales for home viewing will come later. Dyce says the timing "depends on the desires of our distribution partner," whom he declines to identify other than to call the company "very exciting."

Likewise, Dyce is relatively close-mouthed about the prospect of a Live at Red Rocks television series, which he envisions as a sort of Austin City Limits featuring better scenery. "With their permission, we've been filming bands at Red Rocks for three years, and from those tapes, we've been piecing together a pilot," he reveals, adding that "we have interest from our cable and satellite partners, as well as network and public-broadcasting partners. We also have interest not only nationally but internationally. We've had conversations with entities in Japan, England and Australia." Dyce believes momentum from the film will help transform the series from concept to reality.

Relationships involving broadcast rights, intellectual property and the like are several steps beyond the landlord-tenant association the city has long maintained with promoters and artists who perform at Red Rocks. It's closer, more intimate -- potentially too intimate for bluenoses who might not like the thought of an extremely direct connection between the city and foul-mouthed rappers. Beyond remarking that "because we are a municipality, we're keenly aware of First Amendment rights," Dyce prefers not to travel down this road. Instead, he stresses that revenues generated by events at Denver-owned facilities let Theatres & Arenas function free of general-fund tax dollars. "We make enough at the end of each season to break even," he says.

Net profits from the film and television endeavors will likely go to the Preserve the Rocks Fund, which Dyce calls "a dedicated City and County of Denver account for the preservation and maintenance of Red Rocks." The fund is already the repository for the more than $30,000 in cash generated by Dyce's first major Red Rocks media undertaking, a 2003 disc dubbed Carved in Stone, Volume One that's made up of amphitheater recordings by Colorado acts Big Head Todd and the Monsters and the String Cheese Incident, plus outsiders Dave Matthews, Phish, the Allman Brothers and more. The platter, which was sold in fourteen sizable markets nationwide at Best Buy stores, and by a wider variety of retailers locally, moved 25,000 units, with most being purchased in the Denver area. This success has Dyce thinking even bigger for Carved in Stone, Volume Two, due later this year, because several popular combos have already committed -- notably R.E.M. , Coldplay and U2, whose 1983 EP Under a Blood Red Sky and its accompanying videos gave Red Rocks new cachet. On a related subject, Dyce and the city just came into possession of 48 boxes' worth of master tapes marked "U2 at Red Rocks" that had been moldering in a basement for years. Dyce says "we are currently investigating how the tapes might be used with the various owners and rights holders," among them the band and its label, Interscope Records. "We're holding the tapes until we can determine the best prudent and legal use of those tapes."

Dyce concedes that the combination of "copyrights, ownership and so on is a many-tentacled creature," but he believes he's gotten the upper hand on the beast, thanks to "an incredible degree of cooperation from artists, managers and record companies, who all care so much about Red Rocks. That's what broke the mold." Not only do the assorted enterprises represent "a fantastic mechanism for the preservation and funding of Red Rocks," he says, "but they're a way to reach out and put Red Rocks on the tip of the tongue of people across the U.S. That way, when they visit Colorado, they're sure to stop at our brand-new visitors center," which just happens to serve lunch daily and will begin opening for dinner in March.

That's hyping above and beyond the call of duty.

The Pig howls again: The prosecution of Tom Mink, the University of Northern Colorado student behind the satirical publication known as the Howling Pig (a topic in this space last week), was a non-starter. On January 20, Greeley District Attorney A.M. Dominguez decided that a charge against Mink under Colorado's disputatious criminal-libel statute wouldn't stick, because the target of Mink's barbs, UNC professor Junius Peake, was a public figure. Peake, who's authored the occasional article for the Greeley Tribune and is often interviewed because of his expertise in financial matters, regards this designation with a jaundiced eye. "I guess anybody who writes an op-ed piece is now a public figure, which is kind of scary, isn't it?" he says. "I don't consider myself to be one, but whether I'm a public figure is a matter for the law, not for me."

So, too, is the statute itself -- and even though Mink is now off the hook, the lawsuit that was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of him and his mother, Crystal Mink, lives on. Marcy Glenn, a cooperating attorney in the case, says the Minks "are going to move forward in the hope of having the statute declared unconstitutional. They'll continue to pursue those claims in federal district court."

Peake, who was lampooned in the Pig as fictional editor "Junius Puke," seen in doctored photos wearing what the professor assumed to be an Adolf Hitler mustache, has the option of taking Mink on in a civil action, but he says he won't exercise it: "He's already announced that he has no money, so why should I spend $25,000 or $50,000 to sue him civilly?" Neither is he interested in targeting Geocities, the Web service that continues to host the Pig at www.geocities.com/thehowlingpig. When Peake took his complaint about the publication to the district attorney, "I was most interested in learning who the heck this guy was, and I had no way of finding out as a private citizen. I didn't decide to serve a search warrant or anything else. That was the DA's office and the police department. I never intended for [Mink] to have his computer taken away," which happened in December; it's since been returned. Subsequent updates to the Pig demonstrate that Mink "can still write sarcasm and criticism," Peake points out.

True enough: Mink is hardly shy about expressing his opinions. He appreciates that Dominguez decided not to press charges against him, but states in an e-mail that "I couldn't fail to notice I didn't get my computer back, and the DA didn't even look at the case, until I filed suit in federal court." Regarding the criminal-libel statute, "I think the thing should be taken off the books one way or another. The possibility of the legislature taking that on during this session has been raised and I think that may affect how we move forward with the suit on the constitutionality of the law. But either way, I hope to do what I can to get rid of such an antiquated, piece-of-crap law that can be used so easily to stifle free speech."

The Pig won't be closing its yap anytime soon. Mink's troubles spurred "a great deal of interest, and submissions have increased," he discloses. "As far as the content goes, I don't see a vast change in tone, but I think we may start taking on larger issues and writing about things outside of the UNC community (UNC is really kind of boring when you get down to it)." As such, Junius Puke could soon be given the royal flush. According to Mink, "Maybe Puke will be replaced by a younger, hipper editor. Really, the controversy stretched the old boy well past his shelf date and he's getting a little stale."

For Professor Peake, this may be the best news the Pig has delivered to date.

Tech wars: In "Little Big Man," the December 11, 2003, edition of this column, Tim Brown, chief executive officer of Denver's NRC Broadcasting, talked about his purchase of KKHI-FM/105.5, a radio station based in Timnath, Colorado, for approximately $15 million. This total represented a lot fewer greenbacks than the $47.5 million paid by Entravision Communications Corporation to purchase the Peak, at 96.5 FM, in 2002. "Is the signal as good as the Peak's?" Brown asked, referring to its capability of serving Denver listeners. "No. But is it 90 percent as good? Yes."

Rob Quinn begs to differ. As the general manager of Entravision Radio Colorado, Quinn oversees KXPK-FM, the former Peak, which employs a syndicated Spanish format dubbed Radio Tricolor. Quinn insists that he has "no ax to grind," but he's understandably sensitive when a fellow radio professional implies that his company spent over $30 million more than necessary to obtain a powerful position on the FM dial.

KKHI "has been on the market for a long time, and everybody's kicked the tires on it -- and maybe there's a reason no one's acted on it," Quinn says. "To say that it's 90 percent as strong as 96.5 is, in my opinion, an uneducated statement. A statement like that from somebody who's looking for a high degree of credibility in a short period of time in this market is nothing but outrageous." Based on conversations he's had with his engineers and others, he concludes that Brown's new station may achieve somewhere between 20 percent and 50 percent of 96.5's reach in metro Denver. In his view, implying otherwise "takes away from the credibility of the entire industry."

To that, Brown says, "We'll wait and see. But I think he's wrong and I'm right."

A similar debate about gadgetry, but on a larger scale, is taking place between Channel 9, the 10 p.m. news leader, and Channel 4, which is spending gobs of money attempting to climb into first place. Channel 4's biggest move to date was to make a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos to become the "official" Broncos station, a designation that brings with it the right to broadcast pre-season games and a coach's show. Channel 9 president and general manager Roger Ogden, whose outlet had enjoyed these privileges since the first half of the '90s, says one reason he didn't fight harder to hold the team was a conflict between pre-season games and Summer Olympics coverage. But the bottom line was also a factor. "Under the contractual agreement we had, we weren't losing a lot of money, but we weren't really making any," he concedes. "Since we obviously couldn't preempt the Olympics, we would have had to purchase time from another station to have the Games carried, which would have turned a financial situation that wasn't entirely satisfactory into one that was entirely unsatisfactory."

When Channel 4 decided to up the ante, Channel 9 personnel had to readjust their verbiage. One January morning, sportscaster Drew Soicher referred to his outlet as the official Broncos station; then, an instant later, he grinned sheepishly and said, "Oh. Not anymore."

More recently, the stations have conducted a promo battle over whose Doppler radar system is better. Channel 4's pimping of its "Live Doppler 4000" system, with weathercaster Larry Green enthusing about the doodad like Mr. Wizard on nitrous, was followed quickly by Channel 9 response ads in which tornado dancer Mike Nelson declared that his station's "HD Doppler 9" was still on top. Given that neither foresaw a hefty January 25 snowstorm that came close to paralyzing a wholly unprepared metro area, the winners of this competition probably aren't viewers.

Channel 9 has also been waxing promotional about broadcasting December's Xcel Energy Parade of Lights in HDTV, or high-definition television -- and the focus on high-def that extends to the new name of its Doppler gear (it used to be "Super Doppler") will tighten in the coming months. The station's newscasts will soon be getting the HDTV treatment, and in the spring, Channel 9 will christen a new chopper that Ogden says will deliver "the first live high-definition pictures from a helicopter in the country."

To which Channel 4 will probably counter with a fleet of helicopters. Watch the skies!

In the meantime, Channel 9 is heading into the February sweeps ratings period, which looked to be the first with Bob Kendrick -- its new primary anchor -- front and center. But not so fast. Ogden says Kendrick has been well-received by the station's audience, and the anchor certainly has plenty of gravitas. Indeed, he's often downright grave, coming across at times like an understanding but somewhat foreboding funeral director. Yet Ogden notes that the retirement-bound Ed Sardella will remain at the 10 p.m. helm throughout the month.

That probably doesn't make Sardella happy, since he told Westword he hoped to fulfill his contractual obligations to Channel 9 by the end of last year ("The Old Guard," September 4, 2003). However, it gives viewers the chance to enjoy his old-school approach a little while longer. The January 22 broadcasts on Channel 31 and Channel 9 provided a telling contrast in values. Toward the end of Channel 31's newscast, the station followed an announcement that there was "more news to come" with a lengthy story about how to read body language -- and while the package may have been newsier than, say, preceding segments about American Idol that prompted anchor Ron Zappolo to joke about entering the contest, it wasn't exactly Harvest of Shame. As for Sardella, he mentioned during Channel 9's report that the evening's debate among Democratic presidential aspirants could be seen later that evening on Nightline, which just happens to air on a rival station, Channel 7.

Thank goodness Sardella is bowing out. A person who puts news judgment first is an awfully dangerous commodity.

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