The State of Classical Radio in the Metro-Denver Area
by Art Tedeschi

This commentary does not represent the opinions of the Colorado Audio Society or any of its members and is solely the opinion of its author.

Colorado Public Radio (CPR) announced recently that after approval from the FCC, that changes, expected to go into effect in March, will convert CPR’s current flagship station, KCFR-FM (90.1) into a 24-hour classical-music affiliate, renamed KVOD in honor of Denver’s late classical station. CPR has also recently acquired an AM station (1340) which will carry their offering of news/talk programs, to include All things Considered, Morning Edition, Car Talk, A Prairie Home Companion, and Music from the Hearts of Space.

The classical music programming on “KVOD” will originate in “Denver or Los Angeles with recorded introduction made by announcers based in each city...” Also, CPR will be purchasing KUNC-FM (91.5) in Greeley and indicated that it would offer the news/talk format.

These announcements triggered several concerns as well as some outright objections to this plan:

  • We all like the idea of a 24-hour classical-music-only FM station, but a bit of old-fogeyism in me still yearns for the Denver-based KVOD founded by Gene Amole. For one thing, I dislike “canned” radio that originates from some unknown area and its sterile, pre-taped, slick format. There’s a sense of “live radio” knowing that an announcer at the station is listening as we listen and if a record skips (or, in current times if a CD has a nervous breakdown), he or she will rush to fix the problem and perhaps make a comment on the nature of playback hardware. Plus, and I may be off base here, I’ve always felt a kind of kinship with the disk jockey and came to know his biases and tastes. I doubt this is possible in a canned format which is becoming the norm in modern radio programming techniques. I remember a segment of the now-defunct TV series WKRP in Cincinnati that spotlighted the station manager (I don’t remember his name) contemplating a move to a station offering long-distance canned format with little to no personal intervention. As you can probably guess, he didn’t take the job. Another objection is that CPR has previously announced that the Karl Haas program, Adventures in Good Music, will not be a part of the mix. I’m sure they have their reasons for this, but this decision will not go far in attracting long-time KVOD listeners to the new station.
  • Now what about the new AM station? OK, I guess I can live with the talk programming in the inferior format. I enjoy Car Talk and other NPR news stuff that should suffer little with AM-quality (discounting the typical AM problems we’re all familiar with). Unfortunately, I’m also a fan of Prairie Home Companion (my young daughters chide me about this guilty pleasure) and am absolutely certain that the quality of this program will deteriorate on AM. Keillor’s resonant, intimate, and hospitable voice during the News from Lake Woebegon monologues just won’t be the same.
  • For many years, I’ve spent hours attempting to woo KUNC’s signal to one of my many home and car FM receivers. Any fan of this station living in Denver will know exactly what I mean. I remember once when I had my indoor antenna (by the way, few work as intended) pivoted at an angle on a high shelf just to enjoy the fine alternative/space music program Echoes featured most evenings on KUNC. I also enjoy the general music format of the station: classical mixed with folk and alternative that often led me to a new artist discovery. It wasn’t clear in the article if KUNC will retain its format, only that it would present the talk programs. I sense an impending doom.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who will cry that the big mean CPR is taking advantage of us little folks. I’m a great believer in free enterprise, and I know that the owners of CPR are making decisions that they think will improve the station and guarantee future prosperity. At the same time, I urge CPR to seriously assess the nature of its listenership. Who knows, perhaps I’m being pessimistic about the information I’ve read and CPR will do the right things. Perhaps they’re not sure of what the public wants. If I had my way, here’s what I would do from this point:

  • Can the “canned” approach on the new KVOD. Hire local announcers (what about the old KVOD crew?) to restore a format similar to the old KVOD. Bring back Karl Haas for his fans (what could this hurt?) and utilize KVOD’s media library, which is now in the possession of CPR.
  • The AM talk format is acceptable, but not for Prairie Home Companion. Put Keillor’s program on the FM-music station.
  • Retain KUNC’s free-form format, but boost the station’s power so that Denverites can enjoy this unique station. I still yearn for this approach similar to the days of the old KBCO and KFML. I think CPR would be surprised at the market’s response to this suggestion.