Aspen’s own radio station |

Aspen’s own radio station

Tim Willoughby
Aspen Times Weekly

My family had a Farnsworth radio that was on more often than it was off. The wood box, about the size of a large microwave oven, featured a speaker that filled the room with quality sound, and powerful tubes that pulled in signals from far away. “Far away” for daytime AM radio was different than for nighttime. After sundown, signals from stations in California, Texas and Mexico were as strong as those from Denver. In the daytime even Denver stations were so frequently interrupted by static, only KGLN in Glenwood was worth listening to.

Today’s Clear Channel choices are the same in every city with formula formats, the same announcer’s voice, and the same music. Originality is not valued. The radio stations of 1950s and early 1960s were exclusively local. KGLN was typical of rural radio. The hours were filled with local news, a few minutes of national news from a major broadcast source, local classifieds, and music for adults. The Hog Report was at prime time, lunch hour. KGLN had a few Aspen business sponsors, but Aspen was rarely a topic of the local news. Although it was the only daytime station for Aspen’s listeners, they were not included in the community.

All that changed when KSNO began broadcasting in 1964. Aspen finally had its own station, an AM operation with broadcasting time limited to daylight hours. Just as the entry of railroads, in the 1880s, had signaled that Aspen had become a city, the KSNO signal was greeted with community pride.

Bil Dunaway, owner and editor of The Aspen Times, started the station with Barbara McLoughlin, housing the studio in the Aspen Times building. You could wave to the announcers through the large windows as you strolled down Main Street.

From the very beginning KSNO had its own identity, one as different from KGLN as possible. Dunaway tapped George Madsen to be the voice and manager. Madsen’s creative touch gave the small town station big city airs, primarily through his sense of humor. Madsen would introduce an interview, “reporting from mobile unit number four,” when actually he was talking with someone on the telephone.

KSNO’s weather and snow reports appealed to both locals and tourists. Hourly national news and local news that depended on Aspen Times reporters kept Aspen informed. Music spanned tastes, depending on the time of day and the day of the week, with more music programming on weekends. Local events received attention and creative classified radio ads augmented the Times.

Prime time on KSNO was the noon hour featuring commentary by Madsen, a talented interviewer who coaxed conversation without getting in the way of his guests. Many of his guests were characters from Aspen’s past. His program could also have been called “oral history hour.” The most popular guest was Louise Berg, a great storyteller with a distinctive, aged voice that resonated on radio.

Apres-ski celebrations reached an apex in the mid-1960s, so KSNO took advantage of nightclub resources. Several Aspen clubs featured live entertainment in the hours just before the station went off the air. Madsen would take the one and only mobile unit to broadcast live music, especially from the Woodlander. Cal Tjader, the Irish Rovers, Pat and Victoria plus the Hustlers entertained listeners with jazz, folk and ski music.

Sign-off time varied according to season, but was usually at 6:45 p.m. After John Denver took up residence in Aspen, KSNO used his instrumental, Season Suite: Late Winter, Early Spring, to end each day. KSNO was uniquely Aspen.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at