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Don’t tune out the public during radio negotiations

The Aspen Times Editorial

Aspen, Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley in general have been lucky to have two public radio stations – KAJX and KDNK – serving our populace over the course of nearly two decades.

Actually, luck had nothing to do with it. In both communities, visionary locals put a lot of hard work into getting these two radio stations up and running, and a veritable army of volunteers, listeners and supporters have kept them going.

The idea that the fates of these stations are being decided in meetings held behind closed doors is intolerable. It is immoral, unethical, and if it is not criminal, it ought to be.

Pitkin County’s translator advisory board, acting on the advice of Public Works Director Stan Berryman and Assistant County Attorney Debbie Quinn, held a secret meeting last week with representatives from KAJX and KDNK to talk about Colorado Public Radio. The Denver-based broadcasting organization wants nothing less than to be the Big Daddy of the state’s public radio stations, controlling the richest pots of subscribers and contributors from an office tower on the Front Range.

CPR has apparently glimpsed gold in the Roaring Fork Valley, in the form of a wealthy population of listeners now being served by a pair of relatively funky, inexperienced stations run by people who do their job for the sheer fun of it. And CPR thinks it has the power, in the form of high-paid lawyers and consultants, to muscle into the valley and blow our two little stations right out the water.

Fine. Everybody loves a good fight.

But it is impossible to fight when you don’t know the layout of the battleground, and that is where we, the listening public, are right now. The county has signed away our rights in a secret agreement that calls for all deliberations and discussions on the matter to take place behind closed doors.

What has happened here is that CPR has figured out a way to use our own government against us, since it is highly unlikely that this secrecy is in the best interests of either local radio station, or the listeners in general. CPR has deftly outmaneuvered everyone to exclude the pubic from what should be the most public of debates. It is slick, it is clever, and it is wrong. It is an indication that our local officials might be buying into CPR’s manipulative line.

It may be that this agreement, and the secret meetings it permits, is in line with the letter of Colorado’s open meetings law, but it is definitely not in keeping with the law’s spirit.

Is this an indication of the kind of service we can expect from Colorado Public Radio – decisions made in secret, and a general attitude that the public does not deserve to know what is going on and should meekly accept whatever is served up?

One has to wonder exactly what kind of programming such a corporate mindset will lead to. Jane Erb of the KAJX board likely hit the nail on the head when she predicted “Top 40 Classical” and canned programming of all sorts.

This narrow little band of public-radio wavelengths – from 88.1 to 91.9 – is the last truly public part of the airwaves. Everything else is auctioned off to the highest bidder, and we reap the standardized, homogenized reward. We deserve better. The translator board should immediately open all further meetings on this subject, and the county commissioners should pledge to do the same.

Any citizens who care about these issues should let their feelings be known. Call your county commissioner, call your radio station, write to the FCC at 1919 M St., Washington, D.C., 20554, or send an e-mail to fccinfo@fcc.gov.


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