KAJX could close doors… | AspenTimes.com

KAJX could close doors…

Allyn Harvey

If the Denver-based public radio giant Colorado Public Radio gets a license to broadcast from Glenwood Springs, at least one local public radio station may have to close its doors.

Jane Erb, who chairs the board of directors at Aspen’s KAJX, made the dire prediction yesterday. If CPR wins approval from the federal government to broadcast from Glenwood, it would cut into a large portion of the listenership of either her station or Carbondale’s KDNK, and could put them out of business, she said.

“The stakes are high,” Erb said. “The stakes are very, very high.”

But CPR spokesman Sean Carpenter isn’t so sure his organization’s gain would be local radio’s loss. “Naturally,” he said, “the more stations there are, the more listeners there are – that’s the important thing.”

CPR broadcasts classical music and news from National Public Radio on five stations around the state. It has applied to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to set up its sixth and seventh stations in Glenwood on two frequencies – 88.9 FM and 88.1 FM.

If CPR is given the go-ahead to use 88.9, KAJX would have to abandon its use of the frequency as a translator signal. That frequency is used to reach nearly all of its listeners between Snowmass Canyon and Glenwood Springs.

“If we lose the capacity to broadcast past Aspen Village,” Erb said, “we may as well shut our doors.”

Although KAJX is licensed to broadcast on 91.5 FM, it is allowed to use a piece of equipment called a translator to rebroadcast on unused frequencies and reach listeners outside the range of its main signal.

Likewise, KDNK uses the local network of county-owned translators to send its signal upvalley on 88.3. If the FCC authorizes CPR to use 88.1, KDNK would have to stop using 88.3.

“Our signal would be severely diminished if we had to give up 88.3,” said KDNK station manager Allen Scott. “We’d lose more than half our listenership.”

Erb and Scott said CPR’s plan threatens more than the listenership and donations that KAJX and KDNK rely on to stay in business – it threatens the connection between the community and its radio stations.

Both stations currently announce lost pets, air local talent and provide the public access, information and news that will probably be ignored by a Denver-based operation.

“These guys are in Denver,” Scott said. “How are they going to serve this community? From a Denver perspective?”

KDNK may survive, however, because its wide range of programming attracts a very different crowd from the classical music buffs who would be drawn to a CPR-run station. KAJX, on the other hand, fills its afternoons with classical music, so another station playing similar – though in Erb’s opinion, inferior – music is a direct threat.

CPR’s Carpenter pointed out that his organization is doing everything it can to find a way to broadcast from Glenwood without disrupting KAJX or KDNK. He said CPR’s primary reason for wanting to set up shop in Glenwood is to fill a hole in its coverage along the I-70 corridor.

“We applied for the only frequencies we saw available,” he said. “We didn’t say to ourselves, `Aha! We’ll apply for these signals because there will be a major controversy.’ “

After meeting stiff opposition from the local stations and legal maneuvering aimed at thwarting its application, CPR paid for an engineering study to see if a compromise could be reached.

When the study was completed last fall, CPR demanded a privacy agreement, which the county apparently agreed to honor. The Board of County Commissioners has met in secrecy at least once to discuss the study and recommendations made by CPR. On Monday the Translator Advisory Board excluded the public from a discussion with management from KDNK and KAJX about the study.

Carpenter said CPR’s goal is to broadcast classical music and news to as much of Colorado as possible. CPR recently teamed up with KUSC in Los Angeles to develop classical music programming of the same caliber as National Public Radio’s news programming.

The reason CPR applied for two licenses – 88.9 and 88.1 – was so one could be devoted entirely to news and one entirely to classical music. “The goal we’re moving toward is building a 24-hour stream of classical music programming.”

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