Lack of music on KAJX creates opportunity for KDNK

Michael Stranahan, center, addresses the Aspen Public Radio board of directors on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Stranahan was the host of the Classical Music from Aspen radio show for roughly 10 years. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Nine people met at a long table Thursday afternoon in an Aspen restaurant to discuss an upcoming meeting — comparing notes and looking at data they could use to help them make their points.

The gathering was mostly former KAJX volunteer DJs whose music shows were cut as a result of Aspen Public Radio’s decision to broadcast more news and less music on the station, based on its local survey data. They were prepping for APR’s Board of Directors meeting later that day, the board’s first since the change was made in late January.

For many of these DJs, KAJX has been home to their carefully crafted music shows for as many as 30 years. Most have held various roles with the station, serving as board members or employees, and some even read short stories on air in the early days of KAJX. All of them put in hours of work for their shows.

And for Sy Coleman, founder of KAJX, this volunteerism is what the station was built on nearly 40 years ago when it was started with Radio Shack equipment on a card table in his Aspen apartment.

“The station was founded on community volunteers, it stemmed from the community itself,” Coleman said.

Coleman’s sentiments were expressed at the APR board meeting Thursday, which he called into from his home in Peru, as people like former DJ Scott Harper and another one of the station’s original members, Lee Ingram, referenced the volunteer, music-lover spirit they feel has defined KAJX over the years.

Ingram said he remembers strategically placing a transmitter on Shadow Mountain and dragging another halfway up Smuggler Mountain with several other volunteers in the early days of the station to help bring different, unique sounds to the Aspen airwaves.

“This station is kind of a gem of a holdover from the previous Aspen,” Ingram said. “I was shocked to see them sterilize it.”

But while many locals reminisced about how KAJX was founded and urged the board to help bring music back to the station Thursday, some of the former hosts already have found another on-air avenue for their shows: KDNK, a Carbondale-based public access radio station that broadcasts in Aspen and Snowmass.

Since APR staff informed the roughly dozen volunteer DJs their music would no longer be a part of the station’s schedule, a decision based off extensive research and local listener and donor surveys, three have moved over to KDNK: Cheryl Koehne, Neil Jung and Harper.

This move was the hope for the hosts all along, as APR staff called KDNK before meeting with its music volunteers in January to see if there was room for their shows at the partner station, as previously reported.

“We want to make sure people know KDNK has been playing jazz, blues and other genres and that they can still hear and support their favorite DJs,” said Gavin Dahl, KDNK station manager, noting specifically the transition of KAJX music hosts to his station.

Since 1983, KDNK has aimed to keep listeners informed of local and regional news, curate an extensive local library and support the creation of excellent local programming, according to its website.

That programming includes some NPR news in the morning and evening; local news broadcasts; music from more than 100 DJs from 8- to 95-years-old, made possible through the station’s partnership with the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program, a nonprofit founded in memory of KDNK’s first youth DJ to give students throughout the Roaring Fork Valley access to community broadcasting; and community outreach efforts up and down the valley, including events like the free, live-broadcast jazz show featuring Smirk, a Denver hip-hop jazz group, that will be held March 7 in Aspen.

“The reason we still have what some think of as an old-fashioned, patchwork-quilt schedule is because we want to maximize the opportunity for local programming,” Dahl said. “You can get music everywhere, but only on KDNK can you hear locals pick the music they love for you every day.”

Dahl said the results of a station listener survey conducted in the fall show locally hosted music shows as the most listened to on KDNK, with local news coming in second and NPR or national news in third.

The survey also placed Dan Sadowsky, a KDNK DJ known as Pastor Mustard who also was a former KAJX music host, and his bluegrass show as in the top 10 most listened to.

But while the blend of music and news has worked well for KDNK so far, Dahl said he is excited for KAJX and its efforts to bring more local news to the valley, and feels both stations have a lot to offer the Roaring Fork community.

“It’s more clear now that APR is focused on its NPR programming and building up its cash and staff capacity. I can’t wait to see what they do to serve the news audience in the valley,” Dahl said. “KDNK will continue to grow our news as well but we also have the opportunity to prove we are the place to go for music.”


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