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Public shut out of radio talks again

Allyn Harvey

The Pitkin County Translator Advisory Board again met in closed session Monday night with representatives from the valley’s two public radio stations, KAJX and KDNK.

And they apparently reached agreement on what the future of public radio should be in the Roaring Fork Valley.

In a prepared statement, advisory board chairman Michael Munroe said that his group and management from KAJX and KDNK “feel we have a potential resolution that protects the radio stations in the valley.”

Munroe said a recommendation would be made to the Pitkin County commissioners as soon as a closed session could be scheduled. The recommendation may be the county’s latest answer to Colorado Public Radio’s attempt to set up shop in Glenwood Springs.

The Denver-based nonprofit that operates five stations in Colorado, has been trying to enter the local market for more than two years. It has met stiff resistance because its proposals require at least one local station to give up a “translator” frequency used to extend its broadcast area.

Pitkin County, which operates a network of translators that rebroadcast radio and television signals on unused frequencies into remote areas, intervened by applying with the Federal Communications Commission for the same frequencies that CPR is seeking.

After nearly two years of stalemate, CPR announced last summer it was going to conduct an engineering study to see if any solutions could be found.

Monday’s closed meeting was the advisory board’s second in recent weeks, but it was the first time a member of the public confronted board members over their decision to meet in secrecy.

“What’s your justification for meeting in secret?” KDNK founder Lee Swidler asked before being told to leave the room.

When Munroe paused briefly to ponder the question, Swidler interjected, “I support the station with my money and my energy. I think I’m entitled to an explanation.”

Munroe told Swidler that the advisory board was abiding by an agreement between the county and CPR reached last fall when the county commissioners were in executive session. CPR reportedly threatened to withhold the results of the engineering study from the county unless it kept things quiet.

Munroe also said the FCC had directed CPR and the county to see if they could work out a deal on how to share the airwaves.

When Swidler pointed out that the federal agency has no authority to bargain away the airwaves – it must simply follow the guidelines for awarding broadcast licenses – and therefore can’t abide by any deal reached between CPR and the county, he was answered with silence.

Munroe said his board and the representatives from the radio stations were confident that a counterproposal to a CPR offer may solve the problem.

The county’s translator engineer, John Dady, said that the discussions belonged behind closed doors because it gave the county time to respond to the results of the study.

Swidler, who left the room peacefully after Munroe began to lose patience, remained unconvinced about the need for closing out the public.


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