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KGNU acquires signal on AM dial

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — Boulder community radio station KGNU-FM, 88.5, has struck an agreement to buy 1390 AM in Denver for $4.1 million.

Acquiring the 5,000-watt station, currently broadcasting Spanish music as KJME, will allow KGNU to broadcast its alternative brand of music and news to a vastly wider audience.

The current FM signal is just 1,300 watts and reaches only parts of Denver.

Still, said Kris Abrams, KGNU’s Denver campaign coordinator, “It actually worked out pretty well because we reached into Denver enough to create the demand.”

Abrams said the station began looking seriously into acquiring a Denver AM signal last summer.

A group called Public Radio Capital, which consults public radio stations across the country, helped broker the deal for KGNU.

The up-front payment for the signal is $1.2 million, Abrams said.

“And then (Wednesday) we put down an additional $100,000 for what we’re calling the operating agreement,” she said. “That will allow us to begin broadcasting this Sunday and continue (simulcasting) until the deal closes.”

The sale requires Federal Communications Commission approval.

According to KGNU station manager Marty Durlin, the new signal will allow the station to reach the 2 million people of metro Denver.

Durlin credited the work of her staff for making the deal happen, as well the station’s listeners, which provide the majority of the station’s half-million dollar annual budget.

“When we announced it on the radio we talked about our fund-raising and our listener support, and I think six or seven people called immediately to contribute money,” said Durlin.

Abrams, too, said the deal couldn’t have happened without the station’s listeners.

“We’ve raised over $1.2 million so far, and that has come from our strongest supporters, with gifts everywhere from six figures to whatever anybody could give,” she said.

Of the 5,000 people who are “listener-members” of the station, Abrams said about 800 have Denver addresses.

“You can expect of your coverage area about 10 percent of those people to be listeners, and then about 10 percent of them to be listener-members,” she said.

KGNU stopped carrying National Public Radio programming in the early 1990s, Durlin said, feeling that the public broadcasting outlet was starting to take on too much of a corporate imprint.

Broadcasting out of its three-year old headquarters on east Walnut Street in Boulder, KGNU prides itself on independent, eclectic programming of both talk and music programs. From nationally syndicated, politically charged shows like “Democracy Now” to locally produced specialty music shows like “Reggae Bloodlines,” the station has long provided its listeners with programming they can’t get anywhere else locally.

It’s fitting that the first day of its simulcast on its new AM signal, Sunday, the station will be covering the mass protests in New York City, the day before the Republican convention gets under way.

Abrams pointed out that Denver residents have long asked what the station could do about getting a larger signal. She added that in the run-up to the Iraqi war, those requests increased.

“I think that the war has helped play a role in the interest (of independent media),” Abrams said.

Founded in May 1978, KGNU has just six paid staff members but more than 230 volunteers who keep the station operating.

“This is a very bold move,” she said. “I know of no other community station — volunteer-powered, community station — that has done something like this.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.