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KCMJ's big flip to FM 

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click to enlarge KMCJ is ready to transmit from the top of the Stargazers dome. - THINGLASS / SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Thinglass / shutterstock
  • KMCJ is ready to transmit from the top of the Stargazers dome.

Give the average American 100 watts and they'll switch on a reading lamp.

But give those same 100 watts to the community activists at KCMJ, and they'll climb to the top of Stargazers' geodesic dome and install a radio transmitter. Then they'll flip the switch and begin broadcasting syndicated programs like Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! and local shows like Colin Trusedell's Jazz Jam to an area that extends from Manitou Springs to Peterson Air Force Base.

"I've stood up there on top of that dome and, man, you can see for miles," says station manager Dave Gardner, while explaining how FM signals follow a "line-of-sight" path.

The long-awaited "big flip," as he calls it, will take place at a Stargazers unveiling party this coming Friday, featuring an appearance by Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia and performances by Joe Johnson, Colin Trusedell and Tony Exum, Jr.

Along with former Colorado State Rep. Dennis Apuan, Gardner was one of the prime movers in the creation of the Colorado Media Justice Foundation, back during a time when the FCC was planning to offer a very limited number of low-power FM licenses.

After receiving a permit to build their station and broadcast at 93.9 FM, the non-profit organization needed another two years to actually reach the airwaves.

If nothing else, that's given them time to practice. While raising $20,000 for equipment expenses, the all-volunteer staff cut its teeth as an Internet-only station.

During this period, Gardner also managed to pull off a couple of programming coups: The first was the local music show Grass Roots Revival, which KRCC had dropped from its schedule after host Steve Harris became director of the MeadowGrass Music Festival. Last September, the NPR affiliate pulled the plug on another show, the left-leaning Democracy Now!, which the station aired for eight years before deciding it was too politically polarizing for its listenership.

In both cases, KCMJ jumped into the breach. The only problem was that virtually no one knew they existed.

Gardner believes that situation will soon change.

"We've added over 15 shows to our schedule just this week," he says. Among them are Pacifica Radio network offerings Project Censored, a weekly Ralph Nader Radio Hour, and Thom Hartmann's nightly talk show. They'll air alongside local programs devoted to Switchbacks soccer, Latino life in Colorado Springs, and the cannabis-centered Beyond the Green Cross.

Gardner admits that KCMJ's political offerings lean to the left, and he's comfortable with that.

"That viewpoint was absent from the airwaves here, so we definitely see one of our jobs as filling that void," he says. "It's thoughtful, meaningful stuff that you can't get anywhere else."

And while the right wing is well represented locally by KVOR, Gardner believes a community radio station shouldn't lose sight of its community.

"We're well aware that fully half the town are not on the left end of the political spectrum, and we're doing our best not to avoid those viewpoints either," he says. "I want to make sure that this is a station where — regardless of where you see yourself on the political spectrum — you feel like you can walk in the door and say 'I've got an idea for a show,' or 'I want to be a guest on a show,' or 'I've got something to share.' And we definitely will have the mic for that."

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