In the age of on-demand, it's hard to wait a whole month for the latest installment. But fans of the local radio series Wish We Were Here were rewarded June 17 with a new episode all about the Freedom School — a tiny, now-defunct academy north of Colorado Springs that graduated some of the most prominent libertarians shaping business and politics today.
The heady high from that journey into an enigmatic trove of history was followed soon by a letter saying that episode will be the last.
"We've got this whole long list of story ideas we wanted to do," co-producer Noel Black told the Indy. "It's like getting pulled at mile 7 when I wanted to run a marathon."
Billed as "tales and investigations from the shadows of America's mountain," Wish We Were Here introduced listeners to the most armed man in Colorado, a 12-year-old paleontologist, the city's first black detective, an aspiring autistic newsman and all sorts of real characters who complicate the narrative of Colorado Springs as inhospitable to free-thought or non-conformity.
"We didn't announce it at the beginning, like, 'Oh look, this city is more interesting than you think,' but we did get to bring people into these esoteric corners with us," Black says. "That's where the truth is."
On June 20, KRCC general manager Tammy Terwelp's letter to listeners said, "The decision to discontinue the program has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the program, but the economics of it."
She estimates WWWH cost the station about $10,000 to produce each episode, while KRCC pays $3,864 a year to air the monthly Ted Radio Hour, $1,969 a year for Ask Me Another and less than $6,000 a year for This American Life.
NPR declined to confirm how much those latter three programs actually cost their stations to produce.
Terwelp said her goal is to modernize the station. She struck unneccesary line items from the budget, updated equipment and evaluated program scheduling. As for WWWH, she says, "People definitely really liked it, as far as I could tell. I never got any complaints."
Terwelp says cutting the show "was the worst day of my career."
Jane Turnis, vice president of communications at Colorado College, has overseen KRCC since 2009. The college owns KRCC's broadcasting license and provides $100,000 in funding each year. She says operating like a self-sustaining business is a must, "so this is about how to best use existing resources."
KRCC has a community advisory board, but arts advocate Don Goede, part of that board for years, says he's "dumbfounded there wasn't more of a conversation" about WWWH.
"Look I understand it, I'm a businessman too," he says. "But it scares me that we can't find creative solutions to keep local culture like this alive."
Longtime listener and off-and-on member Sue Spengler worries for the future of long-form journalism: "Even though it's non-fiction, [the producers] told stories with a narrative arc that lets you into worlds you might not otherwise understand." Spengler says for now she won't be donating to the station.
Terwelp insists cutting WWWH does not mean local coverage will suffer. In KRCC's reorganization, WWWH's other producer, Jake Brownell, will move to the newsroom and another hire is planned.
Black says it's not in the cards for him to keep producing WWWH without getting paid for it.
"My work, telling stories, has always been for the community," he said. "And KRCC was a vehicle for doing that. I'm going to miss collaborating with Jake [Brownell] but it's not like all these stories will go untold now. I'm not the only one telling stories here, nor would I want to be."