Between friends and neighbors 

KRCC loses Colorado College funding and defends against "Democracy Now!"

click to enlarge Disc jockey Vicky Gregor works the board at KRCC, a - public radio station licensed to Colorado College. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Disc jockey Vicky Gregor works the board at KRCC, a public radio station licensed to Colorado College.

Thanks to belt-tightening at Colorado College, an anticipated two-year shortfall of more than $100,000 is placing pressure on KRCC public radio to increase revenues in order to salvage programs and jobs.

Administrators at the college, which holds KRCC's license, insist the station isn't yet facing such dire prospects. Station manager Mario Valdes, however, paints a grim picture of its future.

"You can't exert this much pain on the station and not make some programming cuts," he says. "You just can't."

The college eliminated $84,000 from the station's 2005-2006 budget as part of a campus-wide effort to tighten finances, leaving KRCC to consider ending its claim that the station is a "community service of Colorado College."

"We might tweak that language just slightly," says Lisa Ellis, a spokeswoman for the college.

The station is affiliated with National Public Radio and located in a house at 912 N. Weber St. Seven full-time employees and a cadre of dedicated volunteers work at the station, which airs music, talk and news programs on 91.5 FM and 89.1 FM (KRLJ) in La Junta.

For more than two decades, KRCC relied on cash contributions from Colorado College, in addition to revenues from listeners, corporate sponsorships and grants.

The college's decision to eliminate its appropriation indefinitely came without prior notice or explanation, leaving no time to plan, Valdes says.

"Their decisions are made in an almost-Death Star vacuum," he says.

The station now projects shortfalls of $61,538 in this fiscal year and $39,546 next year. "Western Skies," the locally produced news program created by the station last year, could be cut, along with jobs, by 2008, Valdes says.

To avert such drastic measures today, the station is dipping into its $300,000 reserve fund which amounts to slightly less than a third of the station's annual operating costs.

The reserve had been earmarked to insulate KRCC from fluctuations in federal spending and to help fund an eventual switch to digital radio, Valdes says.

Valdes plans to ask listeners to donate tens of thousands of dollars more this year, an idea the college strongly supports. But Valdes can't guarantee listeners will rally to KRCC's cause, claiming they are unlikely to tolerate a longer funding drive.

"I'm wary," he says. "I don't want to destroy our relationship with listeners."

What democracy looks like

Meanwhile, community activists see the impending crisis as an impetus for changes.

Eric Verlo, owner of Toons Music and Film, where anti-war signs and tents are erected in the parking lot, for months has tried to persuade KRCC to broadcast "Democracy Now!," a nationally syndicated news program known for its confrontational, investigative approach. The show is aired on 350 stations across North America, including public stations in Fort Collins and Boulder.

"I think it would win new people over to KRCC," says Verlo.

The show is a proven moneymaker for Boulder's KGNU.

"It's our strongest program," says Joanne Cole, KGNU's community relations coordinator. "People love the show. It's powerful the most cutting-edge show on the air."

But Valdes says "Democracy Now!" has a left-wing bias. He fears the show wouldn't be popular with public radio listeners in Colorado Springs who, he says, tend to be more conservative than their counterparts in Boulder.

That hasn't dissuaded Verlo, who recently delivered 250 signatures on a petition to college President Richard Celeste in support of the show.

Verlo and fellow activists claim NPR News has drifted to the right in order to satisfy critics that accuse the organization of having a liberal bias.

Verlo plans to invite Celeste and Valdes to a "town hall" meeting he is organizing to discuss the future of KRCC. It is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 20, at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.

Ellis says the college already has ruled out adding "Democracy Now!" because it believes Verlo represents only a small faction of listeners.

The college is in the process of creating an advisory board for KRCC, she adds. The members of the board haven't been named yet, but the board will consist of representatives from the college and KRCC's audience; a minority representative; someone under 35 years old; a business owner; and several others, Ellis says.

"It is a recognition that more can be done to serve the community," Ellis says.


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