2004-12/Dec James Thompson's Here We Go Again article

Published in the Rocky Mountain Bullhorn in Dec 2004:

Here we go again
By James Thompson

I thought it was too good to be true. An alternative radio station right here in Fort Collins, where I and others searching for real, independent media could hear and produce programs to counter the vast monolith that purports to inform the masses?

Yes, KRFC really was here to save the day, and when we went on the air in March 2003, there was a giddy sense of hope, of determination, of accomplishment. I know, because I read the headlines that bright Monday morning when the very first community news magazine, News on the Range, aired on 88.9 FM.

I felt like a part of something. Earlier that year, I'd only heard about the new station through friends, and I decided to attend a meeting of folks who were mapping out the public affairs programming. I happened to come on a night decisions were being finalized, and even though I hadn't met any of these people before, they allowed me to vote, right on the spot.

What we created we knew wasn't set in stone, but our mission statement was: To allow under-represented voices to be heard, to recognize and foster diversity, and to do so in a way that was open and fair, where everyone had an equal say in the direction of their station. It was idealistic, I know.

Reality, of course, always sets in, and when it did so this past summer, I was floored. By then I'd been host of the Bullhorn Talk Show for some time, and contributing to the news collective was no longer an option, given my schedule. The public affairs group had dissolved; we did our best to choose programs to fulfill the needs of our disenfranchised demographic, and we thought our job was, for the most part, done. Little did we know our work had only begun.

The shakeup at the top earlier this year, when the new station manager took over, was a harbinger, but not the root cause, of what was to come for public affairs -- namely its slow but sure demise to make way for more music. Don't get me wrong: I'm a music lover, but there's a time for both. I guess that's my point. I'm still asking why, and all the explanations provided don't quite seem to make sense.

Especially the one about KRFC's inability to compete with NPR on the Greeley station in the mornings, hence the necessity to counter-program with music shows instead. Music is what we do best, was the mantra. I thought we already were counter-programming, offering an alternative to stale, right-of-center don't let anyone tell you otherwise news programming sponsored by military contractors and pharmaceutical corporations. To this day, most people I talk to (unscientific, I know) went back to KUNC and Morning Edition precisely because KRFC went to music.

But bills had to be paid, and so based on what little member input we could gather in the allotted timeframe, KRFC revamped its entire schedule to try to attract a new, better (and richer?) listener. Of course we'd seen through the assurances that there would be a net gain of locally produced programming, and we knew talk radio was, in fact, on the chopping block.

Still, we would have been shunned by all the forward-looking folks if we'd stubbornly held on to all we had worked for. Resistance was futile. This was not the easygoing, consensus-based assemblage of the formative months; this was business.

We had no real bargaining power anyway, since our original committee had evaporated and the programming committee, which makes the changes, had no members looking out especially for the info-heads. Besides, we'd salvaged most of our programs, with only a few time changes to deal with -- though shows on gays, Latinos and women had been, interestingly enough, relegated to the back of the bus, i.e., weekend early mornings.

If we compromised, we could lick our wounds and rest assured that the fight was over. So we did. And again, we let our guard down.

Though it still didn't really surprise me when I attended the last programming meeting and found that, only three months later, the ax will be falling again.

This time its posited as minor schedule reshuffling, but applying simple math to the proposed schedule reveals about four more hours of public affairs pushed aside for music, and forgive my bluntness, most likely uninspiring music, at that. Though I'd like to believe in the overriding logic that was offered once more, I'm not always convinced that music is what we do best, and even if it were true, I'm not sold on the sacrifice. (Maybe all that independent media is teaching me to see through PR facades meant to make unpleasant things so easy to swallow.)

Nor should we be sending the message that people should just tune in to KGNU Boulder if they want to hear Alternative Radio. Because they just might.

But who am I to talk? My show gets a full hour weekly, while others get half an hour every other week. I shouldn't talk -- I guess thats my point -- but I shouldn't have to.