Imagine you live in a place renowned for its pristine natural beauty, but berated for its urban sprawl. Your neighbors number nearly half a million, yet the live music scene is small. The conservation-minded members of the population are scattered and isolated. An environmentally conscious variety radio show piped over the airwaves of the local public radio station should be able to find its niche, right?
Well, you would think. But in 1997, just such a show was removed from the schedule at KRCC. E-Town is an hour-long variety show featuring live musical performances by such artists as David Crosby, Ani DiFranco, Ricky Skaggs and Big Head Todd and the Monsters, along with intelligent conversations about what's going on "in the world around us" with writers, policy makers, movers and shakers such as Terry Tempest Williams, Jim Hightower, Jane Goodall and Jimmy Carter promoting the idea that "home" is something bigger than the town you live in. It's taped live just up the road in Boulder and is hosted by Nick Forster (formerly of bluegrass band Hot Rize) and his wife, Helen.
E-Town is also a 501(c) 3 nonprofit educational organization, and it takes its role seriously. Each week, the E-chievement Award is presented to individuals who care enough to take the first steps toward bettering their communities. One recent honoree was Frank Ganz, a 78-year-old retiree from Pennsylvania who has built nearly 50 miles of trails, using his own tools and resources.
Put it all together and you get an entertaining, engaging, thought-provoking and thoroughly satisfying aural experience that helps establish and reinforce a sense of community.
Why, then, is E-Town no longer on the air in Colorado Springs?
"The idea of an environmentally themed variety show was a long shot," said KRCC Station Manager Mario Valdes. According to Valdes, E-Town was only being heard by about 1,500 of KRCC's 50,000 weekly listeners at its peak. During the five years E-Town ran on KRCC, it was bounced around the schedule until it finally came to rest after Car Talk, the second most popular show on KRCC. When its ratings failed even in that choice time slot, Valdes says he had no reason to keep it on the air.
But such flighty scheduling may have been the very reason E-Town flagged in the ratings, according to host Nick Forster. "Perhaps Car Talk listeners are not the perfect listeners," Forster said in a recent phone interview. "The real trick [to E-Town's success in other markets] is that every station places it in the context of their other programming. Acoustic shows, bluegrass shows, alternative Sunday morning shows ... There's a science to it, audience research. You have to pay attention to what the listening habits of your listeners are, and then build programming they respond to by helping them feel connected."
Having just celebrated its 10th B'Earthday two weeks ago, E-Town is going stronger than ever. Currently carried on over 100 stations, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to the tropical island of Guam, it is heard in just about every region of Colorado, except for Colorado Springs.
When asked what it would take to return E-Town to the local airwaves, Valdes responded, "Nothing. It's silly to ask what it would take when it didn't [work] for five years. ... There's simply no point in taking the Way-Back machine to think about something I don't have to worry about."
Forster admits there might have been more E-Town could have done to build a bigger audience in the Springs, such as helping to find underwriting or taping more live episodes at the Pikes Peak Center. KRCC's unwillingness to explore the possibility of returning E-Town to the air, however, seems to Forster to be more than just a loss to KRCC's audience, but to the city as a whole.
"When E-Town can be involved in efforts in the local community to raise money or awareness of local issues, or aid local causes that are consistent with E-Town's core values, that gives the programmer the opportunity to build listener trust. It's a conversation."
And until that conversation takes place, Colorado Springs will, once again, be missing out.