From CU-Boulder's student-run KVCU to Pueblo's Christian contemporary KTPL, there are nearly a hundred radio stations you can theoretically pick up in Colorado Springs.
Of course, "theoretically" is the operative word here, since your actual listening mileage may vary due to everything from shifting cloud cover to the quality of your car stereo. (Mine's got a built-in cassette player, so you can be sure it's state-of-the-art!)
But when it comes to decent music stations, it's still pretty hard to fill up a dozen presets here. So a couple of weeks ago, it came as a shock to me — as well as to the music-fanatic husband of another editorial staffer here — when we independently found our local airwaves graced by around-the-clock soul, funk and R&B.
Turns out we were tuning in to KJHM, a station transmitting straight out of Strasburg (pop. 1,402), some 40 miles east of Denver. Billed as "The New Jammin' 101.5," it plays everything from George Clinton & Parliament's '70s funk anthem "Flash Light" to Al B Sure's 1988 New Jack Swing track "Nite and Day" (with a handful of current hits, like Miguel's "Adorn," thrown in for good measure).
After a week of listening, I called the station to find out how it had suddenly infiltrated Colorado Springs.
"I think I've just got it dialed in to where it works really well now," says director of engineering Daniel Hyatt, who joined the station last summer, around the time it changed to its current format. "We had an antenna that got hit by lightning, so that was kind of toasted. It was operating at the correct power, but it really wasn't working right, so we replaced that. And, you know, we've also had power problems, and all kinds of crazy stuff with our transmitter, which is out in the middle of nowhere."
Hyatt also spent a lot of time tweaking the station's audio output. "When you do that, it clears up all kinds of junk," he says. "There's distortion and just really weird things that go on inside the signal that the listener doesn't necessarily hear, but it really prohibits radios from picking it up."
Of course, none of this would much matter if KJHM were just another cookie-cutter corporate pawn polluting the airwaves. Although the station isn't independent, parent company Max Media is pretty small by today's radio standards. Suffice it to say that, with 42 radio stations, Max Media won't be costing the 850-station Clear Channel any sleepless nights.
Likewise, while the new format was devised by an L.A.-based consultant, Hyatt says music selections are all made in-house, based on a combination of requests and staff suggestions: "I mean, I'm the engineer, and usually the engineer doesn't have anything to do with programming. But they even listen to my suggestions."
KJHM's programming approach — along with its hosting of events ranging from benefits for the Aurora shooting victims to an upcoming "Love Affair" concert with Johnny Gill and Confunkshun — is a kind of throwback to radio's more community-focused origins.
"What good is it if you have a playlist that comes out of L.A. and is on a hundred other stations?" asks Hyatt. "And then you've got one guy in San Francisco who's voice-tracking all those stations. I've actually heard stations in Denver that I know are voice-tracked out of L.A. or San Francisco, and the guy will come on the mic with, 'Man, it's a great morning in the Mile High City and a beautiful day in store for us.' And I'm looking out the window, and there's a blizzard outside. It's like, what are you talking about? And you know, that's not fair to the listener."
Meanwhile, for Colorado Springs music fans determined to "listen local," KILO 94.3 is marking its 35th anniversary with a flurry of special events and promotions. The "pure rock" ratings giant, whose parent company owns just a handful of stations, will be offering 94-cent-per-gallon gas at local 7-Elevens at least one day a month throughout 2013, giving away a "tricked-out car" from its birth year 1978, and hosting a free P.O.D. acoustic concert at Rawkus on March 24. Although tickets to the latter were gone in a flash, you can still tune in to the station for ticket giveaways.
And finally, if only to give this column its minimum weekly requirement of bold type, allow me to recommend What's Left Fanzine's third anniversary concert ("10 bands, 10 issues, 10 bucks") at Zodiac this Friday. In addition to headliner DJ Abilities — a Minneapolis turntablist who records for the revered Rhymesayers label — there'll be sets by Sadistik, Maulskull, Bullhead*ded, the War Parts, Ibe Hustles, Disguise the Spy, A Black Day, Murder Hat and Flodignatic.