Birth of a station
When I moved to Colorado from New York in 2004, I was surprised by the lack of variety on the valley’s radio stations. No, I didn’t expect there to be the same selection as in NYC’s megawatt media hub. But I also didn’t expect the dial to be as sparsely populated as the northeast corner of Colorado.The number of choices are fairly well related to the valley’s population, but the diversity is not. From East Vail to Gypsum, transplanted residents hail from all over the country and many parts of the globe. You see more Red Sox and Yankees hats than Rockies, and the regional DMVs are always full of out-of-staters trying to secure Colorado IDs and plates.Yet the dial stays homogenized. Music stations cycle set lists of country and classic rock with one day’s rotation mimicking the last.Understandably, as we are in the mountains and many transplant residents are also from the Midwest and South, both genres are popular. They are not though, an adequate representation of the majority, something an informal scan of the valley’s nightlife reveals.It’s safe to say that outside of athletic recreational activities, Vail Valley’s passion is music. The Hot Summer Nights Concert Series packed Ford Amphitheater and the village every Tuesday night for the past two months. Bluegrass on the Green is always well attended. Wolcott draws crowds to its FAC, in large part because of musicians like rhythm-and-blues guitarist Mem Shannon, a New Orleans native.Musical guests like Dark Star Orchestra and Phix complement State Bridge’s natural ambience. Vail and Beaver Creek attract the nation’s best philharmonics, which are comprised of the most talented international musicians. The International Dance Festival, which features a form of art based on musical interpretation, is booming.And that’s just this summer.Winter is much of the same – The Wailers, Badfish, Ghostface Killah, M1, Gift of Gab, Digable Planets and G. Love all played Vail this ski season; and those are just the shows I attended. The actual list is multiplied many times with the full spectrum of musical tastes represented (8150’s Halloween party featured a Cuban brass and percussion band).The valley’s musical guests are varied and interesting. They claim musical roots in many branches of America’s culture, and, based on the community’s positive reception, are well desired. So why is it that commercial radio doesn’t seem to want the same?My involvement with Radio Free Minturn (KLNX 107.9 FM) is based on the presumption that the valley wants – and needs – another option on the dial. One that – like the musical tastes of Eagle County residents, RFM board members, DJs and myself – is richer than Top-40 country and rock.Tonight’s celebration at the Minturn Saloon signifies the culmination of what I see as the first phase of Radio Free’s progression: getting on the air. The process has been fulfilling but not always smooth. As a licensed nonprofit, the board is an all-volunteer entity, one that has shifted and changed over the last year and has had to (unfortunately) give attention to time-consuming, paying jobs.Sometimes progress was streamlined and economic, other times it was like trying to stuff Jell-O inside a fish net. Our vision was never a problem, the road just had hiccups and unexpected turns.The mission of Radio Free, as I see it, is two-fold: to provide the community with a musical option that provides quality diversity; and to challenge commercial radio to do the same. Radio should be a viable option to my own music collection. A place where I can experience music I’ve never heard and tracks that aren’t repeated ad nauseum.RFM is inherently a representation of the valley’s culture and tastes, anyway. The only pre-requisite to being a DJ is that you’re an Eagle County resident. From a Sims Market employee to a Vail councilman, 107.9 FM is a ground-up display of what we’re listening off the air. Plus, there are no commercials. Radio Free, which has been officially broadcasting since June 27, is a licensed nonprofit with a broadcast signal reaches from East Vail to Edwards and parts of Tennessee Pass.Unlike commercial radio’s status quo, which I believe Radio Free is breaking, KLNX is minimizing the distance between what the valley wants to listen to and what is being played. At Eagle Valley Music Co. in Vail, the top selling CDs include G. Love, Gnarls Barkley, Pharrell and Jurassic-5. Radio Free plays all of it. Less than two months after the first signal was sent out, you can find over 20 DJs and 15 individual shows on 107.9. There is Latin percussion, plenty of indie rock, heavy metal, reggae, and hip-hop, a genre commercial radio seems to abhor.This isn’t to say that local commercial radio is irrelevant. It is. It’s both a news and a musical venue as well as a strong supporter of valley residents and goings-on around town. However, it is also a relatively stagnant institution and a poor representation of real musical tastes.The most beautiful thing about Radio Free Minturn is that it is a constantly changing organism. An organism that is a mirror image of the valley’s tastes and a creative outlet for locals. A station that if you tune in five years from now will reflect what the musical desires in Vail Valley are – not what they were, and not what the generic commercial airplay purveys and seems to think we want.Greg Spielberg is a Radio Free Minturn board member and DJ. He can be reached at GregTSpielberg@gmail.com.