Deal with Vail Jazz could keep Radio Free Minturn’s signal on the air
On your dial
Radio Free Minturn is at 107.9 FM. On a good day, the 10-watt signal stretches from about the top of Vail Pass to almost Wolcott.
MINTURN — The world’s changing media landscape doesn’t just impact cable networks and big-city TV stations. Those changes can be felt at a very down-home level.
Changes in how people listen to music and communicate in their communities have affected Radio Free Minturn. In a world of a dwindling volunteer base, as well as a shrinking donor base, the station for a few months now has been running on its financial reserves.
Austin Richardson, currently the only board member for the nonprofit group, said there’s perhaps two months’ worth of operating money left.
The station may not leave the air, but its focus may shift.
According to an email from Owen Hutchinson, the development director of Vail Jazz, the nonprofit foundation that runs the Vail Jazz Festival, that organization has signed a letter of intent to acquire Radio Free Minturn and its assets. That would keep the station community-run and community-based.
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According to Hutchinson’s email, if the deal goes through, “we anticipate no substantial changes to the station’s format or programming in the near-term.”
Liz Campbell, one of the founders of Radio Free Minturn, said she’s disappointed the station probably won’t continue as it was founded but added she’s hopeful Vail Jazz will be good stewards of the station.
The station was the result of years of work — and paperwork — before becoming a licensed, low-power station about 11 years ago.
The station started out as an unlicensed, “pirate” station in the 1990s. That status had to change once the Federal Communications Commission found out about it.
Campbell and others led fundraising drives and found some good friends along the way. Most were able to give time and write modest checks. But there were some big donors, too.
Bobby Ginn, the Florida-based developer who once proposed a new, private ski area on Battle Mountain, donated $20,000. Magnus Lindholm, who owns the property on which the station’s broadcast tower sits, donated space.
And, thanks to a bit of luck, the owners of a snowcat on which Campbell placed a note turned out to be in the equipment-hauling business. That company cut the fledgling station a very favorable rate on hauling equipment up to the tower over snow-covered ground.
While Campbell was one of the driving forces in getting Minturn Public Radio off the ground, she hasn’t been on the board in several years. That isn’t unusual for a small nonprofit group. But board resignations have accelerated over the past few years. At the moment, Richardson — who has been a volunteer at the station since the year it legally went on the air — is the only board member. He works with a local accounting company to keep the lights on and the bills paid. A local attorney is working on the deal with Vail Jazz.
The loss of volunteers has changed the nature of the station. Richardson said what once was a good-sized core of volunteers has dwindled to just a handful of people.
“The last couple of years have been very low (in participation),” Richardson said.
That seems to be the case across the media landscape.
J.K. Perry is the executive director of High Five Access Media, which operates Channel 5, the community-access channel on local cable systems.
High Five and Radio Free Minturn are different in a number of ways. High Five is funded through cable franchise fees paid to local towns. In return, High Five streams and records council meetings and other municipal events.
Perry said the same shifting landscape that’s affected volunteer numbers at Radio Free Minturn is probably coming to his organization, too.
As more people drop cable TV in favor of streaming services, bill revenue from towns will decline. It’s hard to tell what affect that will have on franchise fees, but it’s not hard to guess.
“Our funding is solid for now, but the future’s uncertain,” Perry said. “We need to diversify our funding.”
Beyond funding, Perry said it’s also difficult to keep people involved with the station.
“A lot of that is just the community,” Perry said. Community TV “usually appeals to younger people, and a lot of them are pretty transient.”
Then there’s the fact that most people have pretty decent video devices — phones — in their pockets, and a YouTube upload is just a click or two away.
That leaves community organizations at a disadvantage.
“We can all do a better job of getting the word out about our organizations, about the benefits of speaking to your community, getting involved with peers and neighbors,” Perry said.
The possible deal with Vail Jazz could open up some new doors for Radio Free Minturn.
“This is giving it a chance,” Richardson said of the possible deal, adding that working with Vail Jazz is a far better alternative that simply letting the station sign off.
Richardson added that, if possible, “Let’s try to keep it in the spirit of Radio Free Minturn and keep music that’s community based.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.