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Getting dialed

Staff Reports

In its 40 years on the map Vail has established a few longtime traditions and personality quirks that define our town. And much like the mole on Cindy Crawford’s lip, our imperfections set us apart from the ski world’s other beauties.For years upon years, Vail’s massive, hairy mole has been its God-awful radio stations. Morning after morning, week after week, year after year, the bland repetition of mediocre songs has become something to cherish, something locals can fondly mock during small talk on the chairlift.Sadly, those days are coming to an end. The ascension of Tony Mauro, the introduction of Kerry Gray, and the continued pestering of radio vigilante Alex Markels has brought healthy competition and fresh ideas to the airwaves.In the morning it’s Gray. Like citrus juice in your eye, nothing is quite as refreshing and eye-opening as Gray’s morning show. Gray, who is also program director for KTUN The Eagle (93.5 FM) has taken the classic rock format of the old days and tweaked it just enough to make the difference. Say goodbye to Moody Blues B-sides and say hello to the great rock ‘n’ roll archives of the classic rock nation.”If you’re male and between 18 and 48, you got a lot of options (on the radio). But if you listen to rock ‘n’ roll, we’re the only option,&quot says Gray.Mauro, who has roots here that extend back to his mother’s birth in the valley, isn’t going to let all our dials slide to 93.5. As new program director for 97.7 The Zephyr, he says he knows what locals want. Mauro has scaled back on the maudlin, goateed emo-rock bands and watery punk that defined 97.7 in the past, and replaced it with proven goods and then-and-now variety.But beyond just good tunes, Mauro wants to create a sonic cultural center a much-needed cornerstone in the valley’s effort to build community.”My feeling is that this community has been without a radio station that connects with its roots,” Mauro says. “This is radio that connects the community and talks about things going on in the community.”Even our local radio gadfly admits that the times they are a’ changin’. Markels, who was involved in a pirate-radio endeavor called Radio Free Minturn that was shut down by the feds back in 1998, says that, “Local radio is improving – it’s gotten more local and more interesting than it was a couple of years ago.&quotWhile The Zephyr and The Eagle vie for the musical souls of listeners across the valley, Markels is planning on resurrecting Radio Free Minturn with a new, legal format: Minturn Public Radio. Although he’s been spearheading efforts to obtain a low-frequency broadcast license from the Federal Communications Commission, don’t hold your breath.&quotThe FCC has informed us that our application does have priority,&quot the Markels says.Markels and company began the effort to launch MPR because they believed there was a void in local information and music alternatives. But with the revival of a local format for The Zephyr, he says a much-needed voice in valley-wide radio is being heard.Both Gray and Mauro say that their formats will stay in place as long as they work, and they do appear to be clicking. While Gray is bombing listeners with a caustic sense of humor and getting away with on-air comments like &quotWow, nice bong hit,&quot Mauro is working toward filling what he says is a radio information void.And that information is coming between quality sets. One of the great truths in life is that nobody likes every song on the radio, but the key to the new attitude is variety.And the long lost element of radio humor (near-cousin to newspaper humor) is making a difference.Gray drops humor through what he calls light stunts. They’re stunts geared toward keeping his audience entertained listening day and night.&quotThe idea is to not be as outrageous as possible, but relevant as possible,&quot Gray says.For example, fans of Gray’s show can look forward to a turkey toss taken from the annals of the ’70s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Gray and company will toss turkeys somewhere near the Thanksgiving holidays, but unlike his television counterpart, Les Nesmin, Gray will not be tossing live gobblers from a helicopter declaring &quotI really thought turkeys could fly.&quot It’ll be frozen turkeys from a cherry picker. He didn’t say where or when this event will take place.&quotIt’s about getting people to talk to you,&quot Gray says. That ought to do it.With national acts stopping through more and more often, both Gray and Mauro say they’re saving airtime for the bands that come to town if it fits the format.All this means that one of the valley’s great traditions bagging on local radio is on the way out. Choice, variety, humor, community news and discussion appear to be on the way all over the dial.


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