Happy birthday, Radio Free! | VailDaily.com

Happy birthday, Radio Free!

Ted AlvarezVail, CO Colorado
Dawn Beacon/Vail DailyRadio Free Minturn celebrates its anniversary with free cake on Saturday at the Minturn Market and a "Minijam" at Little Beach Park.

It’s only 1 year old, but our bouncing-baby radio station is all grown up.Radio Free Minturn has been around since 1998, but the homegrown KLNX-LP only shed its outlaw trappings 1 year ago. Since then, the eclectic station has grown into a local institution and a booming voice for independent, public radio.”We’re only a year old, so in some ways we’re just learning to walk and talk,” said Liz Campbell, KLNX-LP’s board president. “But we’ve got a great board, and now we’ve got a really great project. We have a great stable of live DJs, and they are really what make it so great. They have so much passion for the music, and they spend tremendous amounts of time and energy selecting what we all get to listen to – it has nothing to do with me.”Radio Free Minturn has built its name on these DJs, who spin everything from deep house to unsown rock to big band, all in an effort to bring unique music to listeners in the community. DJ The Rad Chad, aka Chad Peterson, specializes in new and alternative indie rock.”I hear that it’s the only station people have on in their cars,” Peterson said. “You’re not going to hear what you hear on our stations anywhere except satellite radio. I’ll do whatever we have to do to keep it going, because I love being a DJ so much. We’ve really grown as a family.”Keeping Radio Free Minturn going into the future will likely see lots of changes: Campbell hints at possible expansion, but all at benefit to the community. And like this past year, there will be rampant changes as Radio Free Minturn moves into its next phase.”We do like to push the fact that we are noncommercial and we choose to play stuff you won’t hear on other stations, but as we grow, there will have to be some program adjustments,” program director Leo Spaziani said. “We’ve tried to seek out programs that appeal to older crowd, like our Saturday schedule, which plays old-time blues into big band. We’re hoping to appeal to more people like that. We’re not the standard NPR fare that appeals to an older crowd with discretionary income, but we’re learning how to reach out to those people. I know they’d miss us if we were gone. “Community causesCampbell and the KLNX-LP board have spoken to the town of Vail about working an emergency-alert system into Radio Free Minturn’s system, so that its frequency could be used to broadcast local emergencies and conditions.”We’re trying to show the community there’s a real value to this asset, and it’s worth supporting,” Campbell said. “I can’t tell you how many traffic jams I’ve sat in when I didn’t need to get on I-70. We’re putting together a local emergency-alert system, so that 911 can take over the airwaves in case of emergencies.”KLNX-LP also hopes to take advantage of public radio exchange programs to expand their programming form and content.”They have a whole public radio exchange program that people produce around the country,” Campbell said. “We can then incorporate news, weather, and all the things that are missing out of our broadcast. And of course, we’ll add more live DJs.”Education has always been close to the heart of everyone involved with KLNX-LP, and more educational programs are in the works. In the future, students from all schools across the valley might have the opportunity to host shows and produce original pieces for the station.”The work that we’ve done in schools is my favorite – for me the payoff has been enormous,” Spaziani said. “It will be in the future as well. We did a program with Red Canyon High School where the students produced their own journalism pieces and acted as DJs. We brought them in, aired those pieces and exposed them to radio at a very young age. Being able to work with those exciting, vibrant kids was really really fun. Other people might point to events we’ve done fundraising parties, things like that as the big events, but for me, with the community mission in mind, those projects were pay dirt.”Brian Jennings, who spins as DJ BJ and acted as a station manager, thinks that the radio station’s future – culturally and financially – is wrapped in serving and getting the attention of the community at large.”It started completely from scratch – a great non-profit group called Prometheus helped get us off the ground, but we have to grow the support from the community,” Jennings says. “It’s hard to get people to give you money, but we focus on community. By giving us money, you’re helping all these local organizations. We’ll be talking about town meetings, libraries and all events of importance. It’s for the betterment of the community through civic responsibility. You’ll get that in addition to music that isn’t being played elsewhere, all those musical genres and subgenres that give (listeners) a window into different cultures.”Growing painsFrom its inception, Radio Free Minturn resonated with locals because of its anti-establishment spirit, born out of its pirate origins. It especially connected with listeners in its hometown of Minturn, the crusty old town that’s resisted the expansion and development of the Valley and created a tight-knit band of loyalists in the process. But to survive into the future, KLNX-LP will likely have to shed the last vestiges of scruffiness to appeal to a broader base.”I really just want to adopt KLNX-LP and steer away from Radio Free Minturn,” Campbell says. “(Radio Free Minturn) has an anti-establishment mentality, which isn’t necessarily what we’re about. We want to get more of the community involved.”Spaziani understands the appeal of the pirate image, but he also knows that it can only get the station so far in the future.”I hesitate to sign on that we have a pirate identity,” he says. “I think motivating our audience to support us is key. We’ve done a good job of creating a product and creating a cross-section of listeners, but we can’t function unless people support us. Whether that’s buying t-shirts or coming to events, we’ll have to tap into that support gene.”As usual, money is mother’s milk to a fledgling public radio station, and KLNX-LP is pursuing multiple ways to get funding, including underwritten programs, in which local businesses financially sponsor specific radio shows without dictating the content.”Making money is always hard – I think our operating costs are $15-20,000 a year, and it’s tough getting that,” Peterson says. “We’re starting to do underwriting for certain shows. It’s a bit like a commercial sponsorship, but no one’s telling us what to play. As long as we keep the radio free, I’m happy.”Campbell hopes to launch an on-air fundraising drive in the fall along with a benefit concert from The Young Dubliners at Mango’s. But in the meantime, any petty alms the public can give will be put to good use.”Buy our t-shirts at the Minturn Market, drop us a five or a ten or change from the change jar – we’ll take anything,” she says. “It took a lot of 10, 20 and 30 dollar donations to put it together. If everybody who listens gave us five bucks, we’d be well off.”Campbell stresses that KLNX-LP needs manpower just as much as dollars.”We need volunteers,” she says. “We just established an office with letterhead, printers, a copy machine and supplies, but we really need people who can and want o give their time. And we’ll always want more DJs with passion to bring to our programming.”Celebrate the futurePlans are underway for a major celebration in August, but for now, KLNX-LP will be offering free cake at the Minturn Market on Saturday, the one-year anniversary of legality. On Sunday, an informal “Minijam” will take place at the Amphitheatre in Little Beach Park. “It’s very informal, but we’ll have a house band, and we want people to come down with their instruments and jam,” Campbell said. “We’ll have an open mic, and afterwards, everyone will head up to Mango’s for their Sunday Afternoon Club.”Keeping KLNX-LP alive for another year and beyond will take a lot of elbow grease, sweet charity and luck, but Campbell and Spaziani believe in the mission and the future of the little-station-that-could.”I’m confident that this is an important part of our community and it was born from a need – it will continue to change as those needs change,” Spaziani says. “There are people out there who have not found us yet. We’re looking, we know they’re out there and they could be a huge help to this community. At some time, our paths will cross, and we’re looking forward to working with those people.”At the very least, Radio Free Minturn will always be a place where people can discover something new that just might change their life.”People in the community want and need this,” Jennings says. “Not everyone wants Indonesian music or appreciates it, but every once in a while someone finds something they weren’t looking for.””You’re going to hear something you hate, but you’re going to hear something you love too.”Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or talvarez@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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