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Listeners power Radio Free Minturn

Dustin Racioppi
dracioppi@vaildaily.com
Minturn, Colorado
Dustin Racioppi/Vail DailyRadio Free Minturn's Liz Campbell, right, trains Red Canyon High School student Meg Cotter on the basics of radio production in the Minturn, Colorado studio
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MINTURN, Colorado ” From the outset, the vested members of Radio Free Minturn have faced an uphill battle in Minturn, Colorado.

The Federal Communications Commission shut the station down months after its inception in 1998. It has faced funding problems to get off the ground legitimately and onto the airwaves. A wake was even held for the station at one point.

But overall, funding is the constant battle to keep Radio Free Minturn broadcasting.

The station operates on a $21,000 annual budget that relies on the goodwill and support of the Eagle Valley community. The station holds two fund drives a year that usually last seven to 10 days each.

It’s getting close to that time again when the radio DJ’s will pepper in public service announcements asking for money between music. The fundraiser begins March 27 and the brains and workers behind Radio Free Minturn are hoping that the public pulls through with donations as it has the previous two fund drives.

“We’re really, really proud we have gone from zero percent listener support and practically begging people to believe in us to we’re almost 60 percent listener supported,” said Liz Campbell, one of the station’s founders. “Once we get 100 percent listener support, we don’t have to worry about underwriter support or catering to anybody’s needs. We can really do what we want.”

It’s simply a reality that twice a year the station’s listeners will have to endure the fundraising effort, but the station’s president, Dave Eickholt, said it’s a necessity for quality programming that isn’t reliant on commercials and sponsors.

And in this particular economy, the station is hoping that the general public will be more apt to chip in for the fund drive.

“The foundations and corporations who were supporting us in the early days of Radio Free Minturn are really having to throttle back on what they do,” Eickholt said. “Our average contributor submits between $50 and $75. Spread that out over six months and it’s not that big a price to pay for some really great radio.”

In the last couple years, Radio Free Minturn has reached beyond its mission to just bring good radio to the valley. Station members routinely visit schools for seminars on journalism and communications. Some of the DJs are high school students themselves, and some even started as early as middle school.

“It’s community in its broadest sense of providing great music and a really great educational experience and listening experience for the people who live here,” Eickholt said.

Campbell gave a brief training session on Tuesday to a Red Canyon High School student who aspires to be a professional DJ. It may sound odd to be hiring high schoolers, but it makes a lot of sense to Campbell.

“Community radio is really about making the radio accessible, from the young DJs to the old DJs ” to bring the music to the table,” she said. “It’s a representation of what really is in the community.”

Through that outreach, Radio Free Minturn continually gains traction in the county by adding new listeners and new employees, who are all volunteers.

“This is going to be a good way for me to express what I’m feeling and what the community ” like 15, 16, 17 year olds ” what the music scene is like,” said Campbell’s trainee, 16-year-old Meg Cotter. “Maybe people will see greater meaning to that music.”

The station recently brought a New York transplant, Brian Morgan, on board to fill in a weekday time slot, and he spends his two hours playing folk and bluegrass music to add the already eclectic programming. For Morgan, an employee at the Gore Range Natural Science School, it’s a hobby, but local radio is also an asset.

“I think it’s really cool ” a community kind of thing,” Morgan, 26, said. “Compared to the other stations, we have the freedom to play whatever we want. It’s probably the biggest draw for me.”

But Morgan, who moved here in December, wants to see the station keep growing. He’ll be lobbying hard, he said, when the fundraiser kicks off at the end of the month to raise money for the burgeoning station.

“We need more ” more DJs, more programming, more power in our signal, more money,” he said, but added that overall, “we need more community stations.”

The one Eagle Valley has now will have to do. Its fate is driven by the people who listen and support it.

“It’s very grassroots,” Campbell said. “We have a lot of people giving little amounts of money. That’s really what makes this thing tick.”

Staff writer Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or dracioppi@vaildaily.com.


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