Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Boulder's Radio for Change: 1998-2001

In 1998, I pitched a few media lenders and broadcast companies about launching a different type commercial talk radio venture.

The idea was simple. Create a thoughtful, intelligent talk format that would focus on current events in politics, social awareness and the arts at its core; combined with local news and entertainment elements (depending on its locale and radio market). 

I had worked in national talk radio at some of the industries most admired outlets. Including WLS-AM in Chicago and Howard Stern flagship WYSP-FM in Philadelphia. In Denver, I was part of the last management team overseeing "Hal & Charlie" on KHOW-AM in the 1990's. Long before Fox News, I had noticed a trend in the industry toward more slanted and biased coverage of current events, so I decided to develop a program model that I hoped could be syndicated to a national commercial radio audience.

Unlike National Public Radio (which is excellent broadcast content), the plan was to be a commercial radio venture. I met with just about everyone I could think of within the broadcasting and banking community for content and funding. Including some of the new media companies that were emerging from the dot com boom of the era. I had numerous meetings with C-Net, Salon.com and finally a venture fund in the Bay area called Working Assets Funding Service. 

As timing would have it, Working Assets was exploring a radio concept that centered more around social issues relevant to human rights, the environment and more progressive content. 

At the time, our goals seemed close enough, so we made a deal. I went to work for the fund and Radio for Change was born in the fall of 1999 in Boulder, Colorado on KWAB-AM (1490).

Not a political match made in heaven with Working Assets, but candidly we were able to build the venture into an economic model that we sold to Colorado Public Radio in 2001 for $1.2 million.

After that venture expired, my team went off into other areas of media throughout the country both near and far from Boulder. 

Some of our core hosts and staffers went on to work for Air America Radio in New York, Boulder Community Radio, Colorado Public Radio and one of our key hosts is the station manager of University of Colorado's KVCU-AM (www.radio1190.org). Other members of the team went the commercial radio route (including Clear Channel Radio, Westwood One and CBS Radio). 

Several contributing editors went on to other pursuits. Comedian and author Bob Harris returned to Los Angeles and has since authored several more books (mostly on politics) and Laura Flanders went on to become a host of both Air America and XM Radio. 

Other notable contributors included Saturday Night Live alum, television producer and actor Brad Hall, Ariana Huffington (who has since launched www.huffingtonpost.com), political satirist Will Durst and author/activist Jim Hightower.

While on the air, Radio for Change quickly became a must visit in Boulder for the thoughtful and insightful intellectuals of the time. One particular author that I was deeply moved by was Mary Pipher. Mary had just published a work of art titled: Reviving Ophelia (Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls). I asked Mary to be one of many in a speakers series Radio for Change hosted at Boulder's Historic Chautauqua Theater. The series was aptly titled, Boulder Diversions. Her speech and presentation were breath taking about the challenges of raising teenage daughters. I will never forget the time we spent together talking about this particular challenge of parenthood at Q's at the Boulderado. At the time, we both had teenage daughters.

Other notable guests to our speakers series included actor Danny Glover, who performed a riveting recital of the works of poet Langston Hughes and a standing room only crowd for consumer activist Ralph Nader (only in Boulder).

There were many other guests from both the world of politics and entertainment.

One highlight was our live and on location coverage both the Democrats and Republican conventions in Los Angeles and Philadelphia proceeding the 2000 election. After the election, I dispatched our news crew and political host to broadcast live from the Florida re-count.

Some of the individuals that worked with me the closest on this radio project include, Stephanie Beldotti, Karen Carrillo, Mike Flanagan, Dave Skinner and Ryan Drean. There are several others that would make for a very long list.

Recently, by way of Facebook, Brad Hall and I thought it would be a worth wild project to make some of the content of Radio For Change available online and maybe add some new content from time to time.

Its uncanny how the whole "for Change" concept has now become lexicon. Originally, it was just me and Michael Kieschnick at Working Assets trying to figure out a catchy name and on-air slogan for our radio station.


Chuck Lontine