August 2009

KSJD celebrates move downtown, transfer of license

By Gail Binkly

Back in 2003, the future looked bleak for community radio in Montezuma County. KSJD 91.5 FM, an educational station operated by the San Juan Technical College as a training ground for broadcasting students, had been closed because of cuts in higher-education funding. That left the Montelores region with nothing but stations owned by outside interests.

A few people who were producing and listening to local shows on KSJD decided they couldn’t let local radio die, so in March 2003 they called a meeting of interested parties. A hundred people showed up. Out of that was born a revitalized KSJD and an effort called the Community Radio Project, now a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit.

This month, CRP and KSJD will be celebrating two new and significant milestones — namely, the transfer of the radio-station license from the Technical College to CRP, and the purchase of a historic downtown building to house the station (as well as other ventures).

A block party for KSJD and Cornerstone — the project to purchase and renovate the historic Montezuma Valley National Bank Building at Main and Market in downtown Cortez — will take place on Saturday, Aug. 15, from 5 to 9 p.m. at the bank building.

It will celebrate the countless hours of effort by countless volunteers that have made KSJD the only locally owned, full-power electronic media outlet in Montezuma and Dolores counties — and also celebrate the success of Cornerstone in obtaining the bank building.

“It’s worth noting that CRP got its start at a meeting at the [now-defunct] Magpie Coffeehouse, which was in the bank building,” said Jeff Pope, executive director of CRP.

People are sometimes confused about why a radio station would become involved in buying, renovating and preserving a historic building. The fact is, the station and the Cornerstone project are not directly connected.

“There’s no real link between KSJD and a historic building,” Pope said. “We just needed a place to go. Being on the campus had a lot of advantages, but we were not in the population center of our service area. So our goal was to move downtown.

“We looked at a number of places, but this one walked right in front of us, so to speak, when the owners [Chuck and M.B. McAfee] said they would offer us the building.”

The building project is under the umbrella of CRP, not KSJD, and it involves more than the radio station. The ambitious $1.1 million effort is also aimed at establishing a public outlet for the arts, music and entertainment. Organizers envision the renovated bank building as containing the KSJD studios and offices, other offices available for rent, and a common space for cultural exhibits, performances and gatherings. Some $270,000 has been raised so far.

“We have had a wonderful partnership with the state historical fund, which is helping make the local dollars go farther,” Pope said. “For every dollar we get locally we can get matching funds of up to $3.” Other funding partners include the Ballantine Family Fund and numerous local donors.

Cornerstone will be renovated in a two-phased project, Pope said. The first phase involves building office spaces and studio space. In 2010 and 2011, the project will build the performance venue and make structural upgrades.

Pope said Cornerstone fits under CRP’s mission “to promote and sustain non-commercial, community-based broadcasting that supports the inclusive voice, education and interests of our diverse rural audience. . . .”

“When we looked at the opportunity to expand our capacity, to reach out and have more volunteers, one of the key things we wanted to do was move into Cortez,” he said.

Pope sees community-based media as critical for an informed and involved populace. “But it’s a dying breed,” he said. “Media have been more and more consolidated since the 1996 Tele–communications Act, which means less choice locally. Community media is locally owned and locally controlled and at its best it works to reflect the values of the community.

“Community radio and newspapers create what I like to think of as a fabric that helps hold the community together, whether by covering sports or offering chances to learn about local political controversies.”

KSJD has just three fulltime paid staff members, so its efforts are hugely dependent on volunteers. There are 70 on-air DJS, Pope said; the youngest is 9 and the oldest is over 70. He said the contribution they make goes far beyond playing music.

“When a local volunteer creates two hours of music, 36 songs, and weaves them into a package, you could look at that as an oil painting, a work of art.

“For the listeners, to have a live person who has the local context in mind is extremely important. With automation and media consolidation, on most stations in our area your local weather forecast is coming from far away. It’s important to be able to look out the window and see what’s really happening, or to say, ‘Watch out for cattle on Highway 160,’ or whatever.”

In addition to local DJs, KSJD does run nationally syndicated programming such as National Public Radio news, Morning Edition, and Native America Calling. It also broadcasts local forums and offers a twice-monthly news talk show.

Now that CRP owns KSJD’s license, it has a green light to keep seeking to broaden its audience and better serve the region. KSJD has created one of the only satellite studio networks in the Intermountain West, Pope said, by building a studio in Rico so residents can broadcast live across the listening area.

KSJD broadcasts at 1,200 watts across Montezuma and Dolores counties. Courtesy of the Southwest Colorado Television Translator Association, it also serves Mancos at 104.1 FM and the Pleasant View area at 91.1.

KSJD has also received a permit to build a new station to serve western Dolores County and southeastern Utah.

“I do think community radio matters,” Pope said. “People want to be able to come on the air and express something, and KSJD gives them that opportunity.”