Colorado Public Radio has found a new use for the spare AM frequency that it couldn’t sell. OpenAir 1340 took to the air last month, bringing the Denver area a Triple A–format station featuring rock, folk and indie music ranging from the present day to rootsy influences.
The station signed on Oct. 31 with the song “Colorado” by Denver band Paper Bird, an early indicator of OpenAir’s commitment to showcasing local music. CPR has already recorded more than a dozen local bands in its studios for broadcast on OpenAir.
CPR previously used OpenAir’s AM signal for its news/talk format. After CPR doubled its program offerings by creating separate news/talk and classical music streams in 2001, the news/talk stream was heard in Denver only on the AM signal. In 2008, when the broadcaster acquired a second FM signal for simulcasting the news format, it tried to sell the AM frequency but was unable to find a buyer due to the economic downturn, says Sean Nethery, CPR’s v.p. of programming. CPR still owes $4.7 million in bond debt as a result of the AM purchase.
In 2009, the network got a $150,000 grant from CPB to look into starting a service for the AM station aimed at Latinos. Though it decided not to try that, it did choose a music format that will appeal to a wider demographic range than the typical news audience, Nethery says.
Triple A was the only staple public radio format missing from the Denver market, where CPR covers news and classical and KUVO handles jazz.
Radio listeners may not be in the habit of seeking out music on AM, but the creators of OpenAir believe rock fans will go out of their way to find the station. The signal did attract upwards of a 3 share when it was airing news.
CPR is cross-promoting OpenAir on its news and classical stations and hyping the new station’s streams on the Web and mobile devices. For listeners with HD Radio receivers, the AM signal will sound as good as a non-digital FM broadcast.
Four of the five OpenAir staffers announced in October come from Radio 1190, an eclectic-format station at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Mike Flanagan, OpenAir’s p.d., was the Boulder station’s g.m. for six years until recently. His 30 years in radio include an earlier seven-year stint as a classical host at CPR. He also wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Old West.
Flanagan says OpenAir is already getting thankful emails and comments via Facebook and Twitter from listeners. “It’s like you’re getting an email from a very thirsty person who finally got a drink,” he says.