Sunday, February 27, 2011

Focus on Felines

"Of all God's creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat."
- Mark Twain

I've been living with cats for over 25 years. I've written about some of them in the past, but I thought while I had a spare moment I'd introduce you to some others that I've been privileged to know , including one recent addition:

Meet Huxley

Evan had been looking for a kitten for a while, ever since Smokey left us. When a co-worker offered him one who had already been neutered and vaccinated, he jumped at the opportunity, and the brown tabby above has been residing with us for about a month now.

Huxley is pleasant and well-behaved for the most part. He and Bandit have had their moments, but nothing that we didn't expect. He is a kitten, right down to adventures with a laser pointer.

Huxley meets Bandit.

Huxley's favorite activity with me is to climb on top of the computer monitor when I'm working, then reach over and try to catch the cursor. I think that he represents my conscience when I'm on the computer too long. Lately he's discovered that my old CRT monitor gives off heat, and so he sleeps on top of it sometimes. He seems to want to be close to one of us most of his waking hours.

I like Huxley, but I will likely miss watching him grow up. Those priceless kitten videos need to be

In Memory: Miss Tilley

Tilley belonged to Leslie. She passed away on January 30 at roughly 15 years of age. Leslie had her from when she went to Vet school in Alabama. Tilley was small for an adult cat, with larger than usual ears and a very short, more demure and dignified stride.

Tilley and I got along, but it's Leslie's dog Lilah that seems to be missing her the most. Tilley would allow Lilah to play with her, and sit or lay next to her on the couch. The other cats are largely not of the disposition to be picking up that role, at least for now.


Surin belongs to one of my neighbors - I don't know which one. I don't even know his/her gender, just the name from the tag. Surin is some kind of Siamese mix, with a faint cream color and the signature blue eyes.

Surin is curious and friendly, and came into the house when invited once. Bandit sometimes chases Surin off, but he/she returns fairly often. We'll see how he/she reacts to Huxley.


Elle is another of Leslie's cats, is only about 2 or 3 years old, and while somewhat reminiscent of Huxley in appearance, can be friendly but is independent and mischievous. Lately Elle has grown quite a bit, which seems to have mellowed her out somewhat. This is a picture of Elle with Michaela a couple of years ago. Lilah is lonely without Tilley around, but Elle will have nothing to do with her.


Tommie has been with Leslie for several years. He came to the clinic she was working at, and needed surgery for a blocked urethra. He's survived longer than most cats who have had that procedure, and seems to crave affection when he's not asserting his alpha male self with Elle or Lilah. He's a big boy, but not overweight. He can be a bit temperamental, but what guy wouldn't be in a houseful of girls? Just kidding...

"I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul."
- Jean Cocteau

One constant in my travels has been the presence of a cat. The only time that I haven't lived with one since 1984 was my first 5 months in Grand Junction. In this context I feel what Cocteau was feeling - a cat lends an elegantly sentient quality to what would otherwise be a lifeless space.

The Home Depot store in Grand Junction has a cat. Since I saw him, I don't think about the store the same way. His presence adds a unique quality to the corporate sameness of these kinds of places. It probably helps with the occasional bird or two that flies in as well.

Today begins a week of deliberation, sorting, discarding, cleaning, packing, and donating. I think about what I brought with me to Colorado nearly 16 years ago, and this time what will return east with me and what will remain behind until some undetermined time.

To go with the collection of inanimate objects on each end of the journey, there will be cats (and a dog or two) alongside the people that populate a space and give it life, meaning, and relevance.

Have a good week ahead.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Waxing about 'Words'

Yesterday I finished up my final production and post-production work for the "Words" program at KAFM Community Radio. My co-producer, Linda Skinner, will be continuing to work with the program for a while until new producers are trained and ready, but with my imminent departure from the area she felt it was also time to move on.
For those unfamiliar, "Words" involves school-age children learning a word in the dictionary - it's spelling, definition, and usage - and recording a segment about that word, including using it in a sentence. Linda and I would then edit this recording with a musical selection appropriate to the word's definition or usage, into a short audio clip (usually around 2 minutes in length) that is aired three times each weekday on KAFM.

The logistics of the program can be daunting. After the recording, editing, and post-production are complete, we compile a CD of all of the children from a particular school, class, or group and provide copies to each participant. We encouraged the participation of home-schooled children, and even had an 'open mic' night last year.

Linda, as a professional educator, handles the recruitment of classes, doing an introduction to the concept in conjunction with the teachers involved, and working closely with students to choose a word or craft a sentence. Both of us handled recording and editing, and I specialized in post-production, programming the segments, generating a calendar, and completing the CDs for the month and for the participants.

Since taking over production duties in November of 2006, Linda and I have produced nearly 1,000 segments. I tried to calculate the amount of time required for everything, and came up with an average of something like 8 hours a week, every week.

I took on this project in the midst of my late wife's illness to give me something else to think about besides work, parenting, and making sure she was receiving proper care. Technology afforded me the ability to edit and do post-production on a laptop at home, which was absolutely essential then.

We're grateful for the support of KAFM station management, and for those local organizations who supported and continue to support "Words" as underwriters, especially in a tough economy. Enstrom Candies has been there throughout. We greatly appreciate their commitment.

I attached some examples of "Words" segments to illustrate what we tried to accomplish. The first is the most straightforward example - a word that may not lend itself to an immediate match in a database of song titles (thank God for Amazon and ITunes), but with a little imagination a pleasant, meaningful match is found. You'll hear what I mean.

We used varieties of music in keeping not only with the mission of KAFM, but also to reach out across generations and perhaps expose kids to musical styles they might otherwise miss. It doesn't matter what decade you're living in - one of the most incredible singing voices ever recorded belonged to Sarah Vaughan:


We often use instrumental selections in "Words" segments. Often, a student would select a word in another language, or representative of a particular region or culture. We would usually accompany these with music from that region, often with what is known as "world music", popularized in places such as the Putamayo record label.

This next word, while seemingly easy to program (just find some violin music, right?), called for some additional attention to detail. I was drawn to one of my favorite films, The Red Violin, and selected a snippet from it's Oscar-winning original score. Combined with the voice of the student, which has an eerily calm, almost soothing quality to it, this remains my favorite segment:


It's no coincidence that I programmed this to air on Valentine's Day. In fact, there were a few opportunities to engage in some recognition of holidays with an appropriate word awaiting editing and production. I always tried to program a word with a raucous theme and music for New Year's Eve; this past Valentine's Day the word aired was "Pheromone", with appropriate music and lyrics.

Some words have offered the opportunity for some impromptu and subtle social commentary.
One year during the second Bush administration I took a student's recording of the word "Anarchy", mixed it with The Clash's "Clampdown", and programmed it to air on President's Day. More recently, Linda and I were presented with a word selected by a middle school student in 2009 - "Dispensary" - and saw an opportunity to make it topical and current with the choice of music.

I saw the below clip as an opportunity to take a word that has applications across human history and personalize it for today, and even perhaps for the member of the generation that recorded it.

The music and lyric perhaps laments that very thing that we as volunteers in community media are trying to prevent from happening, by working with dedicated teachers who sense the value of such an activity to expand the horizons of students beyond the textbook or the classroom, and especially beyond the lure of what corporate media sees fit to provide them with:


"Any escape might help to smooth
the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
the restless dreams of youth..."

I would have preferred to do more with the program, such as using the Internet to make current and previous recordings available, and draw interest to participation in the program, which had waxed and waned over the years as schedules, class sizes, and limited budgets for field trips to the station became factors for many educators.

We eventually leveraged technology to take the studio to some schools, with interesting results; the raw audio contained things like class bells, slamming locker doors, and giggles from other classmates that were at times difficult to deal with in editing. It was also interesting to note how the person being recorded would speed up their reading after the class bell rang. While this was easily handled in most cases with editing software, it was a potent illustration of how conditioned we all are to certain things.

My experience with "Words" as someone outside the educational community showed me one big thing as well; that the quality of education is truly a partnership between parent, student, and teacher, but the quality of leadership and dedication established by our teachers sets the foundation for the quality of our educational system.

That's one reason I'm sympathetic to the teachers and other public sector union members in Wisconsin and elsewhere, many of whom likely know that if government, like a corporation, can afford to cut corners somewhere, they will do it. Education is no place to be cutting corners. At the same time, people working in these professions should recognize their importance, strive to excel, and utilize what they do have in a manner that will benefit students and their community the most.

Take care.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Crite Sees the (Red) Light

For quite a while now, this blog has included in its sidebar a widget from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), indicating their rating of the status of student speech at Mesa State College. FIRE grades colleges and universities on a red, yellow, or green light scale that reflects the amount or nature of a school's commitment to the free expression of ideas and opinions.
Mesa State's red light rating is defined in part by FIRE as the rated school having "at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech". FIRE's rating was justified by what they saw as overly restrictive language in student handbooks and housing regulations. These are available for review here. I've written previously about some of these restrictions as they impact what would otherwise be lawful political speech. This came up at Mesa State during the 2008 Presidential campaign.

This past week, the college's rating caught the attention of the Mesa State Criterion. Their editorial in the February 15 edition laments the college's ability, through their policies, to "take anything it doesn't like and chalk up the offense to harassment".

The editorial went further to complain in print about what the paper saw as MSC administration's recent attempts to "(make) it incredibly hard for the newspaper to reach its goals of being a campus watchdog and covering controversial news". Administration apparently did this by routing all media inquiries (including the Crite's) through Dana Nunn, MSC Media Relations Director, and by instructing all other involved MSC staff not to talk to the media. The editorial cited, among other things, a recent outbreak of bedbugs in a dormitory as an example of this.

As much as I think that Dana Nunn has a somewhat legitimate job to do in today’s reputation-sensitive, message-management world, I really don't think that it's the MSC administration's job to provide the Criterion with access to whomever or whatever they want. I’m actually wondering what there is about the fact that Ms. Nunn is the point person for media inquiries that would prevent the Criterion from reporting on anything they wanted to.

If the Criterion staff is bent on being a "campus watchdog", they need to rely more on what they are hopefully learning in journalism school. This includes using multiple sources (sometimes off-the-record), and tools such as vigorous research and public records requests. In the case of the bedbugs in the dorms, I would be attempting contact with those students affected by the outbreak, and making requests under the Colorado Open Records Act for invoices or disbursements related to any expenses for professional pest control services at the dorm in question.

The Criterion has a somewhat lively history of run-ins with MSC administration, most recently in 2004 during the hiring process for current MSC President Tim Foster. To their credit, the Criterion staff is trying hard to meet the challenges presented by a complex institution, rife with equal measures of political correctness and chicanery. Going outside those lines so carefully drawn for them by professional spin doctors is how the Crite, like any other journalistic entity, becomes a watchdog with teeth that hopefully aren't missing every time a new semester begins.

The Crite's editorial concludes with a plea for transparency, and for a commitment from administration to work toward an environment where free speech rights are respected and protected. Making sure that infringements of those rights are properly investigated and reported, and enlisting the assistance of organizations such as FIRE, the ACLU, and others when necessary, is one way of assuring that the Criterion remains a dynamic and relevant "voice of the students" well into the future.

The Criterion staff will be hard at work later today putting together this week's edition for publication Tuesday. The commitment outlined above starts this week, and every week that they publish in the future.

Best of luck to them.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bookstores -
The Phoenix of Old Media

I was in Pittsburgh with Leslie from Sunday afternoon until Wednesday evening. We had several things to do regarding the wedding, which included applying for our marriage license. We did this on Valentine's Day - I took her out to dinner that evening, and then to an Irish Pub (she likes those) in the Regent Square section of Pittsburgh.

We got most of what we needed to get done taken care of, and discovered a couple more things that need to be addressed. We're not having a sumptuous affair by any means, but where we've decided to have it, who is or isn't coming, and what is and isn't happening are complicating things slightly. I'm confident that it will all work out as it should. Add to this the fact that Leslie started a new job on Thursday, and things begin to approach a critical mass of sorts. I move in a little over two weeks. Enough said - onward..

I got back to Grand Junction early Thursday morning to find that the reported bankruptcy of Borders Books had claimed the chain's Grand Junction store as a casualty. This is personal - I love bookstores, and helped to set up and open this place almost seven years ago. I worked there part-time and on weekends for about a year. They encouraged people to "adopt" a section of the store and work on it until it was fully stocked and merchandised properly - Art and Architecture was my section.

Borders' demise was reportedly hastened by the softening of the book market in general as a result of online sellers such as Amazon undercutting full retail prices. The chain also seemed to take a somewhat ham-handed approach to the burgeoning e-reader marketplace. I can't fault them, as I have taken the same approach - I want nothing to do with them.

I can understand and embrace technology with the same deliberate speed as the rest of the world, if necessary. I rarely find it to be so. This is much the same when it comes to books. The tactile satisfaction that comes from the handling of a trade-size paperback is amplified by the wealth of ideas contained within it.

Even though I read fewer books at a quantitative level, I own a lot of them. The ones I enjoy and refer to the most will travel with me. A good portion of them have already been passed along to the next generation, as I expect all of them will someday. "To my children, I bequeath my early 20th century set of Dickens" seems more important and heartfelt than "my Kindle and all of its digital contents". I also seriously doubt the ability of any iPad to effectively duplicate a large photo of a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, resplendent on glossy, thick paper and bound in a large volume on a coffee table.

I felt some of that sentimentality in Emily Anderson's (paywalled) reporting on the local closing in the Sentinel. She interviewed several customers who seemed accustomed to browsing with a cup of coffee, enjoying the peacefulness and near solemnity of the place. The Grand Junction Borders, like many of their stores, is a well-designed, functional and comfortable space to be in. It will be missed.

In what seems to be an almost paradoxical turn of events in the Internet age, Ms. Anderson also deftly demonstrated the survival skills of independent and used booksellers in the Grand Valley. From those accounts, things like a focus on a niche subject, providing specialized or more personal customer service, and a quaint or otherwise special atmosphere have helped to cement the independent bookseller as a larger force in the industry than the sum of its' parts.

Many hours of my childhood were spent in the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, PA. The business has been in Sewickley since 1929. In 2007, both the business and the building that housed it were purchased, razed, and rebuilt into an impressive venue.

The owners have leveraged and embraced the power of the Internet, as well as tapped into the energy of a network of independent bookstores, to make their location uniquely positioned and collectively relevant. Just by surfing their website for this post, I found that a new volume of
previously unpublished short stories by the late Kurt Vonnegut has just been released. I think I will ask Leslie to reserve it for me at the library, for after I get settled there.

In Ray Bradbury's science fiction masterpiece Fahrenheit 451, human beings literally "become" the books that were banned as part of what Wikipedia describes as "a hedonistic anti-intellectual America that has completely abandoned self-control". The book ends with a seemingly paradoxical but appropriate premise, given the occupation of the main character - a society raising itself from the ashes in part from the realization of what it was, and of the past it gave up.

Books are hardly headed for the ash can - I have hope that our society will avoid the temporary pitfalls of the latest, greatest, most hyped-up "next new thing", and embrace what really matters - what in many cases can be found in a book. That includes "The Good Book", regardless of what you may read on the web.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sports News and Ancient History

Two sports stories stuck out for me yesterday, because they touched upon professional sporting events that I was present at.

I don't get to many pro sports events. Maybe this summer I'll take in a Pirate game from the outfield seats at PNC Park - that's about all I can probably afford. I continue to marvel at the cost of hockey tickets. When I was in high school, $10.00 got you round trip bus fare and a nosebleed seat for the Penguins, with spare change sufficient for a drink or popcorn. Now I doubt that you can park the car for that much.

The effort by the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL to make the Super Bowl a giant telephone booth, and try to stuff as many people into it as they could, turned into an epic fail, thanks in part to the Arlington Fire Department and their no-nonsense policy toward safety.

The NFL and the Cowboys were trying to surpass the record attendance for a Super Bowl, which was set at Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena - the one with the Little Old Lady, not the one that used to have Gilley's. That 1980 game drew 103,985 people - this year's attempt to fill a $1 Billion sardine can in a giant freezer where North Texas should have been fell short by a mere 766.

The fans that paid premium prices for those unusable seats were peeved. Despite attempts by the NFL to mollify their grief with tickets to a future Super Bowl and other compensation, the weepy well-heeled were largely unimpressed, and with the assistance of drooling trial lawyers the lawsuits have started.

Serves the NFL and the Cowboys right. Among those 103,985 fans in Pasadena 31 years ago were myself, my brother, and my father. Some records were just meant to stand. That was the last NFL game I ever saw in person. It was fun jawing with some of the Rams fans that surrounded us, and it was a nice vantage point to see John Stallworth catch a beautifully thrown Bradshaw pass in stride for a 75-yard TD and the lead for good. Still, football is better on TV.

The last NBA game I ever saw in person was on December 9, 1988. I was in Salt Lake City for the inaugural International Conference of Emergency Medical Dispatch (now known as Navigator), and decided to spend one evening watching the Utah Jazz. I was a fan of their curmudgeonly coach, Frank Layden. The news cycle that evening was full of reports that Layden was stepping down to join the front office. His replacement, starting with that night's game, was Jerry Sloan.

Layden came out for a pre-game tribute and received a standing ovation. He remains very popular in the Salt Lake area to this day. The Jazz, whose roster included a rookie named John Stockton and some guy named Karl Malone, lost to the Dallas Mavericks that night.

Jerry Sloan remained the Head Coach of the Jazz until yesterday, completing the longest tenure of any current head coach in professional sports. He led the Jazz, with the familiar call of Stockton-to-Malone, to two NBA finals, and had the team in the playoffs the bulk of his coaching career.

He thanked the Miller family, majority owners of the Jazz, for their support and for their policy of allowing the coaches to manage the team with minimal interference. Sloan's success may not be defined by championships, but will be by the consistent, sustainable quality of his team's play over 23 years. There's something to be said about that philosophy.

Consider the Steelers, who despite Sunday's Super Bowl loss have had quite the run of quality teams over the last 40 years. This includes being a participant in 18% of all the Super Bowls ever played - 8 out of 45. Perhaps a lot of the credit for this belongs with the Rooney family's approach to hiring and supporting management, which sounds similar to the Jazz in that the Steelers, since 1969, have had exactly 3 head coaches - and all of them have won at least one Super Bowl.

Now to get back to my usual sports activities - rooting for the Pens (get well, everybody), and reading Tank McNamara - a hilarious comic strip that pokes fun at some of the hype and ridiculousness of the sports world today.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Power of Teamwork

A multiple-choice question has been going through my head:

What were factors in the Steelers' loss to the Packers in the Super Bowl?

A. Me putting my Steeler jersey on backwards by accident (I did)
B. Pittsburgh native Christina Aguilera mangling the national anthem
C. Too many mistakes on both sides of the ball
D. Utter confusion during the last 4th quarter drive
E. All of the above.

The answer doesn't really matter. Perhaps the best answer is the simplest one - the best team that showed up was the one that won.

This may be a ham-handed segué to another story about teamwork in Pennsylvania, but it has implications for Coloradans as well, and it's worth the lead-up.

A story in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailed the activities and effectiveness of groups of landowners who have been negotiating collectively with energy "landmen" seeking leases for drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation. Some key points and quotes:
  • "We have to stick together. It's the strength-in-numbers strategy," the Loretto (Pa.) group's lead organizer, Lee Wyland, told his members at the beginning of the two-hour-long meeting. "If we don't, they will pick us apart one-by-one -- there's no doubt about it."
  • These landowner groups "have become a major force in the industry, educating their members, usually resulting in higher payments and more environmental controls for landowners than they would have gotten as individuals".
  • When interest in the Marcellus Shale started to ramp up a few years ago, many landowners confused by the offers they were receiving reached out to the cooperative extension service at Penn State for information and assistance. Numerous community meetings later, these self-described "farm families" have learned the power of effective organizing and negotiation.
  • The story quotes the director of a royalty managers' trade group about efforts at organizing for the purpose of negotiating leases in other areas of the country:
"There is a cultural difference particular to Pennsylvania and New York," (Jerry Simmons) said. "In the Rocky Mountain west, in particular, everyone is kind of on their own, an individual attitude."
To be sure, there is lots of grassroots community organizing going on in Colorado and elsewhere. Groups such as Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Western Colorado Congress have worked hard to educate and advocate for more intensive study of drilling and fracking. This includes outright opposition to these activities without additional government scrutiny and regulatory oversight.

It's also true that there are significant differences in the circumstances. I don't think there are that many split estate situations in the Eastern U.S., and there's significantly less public lands.

Still, imagine a group of private landowners, let's say in Garfield County, collectively negotiating a drilling lease for all involved lands. Through cooperative pooling of resources and procurement of expertise, they are able to agree to a fair price. Included in the agreement are certain environmental clauses that whoever drills those leases must adhere to, on pain of withdrawal of permission and possible dissolution of the agreement for all drilling locations. A portion of the agreement proceeds would be set aside to assist with the necessary compliance monitoring processes.

How would something like this look politically? Would it dovetail with Governor Hickenlooper's stated desire for responsible energy development? How would such news be received by those on the GOP and/or Tea Party (are they interchangeable?) forefront, who disdain what they see as government running amuck where it should not?

This sounds like win-win to me:
  • Our country needs the energy that sits beneath us, but it must be extracted with respect for the surface and those who live on and/or farm that earth.
  • The energy companies and lease landmen are not going away; they see profits from the energy beneath the ground, and have the resources to expend on leases that will likely yield considerable earnings. They would prefer to pay a fair price to a large organized group, saving them time and expense from having to deal with individual landowners.
  • Given the aforementioned profit potential when faced with an organized, informed group of landowners backed by an effective regulatory structure, respecting the environment becomes just the cost of doing business.
  • The community at large benefits from the infusion of lease proceeds and employment into the engine of the local and regional economy. The organized groups find that their collective political and economic strength allows them to advocate and become a partner for positive change in the communities where they reside.
  • Government intervention is balanced with respect for both private property and human rights, with effective strategies in place to avoid repeating the tragic historical lessons of communism and feudalism, not to mention socialism or the environmental scars of unbridled capitalism.
A Utopian pipe dream? Perhaps. I look at it this way - anything that educates and mobilizes the people to help them achieve a greater quality of life together than separately cannot be a bad thing. Greed and other misunderstandings will always be there - but the message will continue to be firmly reinforced in our collective psyche that we are better off together than we are apart.

Our current political climate and economic systems, reinforced by commercial media, seem designed with the express purpose of dividing us into segments of a society, too addled with individual concerns and mistrust to work together. The promise of the Internet and social media to mobilize for change - particularly in places like Egypt - must be balanced with a strong desire to work together and avoid the paradoxical, destructive, collective narcissism that comes along with the world of the electronic screen.

Teamwork - strength in numbers - collectivism - any label you place on what's happening in Pennsylvania and New York with respect to drilling can translate to the potential for improving the American condition. I think this is one big reason that the competitive nature of humanity, combined with the freedoms that Americans have been blessed with and have a responsibility to uphold, is one of the greatest forces for positive change that history has ever seen.

Have a good week ahead.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Lots About Watts

Happy February.

Because I've had an affinity for radio nearly all of my life, I pay attention to those things that keep broadcast radio headed in what I consider the correct direction - connected and responsive to the listener, accountable to the public interest, a beacon for connecting a community together instead of creating divisiveness.

There are a few things happening in the arena of non-commercial radio - mostly the left side of the FM dial - that may stand to enhance the diversity and viability of this resource in Grand Junction and across the country.

Watts Low

The most significant development for the majority of the country's population was the passage of the Local Community Radio Act, signed into law by President Obama last month. The real impact of this law is on the 50 largest media markets, where the expansion of low power FM stations has been hampered by regulations that prevent the use of adjacent frequencies at closer channel spacing.

Spearheaded largely through the efforts of the Prometheus Radio Project and others, this loosening of channel spacing will facilitate the establishment of community radio stations that serve more specific geographical areas and populations.

You'd be surprised with how many FM radio stations are licensed in the Grand Junction area. There are a lot of low power stations here - many are broadcasting Christian programming - but only one station is licensed as a Low Power FM station. This has a lot to do with the mountains that surround us, and the coverage that a station can get with a lower power transmitter placed at a higher altitude.

For example, the aforementioned "Low Power" station, located at the Colorado State Building downtown, has a licensed output of 100 watts, but their transmitter is actually below the average terrain of the area. This station, at 106.7 FM, transmits highway information and local National Weather Service broadcasts.

Contrast this with KAFM Community Radio, licensed at only 16 watts, but with their transmitter located at the radio and TV "antenna farm" on Black Ridge, west of town above the Colorado National Monument and about 2,000 feet above the valley floor. KAFM's signal actually has a much greater coverage footprint than the much more powerful signal coming from the state building. Unfortunately, this signal does not penetrate structures or terrain features well, resulting in "dead spots" caused by both terrain and the density of many buildings in the valley.

Watts Up

As a volunteer at KAFM since it's beginnings, I'm aware of and have been supportive of their ongoing efforts to improve signal strength and in-building coverage. The FCC recently approved a power increase for KAFM from 16 to 300 watts. This will help fill the existing coverage gaps, and allow listeners to tune in without significant issues across the valley, and as far south as Delta.

The Watts Up capital campaign is an effort to put the new FCC authorization to work, with not only a new transmitter and tower, but also improvements to the station's studios and physical plant in Downtown GJ. The challenges of fundraising in the current economic climate have been compounded by a recent change in administration at the station, with some accompanying discontent that has caused departures of both paid and volunteer staff.

Things feel like they're beginning to stabilize a bit, but it's still awfully quiet there some days. Perhaps down the road some of these creative folk may decide that their passion for community-based media trumps the personalities involved. Some that have moved on will stay moved on - like me in about a month.

In any event, KAFM needs community support, in both dollars and sweat equity, to keep the mission and the beauty of community media alive in Grand Junction. Please consider supporting the capital campaign, or during the upcoming Spring Fund Drive in mid-March. Better yet, contribute your time and expertise to the station as a volunteer.

Watts Preserved

A broadcast radio license is a valuable commodity, even in the non-commercial, not-for-profit arena. Back in Pittsburgh, the pending sale of a popular non-commercial radio station operated by Duquesne University prompted concerns from the staff and community media advocates that the frequency might end up in commercial hands.

Luckily, a partnership between community station WYEP and a Boulder-based non-profit has been named the successful bidder for the license of WDUQ. This new partnership is now in the process of polling the community for input about how programming should change..or not.
WDUQ's popular jazz music programming will likely remain one of the benchmarks of the station's presence in the area.

I mention Pittsburgh because of two trends that are applicable to that area that aren't in Grand Junction. One is the impact of the Local Community Radio Act on Pittsburgh as a major media market. It will be interesting to see what grassroots efforts pop up. Another factor is the presence of HD Radio, where many stations, commercial and non-profit, transmit a digital signal with multiple channels of programming. WDUQ, for example, dedicates one digital channel to the BBC World Service, 24 hours a day. Once I get settled there, I hope to be able to get involved with community radio at some level.

There are many HD-equipped stations on the Front Range, along with a few public stations in southwest Colorado, but not a single broadcast outlet in Grand Junction offers HD Radio. Someone who's sticking around ought to ask why.

Watts Crazy

Low Power stations can and should be representative of a local community or segment of a community, and I would hope that those who obtain licenses through the new law will use it to enhance the experience of living in a society where free expression and discourse is respected and embraced.

Such was not the case last month in Greeley. A local school board member who also owns a low power FM station and a daily newspaper in that area came under fire for airing editorials critical of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was the subject of a restraining order for leaving threats on the voice mail of the manager of a competing radio station.

This kind of discourse and disagreement, aside from the threats, is what makes America a great place. It's not really surprising that stations with a more conservative approach to things will pop up with low-power FM licenses, especially those who wish to emulate what they hear on AM talk radio. Hey, free speech is for extremists, too.

Watts Real and Relevant

Regardless of the types of discourse, entertainment and diversion, the option is ours as a people to listen or watch what we choose, and turn off that which we don't care much for. In this context, I am very thankful for the Internet, which allows me and thousands of others around the U.S. to enjoy the coverage of the uprising in Egypt from Al Jazeera English. Most American cable companies and satellite providers do not carry this English-language channel of the venerable, Qatar-based news service, and according to at least one blog that's more than just a little hypocritical. Quoting a new anchor on the network:
We're not entirely blocked, but we're a "taboo" to some crucial decision-makers in the TV business, that's the problem...Given the poisonous smear against us over the years, are cable providers hesitant to carry us? Yes. That's where we hope that US citizens like yourself can lobby hard to give us the choice. I'm sure amid thousands of channels that include those dedicated to Kim Kardashian, shopping addictions, evangelism, hardcore porn, NFL and local news channels where the top story is always the traffic congestion, that the land of the free can find a spot for us!
For me as a little boy growing up, radio was a comforting voice late at night in the dark. As I grew, I realized the continued power of this now seemingly simple and antiquated medium to inform, enlighten, and entertain. Even in the wee hours, slowly manipulating the tuning dial on a shortwave to try to pull in the weakest vestige of Radio Prague, or today listening to the folksy ruminations of Garrison Keillor, there's fascination, escapism, and life and death before your very ears. Think this stuff isn't important? Ask the folks in Egypt or Tunisia.

Have a great day.