June 1, 2001

Era spanning half century of local AM coverage ends

BOULDER ? Colorado Public Radio (CPR) has acquired the license and station of KWAB AM-1490, ending an era of locally based AM radio that began in 1947.

KWAB signed a letter of intent Monday, May 21, to sell the license for $1.1 million. The deal includes the station’s transmission equipment and signal. All of the station’s 16 employees have been laid off, and its remaining assets will be sold.

Staff were notified at the time of the sale, and KWAB said good-bye to listeners on Wednesday, following a final show of Mike Flanagan’s RealTime and General Manager Chuck Lontine talking on air with guests and members of the staff.

KWAB is now readying the station for CPR to take over. A percentage of the station’s operating revenues will be used for severance packages for staff, and

KWAB will continue operations as part of a local management agreement (LMA) with CPR until the FCC approves transfer of the license, which could take 90 days. CPR will sign on once the license transfer is complete.

With KWAB’s 1,000-watt signal, which extends throughout Boulder County, CPR will be able to reach listeners in the Boulder/Longmont area, an audience it had difficulty reaching when it divided its single-channel news and classical music service into two channels in April.

CPR plans to build a new 132-foot tower at 3085 Bluff St., the station’s current location. This will take the station’s signal further into Northern Colorado. With this signal, CPR’s broadcast reach will cover 80 percent of the state.

The building, which KWAB once occupied with now defunct Internet radio company GoGaGa.com, will be leased by its owner, Boulder Investment Partners.

CPR President Max Wycisk said the new station will follow a news and information format with a statewide perspective. The non-commercial programming will be the same as CPR’s other news stations, including KCFR AM-1340 in Denver. He said reporters from offices in Grand Junction and Denver will keep tabs on the Boulder Valley.

CPR made a bid to purchase Greeley station KUNC FM-91.5 a few months ago. CPR offered $2.6 million for the station, which is owned and operated by the University of Northern Colorado. Its bid eventually lost out to the Friends of KUNC, a group that raised $2 million to keep the station locally owned and operated.

KWAB made the decision to seek a buyer late last year if it could not reach its financial goals, Lontine said. The station had talked to several Denver radio groups, including ethnic and religious groups, before sealing a deal with CPR.

“The logical choice was to go to the organization we emulated,” Lontine said.

KWAB received an undisclosed amount of operational funding from its parent company, Working Assets Funding Service, a San Francisco-based credit card and long-distance company, but was unable to secure further funding.

“Unfortunately, despite immense hard work by many talented individuals, the station has not been able to become a sustainable business,´ said Working Assets President Michael Kieschnick in Boulder Diversions, an e-mail newsletter the station sends to listeners. “This sale is surely bittersweet as we have loved serving the Boulder Valley. But there comes a time with we need to recognize the business realities.” Kieschnick also said Working Assets had been approached by other stations interested in carrying the Laura Flanders show, which aired on KWAB from New York.

Working Assets gained FCC approval to launch KWAB in March 1999. The company purchased the license for AM-1490 the previous December for $575,000 from former owner Dick Blumenhein of Unicorn Productions LLC and Boulder Investment Partners.

Lontine said Working Assets’ original plan was to build a radio network from Boulder, but high price tags on AM stations around the country changed that strategy. For example, Lontine said it would have taken $20 million to buy an AM station the company was considering in San Francisco up to speed.

Working Assets, which brought a mix of liberal, consumer-oriented and local talk shows into KWAB’s programming, had set its sights on the profit potential of Internet radio. When the return on this investment failed to meet the company’s expectations, Lontine said KWAB refocused its efforts on the broadcasting side only to find that ad revenues had softened in Boulder.

The future of KWAB’s Web site is still in flux. The site’s address has been changed to workingforchange.com, a site maintained by Working Assets.

The station first was launched as KBOL-AM radio in 1947 by Russel Shaffer and his wife, Ann. The couple were involved with the station for 45 years. Besides local news, KBOL was popular for broadcasting both local high school and University of Colorado football games. Shaffer, named to the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame in 1999, also launched KBVL-FM in 1972, operating that station until 1986. He also was the co-founder and president of the Colorado Radio Broadcasters Association and served as the president of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.

Before being sold to Working Assets, the station operated as KBVI under Blumenhein’s ownership. Blumenhein bought the station, formerly KBOL, for $300,000. It initially operated under the call letters KBKS.

Blumenhein and then General Manager Glen Gerberg brought the station back to life with a mix of programming and an increasing amount of local content.

KWAB maintained the station’s focus on local programming, bringing back coverage of high school sports and adding a noon business show on Wednesdays. KWAB also made contributions to various arts, cultural and environmental causes. Contact Anjanette Mudd at (303) 440-4950 or e-mail amudd@bcbr.com.

BOULDER ? Colorado Public Radio (CPR) has acquired the license and station of KWAB AM-1490, ending an era of locally based AM radio that began in 1947.

KWAB signed a letter of intent Monday, May 21, to sell the license for $1.1 million. The deal includes the station’s transmission equipment and signal. All of the station’s 16 employees have been laid off, and its remaining assets will be sold.

Staff were notified at the time of the sale, and KWAB said good-bye to listeners on Wednesday, following a final show of Mike Flanagan’s RealTime and General Manager Chuck Lontine talking…

Christopher Wood
Christopher Wood is editor and publisher of BizWest, a regional business journal covering Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties. Wood co-founded the Northern Colorado Business Report in 1995 and served as publisher of the Boulder County Business Report until the two publications were merged to form BizWest in 2014. From 1990 to 1995, Wood served as reporter and managing editor of the Denver Business Journal. He is a Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder. He has won numerous awards from the Colorado Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and the Alliance of Area Business Publishers.
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