Keillor home on the range?

KUNC radio seeks funds to purchase station license here

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— Garrison Keillor is poised to find a permanent home in Routt County. Not the humorist and folklorist himself, but his radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion."

The show is carried Sundays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on KUNC. It can be heard locally at 88.5 FM. Now, KUNC's parent organization, Community Radio for Northern Colorado, is trying to raise $50,000 locally to purchase its broadcast frequency or "station license" so Prairie Home Companion's address always will be 88.5. In addition, KUNC needs $20,000 to upgrade equipment here, Gen--eral Manager Neil Best said.

"The purchase gives us a station that protects us forever," Best said.

The new equipment would allow KUNC to be heard south of Steamboat Springs to Lake Catamount and Stagecoach. It would extend north of U.S. Highway 40, almost to Clark, and west, almost to Hayden.

KUNC carries National Pub--lic Radio programming along with its "diverse music programming." In addition to Prairie Home Companion, it carries Car Talk, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and other programs.

The need for KUNC to purchase its frequency arose when another broadcasting company, Educational Communications of Colorado Springs, filed with the Federal Communications Commission to purchase the 88.5 FM frequency. The move was approved by the FCC in 2003. The construction permit period for the approved application expires on Feb. 16, and that's how long KUNC has to come up with the $70,000 ($11,000 has been raised) and begin broadcasting with locally based station equipment.

KUNC, based outside Gree--ley, was vulnerable in Steamboat because it was relying on radio signal translators on Walton Peak and Emerald Mountain. In the eyes of the FCC, Best said, stations operating with translators do not have the standing of holders of station licenses.

Fortunately, Best said, Educ--ational Communications was willing to work with KUNC. The $50,000 would go to ECCS, which broadcasts Christian programming. Best said the price is reasonable.

The station was eager to cement its standing in Steam--boat because the interest here is stronger than in any of the other Western Slope communities where it has translators, Best said. KUNC is heard in Breckenridge, Buena Vista, Salida, Summit County and on a limited basis in the Vail and Eagle Valley areas.

KUNC has 1,000 memberships in Steamboat, and local businesses purchase advertising on the station to support the programming, Steamboat businessman Denny Swanson said. He is a relatively new member of KUNC's board of directors and the owner of Ace at the Curve hardware store.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for the community," Swanson said. "I'm dreaming of what's in store for us down the road."

Best said initially, local listeners wouldn't notice significant changes in the KUNC listening experience -- the programming will remain unchanged. Announcers will recognize the broadcast station in Steamboat every hour, and Best hopes to improve reporting of weather information in Northwest Colo--rado.

Best views the opportunity to purchase the frequency in Steamboat as the beginning of increasing KUNC's presence on the Western Slope. Although there won't be a KUNC office or broadcast studio in Steamboat, Best said he's interested in the idea of someday basing a reporter here.

Swanson, who is leading the fundraising effort, said the most important aspect of the frequency purchase is the opportunity to ensure that public radio's presence in the Yampa Valley can never be undermined in the future.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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