Radio Free Minturn moves out of cramped closet space into studio
MINTURN, Colorado – Radio Free Minturn has come a long way from the two, 200-disc CD changers stacked on top of each other and amps leaned up against a sofa in a home near Battle Mountain, the place where the station got its start in the late 1990s.
The Federal Communication Commission pulled the plug on the pirate radio station in late 1998, but the station never died thanks to the hard work put in by founder Alex Markels – who housed the station in his living room in the beginning – and local volunteers who were passionate about keeping it alive.
“I had just given up a job (as a journalist) at the Wall Street Journal and thought I was going to go out there to write a book, and instead, I started a pirate radio station,” Markels said. “It grew out of the sense that I always had that you can grow community even in a place where a big highway runs through it.”
On Tuesday, volunteers moved the station from the cramped closet it had operated in for the past three year to a spacious office in the same building that can now accommodate Radio Free Minturn’s aspirations for the future.
Liz Campbell, who helped legitimize the radio station about five years ago, said she is so proud of how far the little community station has come. She sees Radio Free Minturn as a major asset to the Vail Valley.
“Community radio really has the opportunity to reflect the diversity of the community and provides an artistic outlet for it,” Campbell said.
She said the new space is helping Radio Free Minturn turn into a “real radio station.”
The old space was literally the size of a small walk-in closet. The station tried to host musical guests there and could only do so much. In the summertime, the closet would heat up to more 90 degrees – not exactly comfortable working space for the station’s unpaid volunteers.
“Not only did it cook our [disc jockeys], but it cooked a lot of our equipment, as well,” said Dave Eickholt, president and director of Radio Free Minturn’s board.
It took about four months of work to get the station into its new home, Eickholt said. Disc jockeys volunteered for the station once again to help relocate everything.
It will all be worth it in the end, he said.
“We’ll now be able to fit bands in here and get everyone set up,” Eickholt said.
Campbell’s history with the station flashed before her eyes Tuesday – she remembered a time about five years earlier when she was ready to give up. The station had $1,700 in the bank, and Campbell was ready to throw a wake for the dying station and give up on an application to the Federal Communications Commission for a low-powered license that would allow the station to operate on the air legally.
Friends convinced her to keep fighting. She had already survived a battle with the Colorado Department of Transportation, which applied for the same radio frequency, and came out on top.
She did some research and figured out they needed certain experts to help get equipment stationed on the top of a mountain near Dowd Junction, all of whom came together at exactly the right time to get the station up and running.
“The nice thing about not knowing what you’re doing is that you’re stupid enough to try it,” Campbell said.
Markels, who now lives in Boulder, is happy Campbell and the other volunteers put so much time and energy into his brainchild. When Markels came to the area in the late 1990s, Vail was the only ski town he knew of that didn’t have a local radio station.
The mere fact that Radio Free Minturn is expanding in a time when media in general is in decline proves that the Vail Valley community has soul, Markels said.
“It delivers to the community what it deserves, which is its own voice,” Markels said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.
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