Twenty years ago, NPR arrived as Wyoming import
Post Independent Staff
“A Prairie Home Companion” rolled into Glenwood Springs 20 years ago in a schooner built by a handful of altruistic radio pioneers.
Along with “A Prairie Home Companion” came other non-commercial programs such as National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”
Most community radio fans might have forgotten that with Garrison Keillor, Cokie Roberts and other radio personalities came the University of Wyoming women’s basketball team.
“I’m not sure the people down here were used to listening to University of Wyoming women’s basketball,” said Bob Cutter, one of those radio pioneers. “They didn’t like it very much.”
Lately, Cutter has thought about National Public Radio first hitting the Glenwood Springs airwaves in April 1983. It was a labor of love whose core group included Cutter’s wife, Linda, Sy Coleman, Bob and Sue Ludtke, Pat Fitzgerald, John Reed and Dick Whitton.
Coleman, Ludtke and Cutter were ham radio operators. A shared ham radio ethic prompted the three men to bring non-commercial radio into Glenwood Springs from the University of Wyoming.
“The hallmark of ham radio is to do something people say you can’t do, and do it as cheaply as possible,” said Cutter, a retired attorney. “That’s exactly what this was.”
Like most Colorado mountain towns in the early 1980s, Glenwood Springs had plenty of residents who loved National Public Radio. But the signals were limited to metropolitan areas or college towns.
Cutter said Coleman was first to bring in non-commercial radio to the Roaring Fork Valley in the early 1980s, when he hooked up with a translator on Castle Peak near Eagle and beamed the University of Wyoming’s KUWR-FM into Aspen. Coleman’s radio station, KAJX-FM, later added local shows to its syndicated programming, and has spread throughout the valley.
Cutter and his friends, who formed the nonprofit group Valley Public Radio, followed Coleman’s lead, using the Castle Peak translator to boost the Wyoming signal into Glenwood via a second translator on Lookout Mountain east of town. He estimates the project cost about $3,000.
“It was a technical challenge. We just used Radio Shack equipment,” he said.
If rain or snowstorms didn’t disrupt radio reception between Wyoming and Eagle, the signal was strong. Getting that signal the final mile or two from Lookout Mountain, and down into parts of town, especially on Blake Avenue, was the problem.
“Our radio signal was on Lookout Mountain, but Glenwood Springs is underneath it,” Cutter said. “Radio signals like to travel straight, they don’t like to dip down. We later bought special antennas with a downward tilt to improvement reception.”
Sometimes, residents along the Roaring Fork River received the radio signal loud and clear, while those on Blake or near Valley View Hospital were left with static.
“I lived behind the hospital, so if I was getting a good signal, I knew the rest of the town was too,” Cutter said.
Pat Fitzgerald, who lived along the Roaring Fork River, always had a good signal. “He could look out his window and see the translator,” Cutter said.
By the time the summer of 1983 hit, residents and visitors had come to rely on their daily National Public Radio fix.
“One summer resident was overjoyed the first time she found `All Things Considered,'” Cutter said. “People are funny about NPR. It almost becomes an obsession with them.”
Valley Public Radio continued to bring the University of Wyoming’s KUWR into Glenwood Springs until 1993, when it started beaming in Aspen’s KAJX instead. For years, Cutter and his radio buddies had to work on the Lookout Mountain translator themselves to keep community radio on the air, but these days that’s KAJX’s job.
Cutter said “A Prairie Home Companion” is still one of his favorite KAJX radio shows, but he also listens to David Barsamian’s left-leaning “Alternative Radio.”
“I also like that High Country News show about the environment,” said Cutter, who can remember listening to “The Green Hornet” and “The Shadow” on the radio as a boy.
As for being one of the folks who brought National Public Radio to Glenwood Springs, “It’s a neat feeling,” Cutter said.
“It was a hobby. It was a challenge, an adventure. It was fun.”
Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534
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