By Caitlin Switzer

REGIONAL-On Colorado’s Western Slope, community-driven public radio stations are among the most trusted sources of information about local communities and regional events. Coincidentally, four of the region’s public radio mainstays are under or are seeking new leadership.

Last week, Grand Junction’s popular KAFM 88.1 community radio announced that it has hired longtime staffer Ramona Winkeller as executive director. In Ouray, KURA 98.9 has just named a new radio teacher, and both Paonia’s KVNF and Telluride’s KOTO continue to search for the right people to lead the stations.

Ben Kerr, who gives his title as “three-hole-punch operator,” started as a DJ with KOTO in 1975, the station’s first year. KOTO serves Telluride and Ophir at 91.7and 89.3 FM, Norwood at 89.5 FM and down valley at 105.5 FM.

“I still love it,” Kerr said. “We are always under pressure to find the next source of funding—we are fund raising right now. But the feedback, the phone calls, the immediate responses when you ask a question on the air…we know we are reaching more people than we think. And we are streaming in the most unusual places.

“When you go outside of Telluride and listen to commercial radio, it makes us appreciate local radio stations like KOTO and KVNF all the more.”

KOTO has just begun the search for a new director, Kerr said.

“It will be someone multi-talented, someone charismatic, and someone who understands Telluride and the radio community,” he said. “They will know who the players are, have a business background, and an understanding of non-profit financials.”

Though obviously the person will bring a lot to the job, the search should not be impossible, noted Kerr.

“It’s a challenging position for sure,” he said, “so much is expected of this individual, and it is a difficult hat to wear. But the Western Slope is full of talented people; it may be tough to find the right person, but it is not impossible.”

At KVNF, which first took to the airwaves in 1979, Board President Pam Ellison and board member Linda Bacigalupi are filling in temporarily while the station searches for its next general manager.

“We are excited to get someone new to help us reach our potential, and drive us forward,” Ellison said.   “The station is such a great community asset, and so important to our communities.”

KVNF’s 10,000 square-mile, seven-county geographic reach, combined with increasingly strong regional news coverage, makes it an information pipeline for the entire West Central region.

“We are really zeroing in on regional news,” Ellison said. “It’s important to the people in the area, and it keeps us relevant to the communities we serve.”

In Ouray, KURA’s leadership is in transition for the first time since the station was started as a school project in 2001. With longtime radio teacher Nancy Nixon retired, Alyssa Preston will now work with students at the station, which is located in Ouray High School and run by OHS students with support from community underwriters.

Preston said she hopes to continue Nixon’s “spirit,” and bring her own background in community theater to the station, perhaps with some old-school radio drama.

“We have been doing live broadcasts from the Wright Opera House,” she said. “On Halloween we’ll be doing the Headless Horseman. SO much fun to do over the radio! Wouldn’t it be great to introduce a new radio drama?

“We will be doing a survey,” she added, “to see what our listeners want to hear, and revamping the classes.”

The school’s radio classes are still very popular, with 14 students currently enrolled between two classes.

“I am really excited,” Preston said.

Grand Junction’s excellent KAFM 88.1, which has just named Ramona Winkeller as executive director, draws on the expertise of many volunteers to create a unique blend of music programming; produce a daily community affairs hour Monday thru Friday, featuring information and discussion about area non-profit organizations and community issues. The station also operates “The Radio Room,” a 75-seat performance and meeting venue in the KAFM facilities at 1310 Ute Avenue in Grand Junction.

KAFM is extremely fortunate to be able to hire from within, board president Cliff Sprinkle said. “Ramona knows the station, so there is no learning curve, and she is a wonderful person.

“We’re thrilled to have her.”

Though a small community radio station faces many challenges, KAFM began broadcasting in 1999 and has weathered many changes over the years.

“Sixteen years, man—a pretty cool gig–we want to be everything to Mesa County,” Sprinkle said.   “We’ve got the best programmers, volunteers and staff you can imagine.  The people of Mesa County have been incredible generous. But cash flow is an ongoing challenge—there are only so many dollars to go around.”

With a new executive director—who has strong fund raising skills—the station is poised to move forward.

“We have a membership drive coming up,” Sprinkle said. “We’ll live to fight another day.”