In the spring of 1982, Carbondale Community Access Radio (C-CAR) organizers started remodeling a 500-square-foot space upstairs in the northwest corner in the historic Dinkel building for use as its office and studio. The drafty space overlooked the alley below, through wavy window panes. The station manager’s desk eventually took up one corner. A door across from the station manager desk led directly to the small studio, equipped with two record turntables, an eight-track for playing announcements and a basic control board with a volume gauge and maybe six black “pods” to twist left and right. (I don’t remember exactly what they did, other than one was the volume control.) A few hundred donated record albums stood side by side in wood shelves.
After two years in the making, nonprofit radio station KDNK-FM started broadcasting at 90.5 from its Dinkel building transmitter at 5:30pm on Friday, April 15. The station that started in the Dinkel building is now housed in Carbondale’s former town hall at 76 South 2nd Street.
Beginning with a pair of organizers (Pat Noel and Wick Moses) tag teaming the station manager position, the station now employs five full-time and two part-time employees. From broadcasting 16 hours a day in 1982, KDNK now goes 24/7.
Lee Swidler, the original C-CAR/KDNK organizer, got the ball rolling in March of 1981 when he told the Valley Journal (VJ) newspaper he was exploring the possibility of starting a nonprofit, community-sponsored radio station based in Carbondale, like stations operating in Paonia (KVNF) and Telluride (KOTO).
“We wish him luck,” the Valley Journal concluded, in its “Across the Fence” section. Later, Swidler held an organizational meeting at his Valley Lock & Key office in the old Berry’s Garage building on Main Street. In attendance were Bruce Stolbach, Bill Phillips (who would become C-CAR’s attorney of record), Brian Vancil and Rick Bergman.
The next “Across the Fence” blurb said music buffs interested in becoming volunteer DJs were invited to a meeting at the library. In September 1981, an interim C-CAR board of directors was named that included Swidler, Phillips, Vancil, Rick Berman and, later, Brenda Buchanan.
Buchanan’s appointment came after the VJ ran an “Across the Fence” item about C-CAR desiring a more diverse board, as it had no women. “We (the VJ) note that Swidler is single,” the blurb concluded.
An aside at this point: The FCC awarded C-CAR the “KDNK” call letters because of the 40 that were initially applied for, only a few were available which included KDNK, according to the VJ at the time. “DNK” refers to the “Dinkel” building, of course.
C-CAR was at first financially fueled by about 70 individuals, couples and businesses that donated $100 each (almost $300 in today’s dollars). A “Founding Patrons” plaque in a KDNK office lists the donors, which includes: Alpine Bank, the Village Smithy, Lee Beck, the Carbondale Lion’s Club and a guy named Blackjack Daniels.
C-CAR held fundraisers from early in its existence, including a dunking booth at the 1982 Mountain Fair, whose dunkees included John Foulkrod, H.P. Hansen and Madam Moiesel Kimberly (a former elephant trainer, the VJ said). Early financial support was key because the FCC required applicants to have $30,000 in cash or pledges before it would accept a community radio application, an organizer told me.
When KDNK first went on the air, most of its funding came from memberships, fundraisers, donors and grants. The station didn’t start selling underwriting to augment those sources until well after it went on-air. “(Selling) underwriting was tough,” Swidler said. Underwriting didn’t begin to take off until KDNK started broadcasting Roaring Fork High School football games, featuring Manny Goldberg and Mike Speer. “Football (underwriting) kept us afloat at times!” Swidler joked.
If you’re wondering why KDNK changed its original 90.5 frequency to 88.1, here is a brief version of the deal. Denver-based Colorado Public Radio (CPR) for years had tried to gain a foothold in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s complicated — because the deal has to do with transmitters, translators, frequencies, FCC regulations and other factors — but on more than one occasion KDNK and KAJX had to scramble to hang onto their broadcast range. (Note: Max Wycisk was the CPR founder and board president, according to published accounts.)
In 2003, KDNK, KAJX and CPR reached an agreement where they would share the cost of a new transmitter on Sunlight Peak, which would allow KDNK and KAJX to keep their coverage areas, and allow CPR to increase its Roaring Fork Valley presence. Today, KDNK has multiple translators (that relay the transmitter signal), to bring its programming to: Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen, Old Snowmass, Snowmass Village, Thomasville, Rifle “and beyond.”
Thanks to the World Wide Web, listeners can tune into KDNK around the globe. As John Denver might say, “Far out.”
Editor’s note: Lynn “Jake’ Burton is collecting information on the history of KDNK. If you have something you’d like to pass on — especially names of DJs and their shows names, staff and board members — you can send them to kdnk4Lynn@gmail.com