Tuesday, May 1, 2018


One of the reasons Colorado Public Radio’s (CPR) Classical music stations [link] have been so successful over the years is CPR's continued investment in the basics of radio.

Now CPR has upgraded the coverage of its flagship station KVOD, Denver. The change will help listeners in northern Colorado receive a more reliable signal for 88.1 FM.

The latest change is consolidating KVOD’s transmission location to Lookout Mountain, the primary tower spot for most of Denver’s FM and TV stations. KVOD’s new location provides a larger coverage area, less terrain blockage and allows 88.1 to operate at higher power. Listeners in northern Colorado and the foothills will benefit most.

CPR has taken a step-by-step approach while building all three of its programming services. In many ways Classical music has lead the way. When KCFR started on 90.1 FM in the early 1970s, it had a dual format of music and NPR News.  Because NPR provided only a few hours of programming a day, KCFR played an eclectic mix of music, including Classical. During the 1980s the music evolved into only Classical.

KCFR remained a dual-format station until 2001. Then, in 2008, CPR acquired 88.1 FM from Educational Media Foundation (EMF).

The acquisition of 88.1 allowed KCFR to become a NPR News/Talk station 24/7 at 90.1. However, 88.1 had a significantly less powerful signal than 90.1 at the time. This meant some Classical fans in northern Colorado (and even the Denver metro) could no longer receive CPR’s Classical programming.

Sean Nethery
According to Sean Nethery, VP of Programming at CPR, the recent change will fix that problem:

"When we moved CPR Classical from 90.1 FM to 88.1. FM in 2008, we knew we needed to find a way to bring our Classical music service to areas of northern Colorado that were lost in the transition to 88.1 This move does just that, offering more listeners the opportunity to explore the world of classical music…”

Because CPR is building a statewide Classical music service, reaching folks in the state’s most populated areas is important.

This wasn’t the first time CPR has invested in Classical music. For many years Denver had a full-time Classical station, KVOD at 99.5 FM. Though KVOD had been profitable since 1969, the station didn’t survive the collateral damage of hyper-consolidated of ownership. In 1999 after a series of corporate owners, Chancellor Media Corporation (now part of iHeartMedia), switched the format to Jammin' Oldies. 

At the same time, Chancellor moved Classical music to 1280 AM, where it might have faded away due to neglect if CPR had not acted. In 2001 CPR acquired the rights to KVOD’s format and extensive music library and moved the programming to 90.1FM displacing news/talk programming.

Then CPR made a gutsy gamble by putting news and talk programming, including the major NPR news magazines, on 1340 AM. CPR’s plan was to wait until another open FM channel could be found.

Some observers at the time questioned the wisdom of temporarily moving NPR News to AM. But, it worked because it allowed CPR to establish two discrete 24/7 programming services.  Plus, the move preserved the Classical format in the market.


The death of Classical music on the radio has been predicted for years. Though the combination of aging listeners, slashed funding for the arts and changes in the music business are all real, Classical music continues to show resilience as a radio format.

One reason this has happened is format focusing such as what KVOD did in Denver (see story above). Three decades ago most public radio stations such as KCFR had dual or even triple formats.

By focusing formats 24/7 on a single type of programming, stations increase their value to listeners.  Increased value means more listeners and members.

Today in PPM radio markets, only 17% of stations have a dual format. The other 83% are now full-time Classical music stations and many are doing quite well.

Spark News tracks 25 full-time and 5 dual-format Classical stations. The total number of estimated weekly listeners to the 24 stations (where complete data was available) was 4,515,200 in the March 2018 PPM ratings.  In March 2017 estimates the same 24 stations had 4,498,700 weekly listeners. This means weekly listeners to the top noncommercial Classical stations dropped less one percent in the past year.

Ten of the 24 stations (42%) gained estimated weekly listeners and 14 (58%) declined.

On the left are the Top Ten full-time Classical stations ranked by their Nielsen Audio estimated weekly listeners.

WQXR had the biggest numerical gains and KDFC has the biggest percentage gains.

WCRB had the largest numerical and percentage losses when comparing March 2018 to March 2017.

Of stations ranked 11th through 25th in weekly cume, WBJC in Baltimore gained the most estimated listeners, up a whopping 30% in one year. 

WFCL in Nashville and WGUC in Cincinnati lost the largest percentages of weekly listeners.

All of the five dual-format stations had double digit losses of estimated weekly listeners when comparing March 2018 to March 2017.


  1. Let fill some gaps.

    The original KVOD was at 99.5 FM (orginal call sign was KDEN-FM( and they did have a Colorado Springs translator at 103.1 FM give or take. When Tribune bought KVOD FM they eventually decided to take the station towards a Classic Rock format as The Hawk KKHK. It changed its monker to The Mountain and KQMT calls when Entercom bought the station.

    Chancellor Media which just bought rim shot Country station KZDG 92.5 (called itself Big Dog or Z92.5 and for the record famed radio personalty Big Ron O'Brian did another Denver stint at the respected station) and decided to pick up the Classical Music format and calls. They held on to the format for a few years but its parent company was have success with Rhythmic Oldies so the moved the Classical format to an AM station they owned and the FM became KDJM-FM. The AM station was sold and the end of KVOD's commerical era came to an end. KDJM stick with Rhythmic Oldies until post Christmas 2005 and flipped back to Country. With three Country FM's in Denver now, I predict that KWOF will flip to Sports Talk using its established Altitude Sports currently heard on its AM stick at 950.

    The original KCFR-FM was exiled to AM 1280 and later simulcast at 1490 for the Boulder area as 90.1 became KVOD-FM and featured a 24/7 Classical format until they were able to get another FM stick for the Classical format and KCFR was able to return to its original home with the new all Public Radio News/Talk format. AM 1280 would birth Open Air which was stuck as an AM station until they were able to get a few FM sticks in Denver and Fort Collins. CPR sold the station and it is now a Sports Talk format.

    KCFR was originally one of those stations that played "freaky music" to the underground crowd. NPR was only getting started with just one program..."All Things Considered." Morning Edition would not sign on until late 1979.

  2. KXPR 88.9 Sacramento, CA is also a dual formated station. They air Jazz in the evening from 1900 - 2300 weeknights. Also no classical music Saturday night from 1700 - 2300 with terrible unlistenable programming (in my opinion), and Jazz 1800 - 2300 Sunday night. Personally it ruins a classical station to me when they do not play classical music in the evening which is the time I would listen the most. And they list 5 hours of opera during the day on Saturday making Saturday in my opinion a garbage dump of programming. I hate Opera. I am sure it has some niche listeners. They would be much better plugging in classical 24 from Minneapolis all weekend and every evening which I think they do on their 24 hour online Classical stream. I would not even listen to them if I lived in Sacramento because of the dual format and I listen to a lot of Classical music. I would listen Symphony Hall on SiriusXM instead.

    So I agree with you about listeners not liking dual formated stations as that is how I feel.

    KXPR's program schedule:

    You mentioned Colorado Public Radio’s (CPR) commitment to Classical music but I was disappointed that Colorado Public Radio made WVXQ 88.3 in Fort Collins, CO in Northern Colorado AAA instead of Classical in 2015. That was not showing a commitment to classical but likely trying to reach younger listeners and maybe a GM that was wanting to push the new AAA format instead of classical. It would have been perfect to add Classical music to Northern Colorado on 88.3 to go with KVOD 88.1 in Denver as KVOD does not reach Fort Collins according to coverage maps even now and they are adjacent to each other on the radio dial. The rating I have seen show good ratings for CPR Classical in Denver but bad ratings for CPR AAA in both Denver and Fort Collins. I would guess it hurt CPR's AAA ratings in Denver and Fort Collins when KJAC 105.5 also came on with AAA and a stronger signal in Fort Collins and reaching Denver. At least then I would have thought maybe they could have then switched 88.3 in Fort Collins to Classical as a better use than 2 new AAA stations in Fort Collins but no they have not.

    You said, "The total number of estimated weekly listeners to the 24 stations (where complete data was available) was 4,515,200 in the March 2018 PPM ratings. In March 2017 estimates the same 24 stations had 4,498,700 weekly listeners. This means weekly listeners to the top noncommercial Classical stations dropped less one percent in the past year."

    According to those numbers if correct the total number of listeners increased a little not decreased.

  3. KXPR is not really duel formatted by Ken's standard. Yes, they play Jazz in the weekday evenings, but on the same token Ken now views KRCC as a Public Radio News/Talk station in spite of having eclectic music (in the spirit of the Underground/Progressive rock radio of the late 1960's/early 1970's on most nights) in the evenings. WNTI in Philly is an honest dual formated station with Classical in the daytime and Jazz in the evening and overnights, with the HD2 playing what the main HD1 is not. KXPR goes right to Classical after 11PM so the duel format label does not really count.

    I can't speak for KXPR, but for the moment they are doing just fine, so unless something happens...these few hours of Jazz are their to stay.

    P.S. When KCME dropped their longtime Saturday Jazz programs they was a uproar in the community by the Jazz fans. Still it was a smart move by KCME and not just because the station manager at the time hated Jazz (and she did and still does), but it was a disision made by the board...especially with CPR Classical carring the live Met Opera broadcasts on Saturday middays/afternoons. While they might be fans of Classical AND Jazz, more than not...their is audience that only goes towards one of those genes.

    Open Air does reach into Fort Collins, so the second FM stick in FC was the right decision. Sorry but your tastes are not going to appeased their. The Colorado Sound does manged to reach into Denver. Certain radio receivers are not as good yes, but I digress.

  4. Correction: Open Air does NOT reach into Fort Collins. My bad. And let specify my Classical and Jazz statement. Their are people who love Classical and dislike Jazz and vice versa. Either way its about consistancy. Right KXPR is doing fine with diching the classical audience for the Jazz audience in those limited hours. WNTI should look into getting a translator station or if they are lucky in full fledged station for Jazz. KCME eventually got some kind of stick to bring back the Jazz and better than ever.

    Oh and FYI, KRCC used to do Jazz on weeknights back in the 1980's and 90's