Radio Free Durango
DJ G has no idea who I am. But he changed my life.

That’s what can happen if, say, like I was, you were up in the wee hours of a late night, drinking your x-teenth cup of coffee, scribbling bleary wisdom upon each page in a interminable stack of term papers, while listening to KDUR through a pair of those enormous deejay-style headphones that blot out all existence save the sound force-fed into your head. And on that night, the sound being force-fed into my head was DJ G’s “Beats & Rhymes, Etc.” show.

And on that night nearly 15 years ago, this college-station hardcore hip hop show was my first exposure to hip hop. I mean, I’d heard it – you couldn’t not back then, in the late ‘90s — but, being at the time an approaching-40-something guy who’d been living in mountain towns since “Rapper’s Delight,” my musical tastes tended to lie on the bluegrass and Johnny Cash side – rather than the Beat Nuts or Wu Tang Clan side – of the musical bell curve.

Until that night, that is, when under the tutelage and hip hop curriculum of DJ G, I felt the groove, in whatever way a middle-aged, home-owning, country-bumpkin, father-of-two kinda’ guy like me could.

The difference from other times I’d heard hip hop was that the raps DJ G offered up into the airwaves was not the hip hop you’d hear on pop radio – it was a home-grown and hand-rolled blend of those fine beats filtered through a real individual, a person with personality, a neighbor, even. And it was that flair, emanating from within sight of the radio station from whence those tunes emanated, that let me get it for the first time: I heard the words and wordplay, the stories, the humor, the beats.

I’ve been listening to hip hop ever since. And I’ve been listening to DJ G ever since, too, still responding to his iconic call-to-action – “Suggest something. Call me at 247-7-2-six-TWO!” – because every Wednesday night he’s still throwing out his take on hip hop via KDUR’s new 6,000-watt tower on the Fort Lewis College campus.

And none of this exploration and discovery would’ve happened if it hadn’t been for KDUR.

KDUR was officially birthed as KFLC in 1974, when the college gave a small group of students a room, some equipment and $3,000 to start a radio station in the basement of the College Union Building. For its first year, the station “broadcast” only through speakers hardwired in the building. Until, that is, May 13, 1975, when KDUR’s first station manager, Jim Vlasich, played “Because of Rain,” by Tim Weisberg – the first song broadcast over the air on KDUR.

“KDUR was a free-format station that played all the music us hippie kids were listening to,” Vlasich, today a professor of history at Southern Utah University, told me once.

“In the 1970s, Durango had two choices: cowboy AM or cowboy FM,” is how another KDUR founding-DJ described the Durango broadcast landscape before FLC’s entry onto the scene. “KDUR opened the door for the college students to speak unedited and free form to the community at large.”

More than 35 years later, KDUR still broadcasts from the Fort Lewis College campus at 91.9 FM and at 93.9 FM, and online at
Today, though, in the age of iTunes and Pandora and Spotify and XM/Sirius, local broadcast radio is kind of like black-and-white movies or vinyl albums – it’s neat to check them out, but not many would want to live there.

But in our new era, where broadcast radio is only one option in an aural cornucopia from a global menu of musical and informational offerings, KDUR is still what it always has been: a personality-rich and unpredictable free-form foray from – and into – our own town, your very own neighborhood, staffed by a volunteer force of students, practicum interns, faculty, and community members who really live here, and know our town and our place and our people.

Some of those people, your own neighbors, might surprise you.

In this new world media order, a small, local, volunteer-powered station like KDUR takes on a role like “Radio Free Europe” –  the network of radio stations during the Cold War that broadcast shows from the West into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, sharing glimpses of the Free World’s culture and ideas with our isolated neighbors.

Consider, then, KDUR our Radio Free Durango. But it’s not free radio.

KDUR’s Spring membership drive is April 13 - 20. If you haven’t checked in with your local free-form community radio station in a while, it’d be a good time to tune in. And if you like what you hear, support it. Become a member. And help make sure the local voice of community radio, the many and diverse local voices of our many communities, stays on the global menu of modern radio’s offerings.
And, as DJ G says, “Make sure you keep it on KDUR.”

– Ken Wright