Even in the midst of an ongoing digital explosion and communications revolution, Colorado Springs remains home to a slate of vibrant radio stations appealing to almost every possible taste in news, music, sports, faith and political talk.
At any given moment, our town’s invisible airwaves are filled with sounds of inspiration, education, agitation, motivation and perspiration, the latter courtesy of Jim Arthur’s wonderfully spirited play-by-play calls of Air Force football and basketball.
It’s been a century since commercial radio first took the nation by storm, beginning high atop a Pittsburgh warehouse in a hastily constructed shack on a drizzly election day night, Nov. 2, 1920.
The announcer’s name was Leo Harvey Rosenberg of KDKA’s Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. In what would become the nation’s first commercial radio broadcast, his first reports included election returns of Republican Warren G. Harding’s eventual landslide victory over fellow Ohioan and Democrat challenger, James M. Cox.
KDKA’s early programing, though, was nothing like today’s around-the-cock scheduling. In those early days, the totality of the station’s content consisted of a daily, one-hour evening program between 8:30 and 9:30.
But radio quickly morphed from a novelty to a national necessity as other cities soon followed suit by adding signals and raising antennas. Within two years, there were over 600 radio stations in the United States. Within the next twenty years, almost ninety percent of households owned a set of some size, putting in motion appointment listening featuring news, music, comedy, religious services, sports and a myriad of entertainment programming.
Colorado Springs’ first radio station was KFUM, first arriving in 1924 and broadcasting from a tower on the site of the Penrose Library. Owned by the late W.D. Corley, the builder of Gold Camp Road, the station was sold to the Reynolds Radio Company and became modern-day KVOR.
Other stations soon followed and set up shop in the Pikes Peak region, including KFXK (1925), KRDO (1947) and KRCC (1951).
Radio’s ubiquity has allowed it to become part and parcel of everyone’s life, however tangential or paramount according to individual taste. In so many ways, it became the equivalent of today’s social media channels. From the home to the highway, we were always connected, albeit one-way and subject to the interference of mountains and the strength of signal.
Yet, from using it merely to relay the results of the election in 1920, politicians quickly seized upon radio’s utility to shape and promote their messages. President Franklin Roosevelt used radio to deliver some 30 “fireside chats” — comforting messages of assurance from the commander-in-chief throughout the 1930s and ’40s. Ronald Reagan reintroduced the tradition in 1982, delivering a weekly address for the duration of his presidency.
Since arriving in Colorado Springs almost a quarter-century ago, I’ve appreciated local radio, dipping in and out of local programming and tuning into Denver’s KOA — the “50,000-watt blowtorch of the Rocky Mountain west.” I’ve even listened to radio as I’ve run the Pikes Peak Marathon —until race organizers began strictly enforcing a rule banning earphones during the race.
For so many of us, though, radio isn’t just utilitarian, a practical resource. It’s therapeutic. Like a reliable friend, it’s been there for us through good times and bad. I’ve been deeply moved by sermons preached on local Christian radio or roused by the sharp commentary of Richard Randall, Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin.
The very first voice I heard upon arriving in Colorado Springs was Dave Logan, Denver Broncos’ play-by-play man, as he painted the picture of the team’s soon-to-be first Super Bowl season.
Television and the Internet may have dented radio’s dominance, but Nielsen reports that 272 million Americans listened to traditional radio every week in 2019 — 7 million more than listened in 2016.
I’m grateful for the marvelous medium of radio, and for everyone in the Pikes Peak region who faithfully man our station’s microphones. Radio has come a long way, but as goes our stations, so goes the nation – and in both instances, we can only hope that the best is yet to come.
Paul J. Batura is a writer based in Colorado Springs and the author of Good Day! The Paul Harvey Story. He can be reach via Twitter @PaulBatura or email: Paul@PaulBatura.com