Inducted: December 3, 2018

KBCO

What began as a modest, 250-watt signal booming out of the little town of Boulder (with a population of under 70,000 at the time) had, 42 years later, turned into the nationally known 97.3 KBCO World Class Rock. In the process, KBCO set the standards and benchmarks that every Adult Rock station strives for: creativity balanced with radio fundamentals and commitment to the local community, leading to long-term success. KBCO was also the founding station of the Adult Album Alternative (or Triple A) format that to this day holds its annual convention in Boulder.

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Back in the 1960s, a radio fan named Bob Greenlee graduated from Iowa State with a dream to own a radio station. His search led him to Boulder, where in 1975, he and his wife, Diane, bought KADE-AM. But Bob knew that FM radio was where he really needed to be, and by the end of 1976, the Greenlees had purchased a 1,000-watt FM station, KRNW, that had a loyal following in the progressive college community. The signal also happened to come with a Class C license, allowing an upgrade to 100,000 watts.

The original vision was to create a music station that reflected the unique population of Boulder, and the call letters were changed to KBCO for Boulder, Colorado. On the air, it was dubbed “Boulder Radio,” with a mix of soft, acoustic “Colorado Music.”

By the mid-1980s, KBCO was so successful that the station constructed an antenna that could reach the entire Front Range. The programming vision changed with the expanded audience, as KBCO could now embrace the entire Denver market and beyond, expanding the original acoustic-music playlist while keeping the unique Boulder image. And it worked: By the winter of 1988, KBCO was the No. 1-rated station in the Denver radio market.

KBCO has always embraced the fun Colorado lifestyle. Boulder is a bicycle town, and in 1980, KBCO launched the Kinetic Sculpture Challenge: a competition of human-powered amphibious crafts made from bicycle parts and whatever else was available. The teams raced through mud, down dirt roads and over water at the Boulder Reservoir. For the winter, KBCO created the Cardboard Derby. Contestants created their crafts out of cardboard boxes and raced them down the slopes at local ski resorts. At the same time, the “I Ski With KBCO” program offered discount ski weekends, bringing hundreds of KBCO listeners together to do what Coloradans love most in winter: skiing and riding. And KBCO has hosted hundreds of live concert events, from its years presenting the 4th of July fireworks at Folsom Field, to special performances at small clubs, to hundreds of shows at Red Rocks and such venues as the Pepsi Center and Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre.

Over the past thirty years, the top names in music have performed live on-air in KBCO’s Studio C. Dave Matthews, Sting, Stevie Nicks, Robert Plant, Mumford and Sons, Imagine Dragons, Ed Sheeran and hundreds more have recorded unique and often cutting-edge performances at the station. Studio C is a regular stop for up-and-coming artists, who play there for their fans and the exposure—and the opportunity to be included on the annual CD that the station releases each December.

The idea for the Studio C performances came when Melissa Etheridge brought her acoustic guitar into the station so that it would not be exposed to the elements. She did an impromptu on-air performance in one of the station’s small editing studios, called Studio C. It has now developed into one of the best live recording and broadcast studios in the country.

Before streaming—when CDs were the way we bought music—30,000 copies of the popular KBCO Studio C Series would sell out in four hours. And in December 2018, the station celebrated the 30th anniversary of KBCO Studio C with a special two-CD set that contained some of the best music ever performed live on the radio. The KBCO Studio C CDs have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Boulder County AIDS Project and Food Bank of the Rockies.

KBCO’s dedication to Colorado music and musicians comes to life in its Local Edition program, which aired weekly for more than 30 years, giving a voice to the local music community. In 2004, the KBCO Local Edition CD featured local artists recorded live in KBCO Studio C to benefit music education in the Denver Public Schools. And in keeping with the times, a vinyl album version of local Colorado musicians recorded live at KBCO supported the Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s move to Red Rocks. Through the years, KBCO has showcased local artists right alongside the national acts released on the Studio C CD series.

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Radio has changed. In 1977 there was no Internet, no streaming, cell phones or earbuds. Today, radio is taking on new, exciting roles in the digital world and in our community, but it’s only one of many outlets for music fans to find out about new artists. The business of radio has changed in the past 40 years, too. When Bob and Diane Greenlee bought KBCO, by law they were only allowed to own two stations in any given marketplace. Companies today can own up to eight stations per market in many different markets.

KBCO navigated the waters of corporate buyouts and management changes to keep the station relevant and supportive of the local community. It keeps us informed, laughing through the traffic, and gives us access to the best new songs mixed with a wide variety of music spanning many decades. The station remains the essential outlet for any artist who wants to build a fan base of loyal music fans, concert-goers and supporters.

The Triple A format has morphed into a collection of mostly non-commercial radio stations across the country. But with the incredible heritage, loyalty and dedication of the KBCO staff of the past four decades, and the loyalty and unbridled enthusiasm of the Colorado music fans who feel a personal connection to DJs like Ginger, Keefer, Bret, Scott and all the on-air staff, KBCO remains by far the most successful station of them all. For over 40 years, KBCO has provided the music of several generations: the music of our lives. The Colorado Music Hall of Fame was proud to induct 97.3 KBCO for its incredible contribution to Colorado music.

KBCO set the standards and benchmarks for which every Adult Rock station now strives.

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