Atmosphere

Mile-High Hit Men

Radio station KTCL helps local bands reach national audiences.

July 2009

Last year, we speculated that the Front Range's burgeoning music scene had a chance to become the next Seattle or Minneapolis, as area bands latched onto the lengthy coattails of local-boys-made-good the Fray ("Into the Fray," April 2008). Though the Mile-High City hasn't quite achieved that lofty a status, the past few years have seen numerous Colorado bands score record contracts, soundtrack deals, and higher-profile touring gigs. All those success stories—including the Fray's—owe their thanks largely to the grassroots efforts of that decidedly old-school medium: the radio.

KTCL (93.3-FM), Denver's local rock and alternative station, actually behaves like a local station, mixing little-known area acts into the normal radio rotation. Bands such as 3oh!3, Tickle Me Pink, Meese, Single File, and Rose Hill Drive, among others, have risen to national prominence after early attention from KTCL. The station's annual Big Gig (July 11 at Fiddler's Green) features a locals-only stage, and the year-end Hometown for the Holidays radio contest pits hot local acts against one another. Being in Hometown, let alone winning, is an early sign of success: In December 2007, hip-hop group the Flobots won the contest; three months later, they had inked a two-record deal with a sub-unit of Universal Records, one of the big four record labels, with a quarter of the market share.

"Local radio is one of the most powerful tools for unsigned local bands," says Steve Melton, founder of Greeley-based band the Northern Way. TNW, which competed in the Hometown contest last year, landed a gig at July's Mile High Music Festival thanks largely to the station's repeated spinning of its single "Crazy," a catchy plaint about the wages of thankless devotion. "The Fray paved such an awesome path for everyone," says Melton. "People that want to book shows and record labels see an unsigned artist on KTCL, and they jump at that, hoping it's the next thing to get out of Denver."

DJ Nerf, who hosts KTCL's afternoon drive show and is the station's program director, is a self-described music nerd who listens to everything anyone sends him, always looking for future stars. "I open every piece of mail I get," he says. "Lucky for us, there are a lot of talented people in this town." The Littleton native actively counsels promising local acts on everything from refining their sound to how to improve their press kits or find a manager. "I wish I could spend even more time working with local bands," says Nerf. "The Fray changed everything, because they showed that bands could get signed here without having to move away, and now the local acts see the wisdom of helping each other out rather than hating on each other like in the old days."