DENVER (KDVR) – KUVO jazz station officials are working to take input from the jazz listening community following recent changes in staff, and the new general manager promises the delivery won’t lose its heart.

In an interview with FOX31, Max Ramirez, KUVO’s new program director, said he and the station are paying close attention to what listeners want. The next meeting of its kind will be Oct. 12.

“A lot of KUVO listeners want to feel reassured that KUVO will keep its soul,” Ramirez said. “One of the main narratives we are hearing is that KUVO will become a shell of itself by becoming a corporate light or smooth jazz station. We hear our audience, members, and volunteers. We want them to know that KUVO will never become a soulless or bland radio format. We want to cater to many diverse sounds of Jazz while still playing the pioneering jazz masters and innovating jazz pioneers that are currently taking shape.

“KUVO will never be a cookie cutter, corporately run light jazz or smooth jazz station. Ever. As long as I’m sitting here as the program director, that’s not going to happen,” he said.

On air changes at KUVO

Several changes have taken place at the station including the departure of three of the on-air personalities.

“Our listening community is highly engaged with one another and the air personalities. I can gather that the community shared information with each other, which led to some misinformation,” Ramirez said. “We do acknowledge that our communication could have been better with the listening community at large and we are working towards improving that while still respecting our colleagues’ privacy.”

Meetings with community members online recently have led to new recommendations in the close-knit jazz community.

There are 42 jazz stations on AM/FM dials nationwide and on internet streaming in the U.S., Ramirez said. Several are in a split format in which they play more than just jazz such as WRTI in Philadelphia which plays 12 hours of classical music and 12 hours of jazz.

Since KUVO began, Latin American programming has been a part of it. “Canción Mexicana is a major part of Colorado’s Chicano/ Latinx community,” Ramirez said. The program airs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Sunday. It is followed by diverse Latinx programming on Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m., he said.

The station plays jazz during the week and the weekend starts with Latin Soul Party on Friday nights going through Sunday with cultural programs by community members.

Staff turnover at KUVO

Ramirez responded to this: “In the last seven months, KUVO has experienced 11% turnover of our on-air team, which translates to the loss of four volunteer and paid staff. Rodney Franks, Susan Gatschet, Matthew Goldwasser, and Janine Santana are no longer with the station either because they decided to move on or the organization determined we needed something different for the future.

“Allan Scott and James Joyce (JJ), two long-time volunteer hosts, also had planned retirements in the 1+ year for personal reasons. (This brings our overall on-air turn-over rate to 17% over the last 24+ months.)”

Matthew Goldwasser, who volunteered with KUVO for nearly nine years and had a one-hour show, said he started seeing changes to the culture of the station when plans to move to the new building near Coors field from Five Points came to be right before the pandemic.

During the isolation from early COVID shutdowns, creative thinking wasn’t happening with the larger community, he said.

The Monday through Thursday jazz hosts have stayed in place, he said, and they have combined experience of more than 100 years on the air at KUVO, which can be heard on 89.3 FM Denver, 89.7 FM Breckenridge or KUVO’s website.

How KUVO plans to grow moving forward

“We have utilized a lot of different strategies in looking at the future of Jazz music on KUVO,” Ramirez said. “We monitor all of latest jazz appearing on the Jazz Week chart, we scout out younger or newer sounds through every medium we can find, and we look to the past to see what jazz spaces we haven’t looked at or haven’t played on KUVO before. Since we have made changes here at KUVO, we have now opened it up to our listeners, members, and volunteers in a public forum. We have hosted community meetings, the last one being last (week), where we let the public collaborate with us on the changes we have made. We hear their suggestions, criticisms, and ideas in a neutral environment.”

Goldwasser said that from his experience during these meetings it was about 85% leadership talking and 15% letting the community speak. He said the station will need to be more of a learning organization, starting with allowing the jazz community voice their grievances. He also suggested those meetings should be mediated not by Rocky Mountain PBS, which owns KUVO, but by someone outside of the organization.

“We will make mistakes along the way, but we pledge to work alongside you to stay in communication about what’s happening so listeners can lend their voices in the process. We need active, supportive participation to do that,” Ramirez told FOX31.

KUVO will host its annual pledge drive Oct. 6 to 14. The pledge drive he said rallies around community, culture and music in Colorado and beyond. 

Station executives are holding three more community meetings this year, Community Conversations: Oct. 12, Nov. 16 and Dec. 7 with in-person and virtual options for participants.

“KUVO jazz is one of the most respected community-based jazz stations in the world,” Ramirez said. In 2005 and 2006, KUVO Jazz was named the major market “Jazz Station of the Year” by Jazz Week and twice named among the best jazz stations in the world by UK-based The Telegraph.