Indie 101.5 struggles on, though it can't outrun consolidation
By Marisa Demarco
Three Santa Feans made a break for it last year, severing ties with corporate radio and declaring their independence on July 4 [See: Profile, "A Signal Apart," Dec. 21-27, 2006]. Ellie Garrett, Sam Ferrara and Michael Warren co-founded Indie 101.5, a commercial station run on idealism, on the hope that listeners would support a for-profit radio station playing more than just the few hundred tunes Clear Channel's been spinning.
They were right. During its short existence, Indie managed to creep into the black and was on track to buy its signal from owner Steve Bumpous. Then the rug was pulled out from under them, says Garrett. On May 15, a press release went out announcing the sale of Indie 101.5 FM, Radio Free Santa Fe on 98.1 FM and Blu 102.9 to Hutton Broadcasting.
With the rumored purchase of an additional AM station, that would put Hutton at the Federal Communications Commission limit of four FM stations and two AMs, says Garrett. "That would be the largest consolidation in Santa Fe as far as radio stations go," she says. "It's deeply disturbing that it literally eliminates the last of the independent FMs."
Bumpous says the decision to sell the station to Hutton was a simple one. "I had a willing buyer," he explains. "Hutton's being characterized as a big corporation, and it’s not," he says. "The folks that are going to operate it are residents of Santa Fe and radio professionals."
Bumpous adds that Indie had the opportunity to buy it and declined. But Garrett says that's not true. "We believed we were moving forward in good faith," she says. "We believed all of this would be finalized at the end of June."
Owning multiple stations is the most viable way to operate in a radio landscape like Santa Fe's, Bumpous says. The competition from Albuquerque means stations have to be extra efficient. You pay for the same studio space whether you have one station or five, Bumpous points out. "I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it's a smart business move," he says.
But the last thing Santa Fe needs is one more classic rock station, which is what the signal will become, says Garrett. Indie 101.5 will not continue on as part of a consolidated group of stations. "By the very definition of our goals, we can't do that. We've had the offer to continue operating under the management of the new owner, and it goes greatly against our beliefs."
Indie 101.5 has heard from their audience and listeners of other independent stations, who created keepindiealive.com, which has information on what people can do to help combat consolidation in Santa Fe. "The best thing we can do is make sure the FCC knows New Mexico doesn't need more consolidation. What we need is more independent voices on the air," Garrett says.
The mood is not as bad as one might expect down at the station these days, even though chances of survival are slim. Garrett's looking into every option, though it's unlikely that Indie 101.5 will continue on a mainstream signal.
"What we're really surviving on, somewhat thriving on, is that this very issue is why we were created," says Garrett. "Everybody that is working at Indie has gone through this kind of thing before, although we did think we were in a position this time where it wouldn't happen again."
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