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Posted: September 01, 2012

State of the state: Media

eTown Hall primed to help the radio show expand its global reach while increasing its community ties

Mike Cote

Nick Forster stands atop the roof of the new eTown Hall on a sunny afternoon in downtown Boulder, showing off the nearly 300 solar panels that will help provide power to the 200-seat performance hall, meeting rooms, recording studio and other spaces at the 16th and Spruce building.

While "eTown" is best known for the hundreds of musicians who have appeared on the syndicated radio show over the past 21 years, the promotion of environmentalism and social causes by Forster and his wife and co-host, Helen, has always been a big part of the message.

"In the beginning, well before it was fashionable, we were interviewing scientists who were talking about global warming, air pollution and water quality – things that are really facing us now in an almost crisis mode," Helen Forster says. "We’ve always tried to bring that forward even when it wasn’t a popular thing to do."

The Forsters are working on raising the remaining $2 million they need to complete the $7 million eTown Hall project. Public Radio Capital issued a $2 million loan to the nonprofit in 2010 to get the project under way, which the nonprofit has paid off through fundraising and a mortgage, Nick Forster said.

Etown is aired on more than 300 stations nationwide (locally on KBCO, KUNC and KGNU) and also released as a podcast. Although most of the shows are recorded at the Boulder Theater, the Forsters have taped the show in other parts of Colorado, including at Red Rocks Amphitheater, and venues around the country.

Converting an old church building as its headquarters enables eTown to both embrace a more global future while improving its ties to the immediate community, the Forsters say.

"The media landscape and technology have changed so much. The idea that eTown can build another 21 years simply on radio impractical," says Nick Forster, a veteran musician best known for his work with Boulder bluegrass quarter Hot Rize. "What eTown Hall gives us is the opportunity to capture great content in audio and video format any time we want in a variety of different spaces – the recording studio, the community space or up in the main hall. And then we can disseminate it on YouTube or on a website or using radio and conventional television stations."

And with the hall’s many public spaces comes greater opportunity to connect with the neighborhood: "With eTown Hall we can open up to the community with all kinds of other things: master classes, workshops, educational programs, interaction with local students and schools," he says. "This provides us the flexibility to open up a whole new component of eTown programming."

And musicians appearing on the program, who over the years have included such luminaries as Lyle Lovett, James Taylor and Mary Chapin Carpenter, might be inclined to stay in town a bit longer to take advantage of the amenities, says Helen Forster, who envisions artists working on recording projects or teaching classes.

"There are so many musicians who love Boulder and would love to spend a few days or even a week here," she says.

Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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