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DJ is one-man big band for farm products

By Larry Dreiling

Rick Crandall loves the big band sound.

As program director and host of the Breakfast Club at Denver radio station KEZW-AM 1430, Crandall plays music his parents and friends' parents enjoyed. The sounds of Glenn Miller, whose boyhood was spent in the northeast Colorado city of Fort Morgan, often percolate like a friendly cup of coffee on his show.

Like that Colorado-raised musician, Crandall often talks up Colorado-raised farm products through his Breakfast Club Private Label program.

Working alongside the Colorado Department of Agriculture's Colorado Proud program, Crandall's effort, which started about a year ago, has brought emerging Centennial State food and beverage companies more attention than the wail of a Harry James trumpet solo played at full blast at 3 a.m.

In January, CDA's program came along for the ride, helping further direct these companies to an inexpensive promotion outlet.

First, understand some background.

KEZW is among the last of a breed of traditional music-oriented AM radio stations in the U.S. While news, talk and sports dominate the AM band, KEZW soldiers on with the 53-year old Crandall anchoring a lively five-hour mix of timeless music, information and conversation.

According to the latest Arbitron survey, KEZW is the second-highest rated radio station in the city among adults 50 and older, helping small producers market their products.

"This audience remembers when radio really had a personal touch to it, with the guy on the air telling them to buy a product from the business down the block," said Crandall, who said his program is more like a ministry.

"We get widows and widowers calling, who need things they've had their spouse do for them before. One lady, for example, called asking who to call when her furnace went out. They rely on us and, by default, I have become a member of the family. If you are an older person, without daily contact with people and constant conversations, you often need something like us. We get leaned on quite a bit."

The aging baby boomers of Denver are also discovering Crandall's show, reliving the sounds they listened to with older relatives.

"As they lose their moms and dads, they can still hear and remember their parents' favorite songs from the 1940s and 50s. Baby boomers are quite nostalgic about their parents and how they grew up, which is kind of cool, because, hey, we grew up during the time when we shopped at local stores rather than chains."

Crandall was doing a remote broadcast a year ago last spring at the opening of a farmers market at Golden, Colo., when he realized the fledgling businesses and mom and pop entrepreneurs were hamstrung in marketing their outstanding products.

"I was walking through the market just looking at what they had and I spotted Turquoise Mesa Winery," Crandall said. "I started talking to (owners Tom and Mary Joan Bueb who grow grapes in the Pallisade, Colo., area and then process them in Broomfield) about their challenges with marketing, of not having much of any kind of advertising budget. I really got to know and like them.

"I was driving home and thought--we live for advertising, but there's got to be some way, as community-driven as we are, to promote Colorado owned and operated businesses, local entrepreneurs that are trying to make a go of things. I knew there had to be some way for these businesses to affordably participate in an ad campaign."

KEZW's ad staff then came up with the Breakfast Club Private Label campaign.

"We developed a really cool logo for the advertisers to place on their own websites and packaging. We started with a six-month campaign. I'd sample the products and do a review, then tell people where to go to buy these products."

The program includes longtime Colorado companies such as Boyer's Coffee and Old Timer Meats, alongside new businesses like NestFresh Eggs and, yes, Turquoise Mesa Winery.

The campaign really took wing, however, because of an airplane flight.

Crandall, a U.S. Air Force veteran who cut his teeth on an American Forces Radio and Television Service outlet on Guam, is a strong supporter of veterans' organizations and is president of the Colorado Freedom Memorial Foundation. One morning, he was interviewing Lee White, a veteran involved in Rocky Mountain Honor Flight, a program that flies area World War II veterans free of charge to Washington, D.C. to visit the National World War II Memorial.

Lee White is the father of Wendy White, director of the CDA Colorado Proud program. Wendy went onto the KEZE website to listen to Crandall interview her father and spotted the Private Label logo.

"Later in the day, I found that Wendy had sent me an e-mail telling me who she was and wanting to know more about the Private Label program. We visited and that's how our relationship with Colorado Proud got started," Crandall said. "We've been working together since just about the beginning of the year and it's got a lot of traction."

Wendy White said Crandall and Colorado Proud have made a good mix.

"Rick's program has a loyal audience and it's allowed Colorado Proud companies a great way to find new customers," Wendy White said.

Crandall says this program adds to the community spirit of the station.

"A lot of listeners thank us now because they see it as important to support these kinds of businesses in these economic times. People want to be good neighbors. People want to help where they can."

Each month Breakfast Club Private Label features two new Colorado Proud businesses. For a cost of $750, these businesses get 30 mentions a week for six months. Added to the deal is a feature story in the Breakfast Club's newsletter as well as a link from the Private Label page to the product website.

"I have a few rules attached, but the rules are pretty simple," Crandall said. "I have to sample and have personal knowledge of the product. We really do mean it when we say it, that these products are good and you should try them.

"Yes, I've had to tell a couple of people I can't endorse their product because it wasn't any good and I didn't want to tell people about them, so this really is about good products and good people. I love the whole campaign and our company (Entercom Communications, Inc.) does too."

In a lot of ways, Crandall says his station is also a Colorado Proud company.

"We are so firmly based in the community. I've lived here since 1968 and, except for some time in the service, I've always lived here in Colorado. I went to high school here, married a girl I met in high school, served at the Air Force Academy, and have been 18 years in this really great gig."

Through his program, Crandall said he's committed to helping Colorado food and beverage companies succeed.

"There are so many good things that are being grown and made and cooked that, if only for the lack of money, people won't know about them," Crandall said. "Some of the best eggs I've ever eaten come from NestFresh and I have eaten great beef from Kiowa Valley Organics. The wineries here are amazing from Turquoise Mesa to Holy Cross Abbey.

"It's the perfect storm here, with a generation of listeners that has always done business locally and relies on a radio station that gives them a sense of community. We also have a tool here to influence the community for good. If we don't do good, then I don't think we're living up to our end of the bargain we make with listeners. This is good traditional AM radio, which is why Colorado Proud fits so well with what we do."

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