OURAY – The chill is on, ever since a new independent radio station hit the airwaves in Mountain Village, Norwood, Telluride and beyond.
The transmitter for Mountain Chill Radio – otherwise known as KRKQ 95.5 FM – sits at an exceptionally high site atop Grayhead Mountain (above the town of Sawpit), amidst a bristling array of communication towers and antennae, and is accessed by vehicle only seasonally via Last Dollar Road.
But the groove actually emanates from a basement-level apartment on Sixth Avenue in downtown Ouray.
Ethan and Eric Funk are the genius behind the chill. The brothers’ day jobs tie them to a laboratory workbench in the same basement, scattered with the guts of circuit boards, where they design the radio portion of various consumer, government and industrial products. This business they call Red Mountain Radio. It’s a fully equipped radio-frequency design lab, not to be confused with Mountain Chill, which began as a way to provide “sophisticated background music” for the Funk brothers' cerebral occupation.
While Mountain Chill is new to the airwaves, it has already developed a reputation as “the planet’s destination for chill” – literally – over the past several years through its presence on the Internet. From Turin, Italy to Mallorca, Spain, from Stockholm to Sydney to Dublin and beyond, hundreds of listeners are tuned in at any given time at mountainchill.com or via iTunes (under the “ambient” music category) for their daily dose of chill.
All About Chill
The chillout genre has its roots in a few different places. In a club setting, there is often a chillout room on the side – “playing easy-going music to help deal with how loud the main room is,” Mountain Chill DJ Eric Funk explained.
Chill can also trace its origins to a club on the Spanish island of Ibeza, the Cafe Del Mar, where DJs at a beach bar are known to play music to help patrons enjoy the sunset.
Cafe Del Mar has inspired a whole range of chillout CDs. In the US, the record label 18th St. Lounge Records from Washington, D.C., is also responsible for injecting the genre into the mainstream.
While chill has tons of aficionados, Mountain Chill is the only FM radio station in the United States that is running a full-time electronic mix of any sort.
This despite the fact that there is a big scene out there in the wide, chilly world for this type of music, including right here on the Western Slope. Aspen, Durango and Telluride all have venues that have hosted chillout bands including Sie-i, The Empressarios, Fort Knox Five, and even Thievery Corporation, which Eric Funk points out regularly plays in Aspen but can just as easily fill a stadium show in Denver.
“The point is, there’s a lot of energy and excitement about this kind of music, but it’s getting no air time,” he said. “Corporations are not out to take risks; it’s as true in radio as in anything else. We’re one of the few non-corporate-owned commercial radio stations in the country.”
Growing up as radio junkies, the Funk brothers kept a running critique of broadcast radio problems. One of their biggest pet peeves has always been the ubiquitous “canned format,” whereby a radio station purchases an entire program, and the DJ has no control over the music format.
“It tends not to be too personal, and the ads don’t flow with the content,” Eric said. “We could never figure out why anyone would want to do it that way.”
Mountain Chill is a breath of fresh, cool, down-tempo air in this clunky canned-format world of commercial FM radio.
Eric, the elder Funk, and a Ph.D. who formerly worked as a Naval Research Lab Research Engineer, is Mountain Chill's music director and webmaster. He’s pretty much in charge of deciding what music gets played when.
Eric’s mix is a fusion of different styles from around the world. There’s almost always some electronic component, or some sampling. Think electronic dub (with its roots in reggae), Nu-Jazz (with a big scene in Germany), the sounds coming from the London electronic scene, and the music of South America such as that of Bossa Nova chanteuse Bebel Gilberto.
But he’s not too terribly rigid in his criteria. Recently, songs from the new Adele album, for example, have found their way onto his play list. Likewise, The Cults’ summertime hit “Go Outside,” while not a strict fit in the chillout genre, has also gotten a lot of playtime lately.
“It has a nice laid-back summertime groove, reminiscent of being at the beach,” Eric explained. “So we popped it in. What we end up with is a core of tracks that technically fit the genre, and others that fit the mood nicely.”
“Fitting the mood” is always the Funks’ ultimate criteria. If they’re over at their workbench and some track pops out as irritating or distracting, they’ll head over to the switchboard and pull it out of the mix.
Listeners can weigh in as well, on Mountain Chill’s web site, where two buttons are equally important: “Add to favorites” and “Inappropriate Track.”
If a track gets enough “Inappropriate” flags, out it goes.
While their Internet radio station has been a successful and satisfying venture on its own, both Funk brothers have always hankered to have a “real” on-air station. In 2005, they got out-bid on a construction permit for a frequency based in Silverton. That station then moved its permit to Mountain Village, where the owner put it on-air only briefly, but recently filed an authorization with the Federal Communications Commission for the frequency to “go silent.” The death-day was scheduled for Jan. 12, 2012.
The Funk brothers found out through the grapevine that the 95.5 was once again up for grabs, and leaped at a chance to make their dream of an on-air station a reality.
It’s been a busy, stressful time, dealing with the unwieldy bureaucracy of the FCC and the equally frustrating limitations of the local communications infrastructure.
“The most challenging thing was to create a viable data link from here to the transmitter site,” Ethan said, who as Mountain Chill’s “techy” is in charge of keeping the station’s servers and equipment running smoothly. The signal is digitally relayed, which means it’s dependent on the microwave-enabled Internet link that serves Ouray.
“Everything goes in and out through Qwest and Century Link,” Ethan explained.
“There’s just one show in town.”
Somehow, in spite of a series of mishaps including an early-October snowstorm that shut down the brand-new broadcast signal for five whole days, it has all came together, and Mountain Chill is thriving on the air.
Now, the station has two audiences: the world, and Planet Telluride.
Mountain Chill Schedule
2 a.m.-5 p.m. – Groove.
Weekdays at noon – Lunch Hour: live DJ selected/hosted sets.
5 p.m. – The Sunset Mix: inspired by the Ibiza/Balearic tradition.
7 p.m. – The Sunset Mix, Part II: jazzy and soulful tracks.
8 p.m. – Icehouse: Chillhouse to deep electronic.
10 p.m. – Ambience (late-night): ambient and minimal beats.
Note: Specialty shows will be returning to the air soon.