DENVER — While Jazz music has an extensive history in Denver dating back to the 1920s, the genre is now findining itself captivating younger listeners, thanks, in part, to the radio sub-channel that debuted on 104.7 FM earlier this year.
"This is an opportunity for us to really lean into the community," said Nikki Swarn, general manager and program director for The Drop.
On air, Swarn is known as "Amerykah Jones." Through both roles, she said she's witnessed the station's loyalty to its listeners.
"It's not a corporate entity where everything is programmed out of this cloud and you're told what to play, no. Our community gets to lean in and tell us what they love," Swarn said.
The Drop has been streaming since 2019, and in early 2021, they launched on the signal 104.7 FM.
Through her role as general manager, she also wanted to ensure people of color served on the DJ staff.
"I think that was my number one priority, was to lift our voices, [and] what better way than to have people of color talk about the influence of the culture and talk about the music we're creating," she said.
Unique Henderson is another radio personality for the station. Through delivering music, he's also felt an opportunity to highlight some of the unique challenges of being Black in America.
"To show them that this [racism] is real, this is going on every single day and it's still going on today. [Some of the ways] I've been treated here in Colorado or when I used to live in the South, just by walking down the street, getting pulled over for no reason," Henderson said.
Swarn emphasized that while their experiences as people of color are an integral part of how they connect some of their listeners - they also connect with countless others in different ways.
"Even if you don't identify with me as a person of color, we might have a shared experience; maybe it was an educational experience that we shared together or maybe it was just a love of an artist we play," she said.
The intersection of music and lived experiences goes back to an ongoing philosophy at the The Drop's parent station, KUVO.
General manager, Carlos Lando, recalled the station's early days in the 80s when they broadcasted from the historically Black Five Points neighborhood.
"When KUVO started we probably had more Black folks and Latino folks working for us in one station than all the others combined at that time," Lando said. "You wanted people to know that this is the Black experience. I was the Latino in the group, so I brought that element into it."
Through their collective efforts to share jazz music, Lando said they were also able to share insight on the lives of the genre's first creators.
"It came from the suffering of African Americans. All this music came from the blues and the church, and if those people had not experienced what they had in their life in this country 100 years ago, 200 years ago, the music would be totally different," he said.
While KUVO moved in 2020 from the Five Points neighborhood to new facilities up the road at Rocky Mountain Public Media, Lando said their commitment to listener needs remains the same.
“I think the deeper level is what you’re going to hear. You’re going to hear music, conversation that’s reflective of jazz in Colorado and jazz in Denver. In other words, when the host opens that microphone and they talk about a particularly recording or something, you’re going to hear a lot of local artists because we have a great talent base here.” Lando said.
He added that their partnership with The Drop is a chance to reenergize their listener audience.
“In order for people to appreciate music at a deeper level whether it's hip hop on one side or jazz on the other, you have to find commonalities in the music. Whether it’s a beat, whether it’s a rhythm," Lando said. "While we can play Miles Davis, we can turn around and play Ron Miles, who is a national artist but is also in the jazz studies department down in Metro [Metropolitan State University of Denver] and is an amazing trumpet player and just happens to live here.”
"That's what this [KUVO and The Drop] is, that's what makes us so unique." Swarn said. "It's not just for one person, it's for everyone."