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Sy Coleman, Who Brought Public Radio To The Roaring Fork Valley, Dies

Jun 15, 2020

Sy Coleman (top right) stands by the satellite dish behind Aspen Public Radio's studio at the Red Brick Center for the Arts. Coleman started KAJX out of his living room. Michael Stranahan is pictured at the bottom.

Aspen Public Radio founder and former station manager Sy Coleman died Monday from a heart attack in Cusco, Peru where he lived most of the year.  He was 77. 

Coleman moved to Aspen in 1980. A year later, he brought the Roaring Fork Valley its first non-commercial radio, using a chain of mountain-top translators to broadcast NPR programming from the University of Wyoming station KUWR. 

“I was just homesick for the dozen or so public radio stations I knew and thought other Aspenites had or would develop the same disease,” he said in a 2017 promotional video. 

In 1988, Coleman’s request to the Federal Communications Commission for a license to broadcast as KAJX was approved, paving the way for Aspen Public Radio to broadcast local news and programming as well as national content. 

Coleman’s living room was the station’s first home, and Aspen Public Radio’s local news coverage started with Coleman reading stories from The Aspen Times and The Aspen Daily News. 

Sy Coleman, seen here working on the KAJX tower on Smuggler Mountain, was the first to bring public radio to Western Colorado.

Aspen resident and former KAJX station manager and board member Michael Stranahan said Coleman had “bulldog tenacity,” along with a sense of humor. 

Stranahan met Coleman in the early 1990s when Stranahan was a classical music DJ at the station. 

“When he wanted to do something, he did it,” Stranahan said. “He wanted to start a radio station and he did it.”

Stranahan said that Coleman was active in local and national politics. “He was a very political animal,” he said. “He loved to puncture sacred cows.”

Coleman resigned from his role as station manager in the mid-90s after moving Aspen Public Radio to its current location at the Red Brick Center for the Arts in downtown Aspen. 

"When he wanted to do something, he did it. He wanted to start a radio station and he did it."

"I am saddened to learn of Sy's passing,” said current Aspen Public Radio executive director Tammy Terwelp. “He was the founder of Aspen Public Radio with a vision to provide public radio to Aspen and the valley. He persevered until it was a reality and we are only here today because of him."

Earlier this year, Coleman expressed his disappointment in the station’s decision to terminate volunteer jazz programming, concerned that the move would leave the station without “a trace of Aspen’s special character.” 

Terwelp said Coleman regularly engaged in civil discourse. “We'll miss his honesty and integrity. While we know Sy didn’t agree with every decision, we are forever grateful to him for his work and commitment to bring NPR programming and independent news to the Roaring Fork Valley,” said Terwelp.