More than 6,000 miles separated the village of Kefalas, Crete, from Colorado, but that didn’t stop George Baskos’ father from making the arduous journey generations ago.
“He came on steerage. He was about 15 and couldn’t speak a word of English. Had a few coins. He hitched his way. You had to live by your wits.”
When he heard about opportunities to find work mining coal in northern Colorado, he grabbed it, his son said. “My dad spent a lifetime at 500 feet underground. He would go to work at 5 in the morning and return home at 5 in the evening,” adding that during the winter, he would leave in the dark come home in the dark. “All the coalminers had black lung. He didn’t.”
It was an era, Baskos recalled, where discrimination against new immigrants was relentless. “They were unwelcome workers. Very much like today. As a kid, I felt like a second-class citizen because my dad was a foreigner.” His father once remembered a time he was walking through Colorado Springs on a hot day. Thirsty, he stopped and asked a stranger for a drink of water. “The man pointed to the creek.”
Like so many other Greeks, his dad could have maintained his familiarity with his home village, where he knew his choices were severely limited. “You could become a goat herder or an olive picker.” As a coal miner, he was able to educate his three children, including George, who earned a journalism degree from the University of Colorado a dozen miles south in Boulder.
“Thanks to our parents, we all had good careers. I have a wonderful life.”
For young George, that meant a chance to sharpen his communications skills, first in radio, then in the classroom, then back to radio where, at 85, he remains. “Radio has always been my companion.”
His affection for the medium began at a young age, he noted. His father, who enjoyed fishing on his day off, would drive to into the mountains to a favorite stream. “But I didn’t like to go,” he confessed. “The curving mountain roads made me car sick.” While his parents were away, he filled the quiet with the sounds of radio shows like The Lone Ranger and the Jack Benny Show.”
Legally speaking, Baskos doesn’t own KGUD, a 1,000-watt FM radio station in Longmont, where he was raised and still lives in the home he grew up in. The non-commercial, non-profit frequency is governed by a board of directors and is dependent on individual contributions from listeners and help from an all-volunteer staff to keep it on the air. But strip away all the minutiae and what remains is Baskos as pioneer and visionary. He’s the one-man band who launched the station, shepherded the station, and still gives his heart to it.
KGUD’s format, he says, is a throwback to the 60s and 70s, when a format labeled `easy listening’ was popular. These days, there is only a handful of stations that feature easy listening, which feature a medley of American standards by crooners like Frank Sinatra and Patti Page. Although the format avoids playing groups like the Beatles, he explained, listeners can hear instrumental versions of Let It Be and other pop hits. “The sweetened version,” Baskos called them. “Rod Steward wouldn’t have been accepted as beautiful music because Rod sounds like a criminal!” he said, laughing. Rock and roll was still new and still regarded with derision. “Decent people were not rock and roll fans.”
At 17, Baskos was hired as the first newsman at a small station in town. He loved the unique character of the work, meeting a wide array of people and peppering them with questions. “But I knew there was no future, long-range,” he added, sitting before the array of controls in KGUD’s humble studios in the bowels of a former library.
In the early 1970s, the local school district was assembling a new vocational high school. As part of his job as a newsman job, “I went there (to the school) with a tape recorder and they asked me if I wanted a job” teaching media.
While that sounded fascinating in the abstract, Baskos had no teaching experience, no license. So, taking a leap of faith, he accepted. It wasn’t easy.
“Those first two years were the hardest of my life. Fortunately, I became friends with a woman mentor at the school,” who helped teach him the ropes. “There was no curriculum, no textbook. I had to pull each day’s lesson out of my ear.”
During his years teaching, the school put on the air a tiny radio station on as part of its vocational program. Later, when it cut ties with the station, Baskos stepped up, convinced the Federal Communications Commission to transfer the station’s license to a non-profit and KGUD materialized. This summer, the station received approval to boost its power to 1,000 watts, widening its audio footprint considerably around the Front Range of the Rockies. When asked the location of the station’s antenna, his reply – “my” tower – reflects a proprietary spirit, a possessive pronoun.
His life is a gushing downspout of touchstone moments. The list includes a letter from a listener who said the music on KGUD helped her deal with emotional turmoil; the Coal Miner Memorial by Erie Town Hall with his father’s name on it; and one more: “I got a birthday card from a former student. It said: `You changed my life.’ We don’t think of teaching as a noble profession. But indeed it is.”