Weed culture moved from the air to the airwaves in Colorado last week.
The first thing you notice after entering the Denver studios of “Smokin 94.1” — Colorado’s first FM radio station devoted to marijuana enthusiasts, which debuted last week — is the lack of smell.
A giant bong and pot-themed posters decorate the offices, the music is in line with the brand (Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory”), but the air is clean.
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“It’s a non-smoking building,” said owner Marc Paskin, who doubles as DJ “Gary Ganja” during afternoon drive time. He’s additionally “O.G. Kush,” the announcer of the pot radio “4:20 News,” repeated at 5:20 p.m. “because our listeners can’t remember.”
The station is full of pot gags, but an attorney specializing in broadcast cases warns against what Paskin is doing.
San Diego millionaire Paskin bought KDCO-AM and FM translator K231BQ on 94.1 from James Merrilot of Mile High Sports for $875,000. He has put a total of $1 million into the project, not to promote marijuana, he says, and not just to cash in on Colorado’s legalization of weed either.
“I’m a ham,” Paskin said. But his other reason is “to bring the fun back to radio. All of Denver is corporate radio. This is the way radio was in the ’60s.”
Paskin grew up listening to big personalities on WLS in Chicago, worked in radio in the 1960s and ’70s, lamented the disappearance of mom-and-pop outlets in recent decades and wanted to “have some fun.” He did well enough in real estate to retire but instead bought into radio the way some of his peers turn to yachts or sports cars.
Paskin, bald but wearing a hat with dredlocks and a shirt emblazoned with marijuana leaves, sunglasses and shorts, allows, “I’m 66 and act like an 8-year-old.” He’s also a philanthropist with four grandkids and homes in San Diego and Hawaii (where he was on ABC’s “Secret Millionaire”).
The Denver rock station, online as well as at 1550 AM, airs the syndicated “Bubba the Love Sponge” in the mornings, a show out of Florida that has been pushing for legalized marijuana for ages.
The station is commercial-free for now. Paskin aims to introduce advertising in a couple of months, including ads from dispensaries. That, naturally, raises the question of legality: Weed is illegal nationally, and the station operates over federally licensed airwaves.
Frank Montero, an FCC lawyer in Washington D.C., said by phone:
“What we tell our clients is, the bottom line is marijuana is illegal under federal law.” If asked, he said he’d advise against trying to advertise anything related to the controlled substance on the air.
“When people refer to marijuana as ‘legal’ in in some states, that’s not quite right,” Montero explained via email. “In fact, all forms of marijuana (plants, buds, extracts, edibles, etc.) remain illegal under federal law (it is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which means the Feds don’t recognize any legitimate medical uses).
“What states like Oregon and Colorado have done is set the conditions under which those states will not punish people for growing, selling or using marijuana; while they have mostly stayed out of it so far, the DEA, DOJ or any other federal agency can still punish you for being involved in the marijuana business, and that includes the FCC.
“As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, broadcasters operating pursuant to a federally issued license (which is all of them!) cannot run ads for marijuana businesses. That, of course, doesn’t mean you can’t discuss marijuana on the air, or even mention marijuana businesses, in the context of public interest programming, as long as you’re not being given any form of consideration for doing so.”
In other words, a radio station offering a discount on a strain of weed at a local dispensary is looking for trouble.
Paskin maintains his audience is age 45-plus, so he’s not targeting those under 21 who are legally prevented from using weed. Still, might he be at risk of Federal Communications Commission fines?
“Nobody knows the answer. If anyone tells you it’s illegal (to program a radio station this way), it’s only their opinion,” he said.
The DJs will never advise listeners to smoke weed, nor say they are stoned on the air, Paskin said.
Gary Ganja says “smokin’ high will get you a DUI.”
Meanwhile, taglines run on the station espousing pot humor: “Smokin 94.1, one hit after another (cough).”
Asked if he imbibes, Paskin had a ready answer: “I don’t remember.” Likewise DJ “Stoney Reynolds” (formerly known as Bo Reynolds on KALC-105.9 FM) said, “My mother listens, so if I answered, I’d be grounded.”