essential workers

Jim Garber and Josh Armstrong, both of whom work in the meat department at Clark's Market in Telluride, will be featured from 2-3 p.m. on Guest DJ Day Friday for their role as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Cara Pallone)

From grocery, retail and kitchen workers to SMART and UPS drivers, local educators and doctors, and streets and utility workers, essential employees have helped the community navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Those same workers will be featured on KOTO’s Guest DJ Day Friday to kick off the radio station’s fall fundraising drive, which runs through Sept. 25.

“We want to feature these workers outside of the pandemic as important members of our community who matter and deserve a spotlight,” KOTO’s Executive Director Cara Pallone explained.

Nine hour-long sets featuring guest DJs will air from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow.

“I’m hopeful that the community will take this opportunity to call in and thank these folks, offer words of encouragement and make a pledge to KOTO, recalling the times they tuned-in this spring,” Pallone added. “We were there for them and it’s a great way for them to be there for us now.”

KOTO has provided essential services during this pandemic by delivering noontime informational updates amidst regular programming, becoming what Pallone calls “the community bulletin board and the soundtrack to everyone’s quarantine.”

During the first several months of the pandemic, KOTO operated without its 80 volunteer DJs, leaning hard on a five-person staff to keep the station operating. 

“I think residents realized pretty quickly that KOTO was the only place to turn for real-time news and information and they could get it straight from local experts and officials,” Pallone said. “But the radio doesn’t do the work itself. We have a really dedicated team, and we were willing to put in the hours and work overtime to make sure that we were fulfilling our mission which has never changed — to inform, educate and entertain.”

San Miguel County Medical Officer Sharon Grundy may have put it best when she said, “We’ve always relied on KOTO FM to get important messages to the community, but in this unprecedented era, they’ve proven to be our most essential partner.”

Two employees from Clark’s Market who work in the meat department — Jim Garber and Josh Armstrong — are scheduled to DJ from 2-3 p.m. on Friday. With residents remaining in town and cooking at home this spring, the grocery store experienced the full brunt of the pandemic. But store manager Mike Jackman said there was a sense of satisfaction in their work.

“It’s that warm feeling you get when you do something nice for somebody, a random act of kindness, we were getting that every day,” he said. “There was a sense of mission and accomplishment.”

Telluride streets and utilities superintendent Rich Estes appreciates the opportunity to represent over 40 employees in the town’s Public Works Department on Guest DJ Day.

“The biggest task public works was presented with during the pandemic was the transformation of Colorado Avenue and the side streets and the new areas for merchants and dining,” Estes said. “We’ve tried our best to turn a bad situation into a great and manageable one.”

When he takes over the mic to “whip a little ass” from 1–2 p.m. on Friday, Estes plans to spin tunes drawn from favorite memories working local festivals since 1983.

“KOTO is the life blood of Telluride,” he said. “They’re like that aunt or uncle who always ask, ‘What’s going on? Whose birthday is it? Should we come and visit?’”

As a listener-sponsored community radio station, every penny matters to KOTO, which celebrates its 45th birthday in October. Monies raised during fall fundraising support the station’s general operating fund.

“The news department alone ran over 50 hours of additional programming in both English and Spanish — not including regular news programming — doing the daily updates and now the weekly updates,” KOTO’s board president Mark Izard said.

Seizing upon its unique position to deliver news near-instantaneously,

the news team, comprised of news director Julia Caulfield and reporter Matt Hoisch, went into overdrive.

“It started with rushing over to the Miramonte Building to cover county commissioner meetings in person, but that quickly turned into figuring out how to report meetings on Zoom,” Caulfield said.

Given how fast things were changing, Caulfield and Hoisch quickly implemented the first noon update on March 13, and proceeded to host medical and county officials five days a week until June, when they switched to the current Thursday noon update schedule.

A Blues & Brews broadcast, a partnership between KOTO and SBG productions, is planned for September 18-20 as a way to thank donors.

“They’re calling it ‘The KOTO Main Stage,’” Pallone said. “During the day KOTO will air archives and then we’re going to pick up the Blues & Brews stream at night to broadcast live entertainment.”

In exchange for donations of $20 or more, supporters receive a KOTO license plate mask or ski Buff. There will also be giveaways throughout Guest DJ Day, including gift cards and a KOTOgrass 2020 poster signed by Dierks Bentley. To make a pledge, call 970-728-4333 or visit