A path of her own
by Dawne Belloise
Julia Brazell was only four years old when KBUT community radio got its call letters in 1986, riding on the heels of Earth Station, which was operating on the cable system from 1977 through 1982. Her father, Lonesome Bob, one of the original deejays at Earth Station, got his start as an FM radio deejay when KBUT was born and still spins the tunes on his long-running Friday afternoon show.
When Julia and her younger sister, Robin, were kids, they’d help their dad with his show, donning the headsets and making on-air announcements. “I have this vague memory of being a small child and being told by staff deejays that when I spoke into the mic, everyone could hear, including Santa. It was terrifying,” Julia laughs about her radio stage-fright. “I was a pretty shy child, anyway. Before that I would get on the mic and parrot my dad. It was all fun. I was fascinated with the equipment.”
Julia was born at the Gunnison hospital to parents Bob and Denise, who had moved to Crested Butte in 1972. Bob owned Crested Butte Auto with Donny Glover, and her mom worked at the Crested Butte Lodge.
Julia recalls how magical the town was back then, especially for a kid. “As soon as I was out of diapers, I learned to ski,” she says of the common practice for barely walking Crested Butte toddlers. “And I got to ski all the time. I learned to ski through the town recreation program with Sherry Vandervoort and Jerry Deverall, among others.”
Summer brought cruising around town with friends and family. “My mom’s brother was Brian Griffith, who married Liver, so my cousin was Mandy. When I was a child, they lived right next door so the three of us [Julia, Robin and Mandy] ran around the neighborhood. Our parents would send us on scavenger hunts that they’d call Peewee’s Big Adventure. They’d send us out to find random things,” Julia says.
She fondly remembers that it was a childhood spent in carefree Crested Butte, a kid’s world of dreams and youthful mischief. “We’d steal strawberries and rhubarb from Paul Redden’s yard and eat them,” Julia laughs. She grew up watching softball games, where the whole town was on a team, including the kids. “We played softball growing up through the town rec and we rode our bikes everywhere.”
In junior high school, Julia competed in Odyssey of the Mind, “It’s a geeky thing that kids do. I was on a team and went to the state championships. When I was in high school, I did a lot of Crested Butte Mountain Theatre acting and I would do their PSA recordings for their shows through the KBUT studio.”
Her freshman class was the first to not have to ride the bus to Gunnison for school because the new Crested Butte Community School had finally opened. She had previously attended the Crested Butte Academy.
“School was good and I was always a good student… until high school… then I rebelled. I rebelled against structure. I had been raised my whole life to question authority. We had this hippie leftist community mentality that inspired me to rebel.” Nevertheless, she graduated in 2001. “At the time I wanted to be a lawyer. I was really interested in politics and I was inspired to help people in some way. I didn’t just want to have a profession, I wanted to have a purpose.”
Julia went to the very alternative Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where students aren’t required to declare a major and students received evaluations rather than grades. In her first year, she took an intensive study in prison systems. Throughout her tenure at Evergreen, she received an expansive, eclectic education, studying film, theatre and theoretical physics but Julia ultimately decided not to apply to law school because, “It’s a highly competitive industry and I’m not a competitive person.”
She did what many kids did post-college. “I moved back home because that’s what everybody did. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” Julia took a retail job managing Pooh’s Corner for a while, and also worked for Crested Butte Vacations at the resort, as well as the ever-present housekeeping jobs. “But I decided I wanted to do something more with my life regarding a career,” so she moved to the big city of Denver in 2007.
She focused on working in the not-for-profit sector, securing employment as an office manager for the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, who advocate for lawyers who advocate for victims. Due to the financial crash of 2008, Julia was only there a year before the funds dried up for her position.
She and her then boyfriend started an HVAC (heating, ventilation, air condition) company, installing air conditioners and furnaces. She found that she really enjoyed the work and labor. “I fabricated duct work, hooked up gas lines and electrical wiring for about two years. It was good, but I wanted to get back into non profit work.”
She signed up at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado as office manager. “When I was in college, I worked as a telephone solicitor, getting donations for the annual fund for scholarships for the school. I found that I was very good at asking strangers for money so I knew then that I could fundraise. I knew that I wanted to come back to Crested Butte and I thought the non-profit field would be a good way to return and have a meaningful career.”
It was time to move on from Big Brothers Big Sisters and her sister, Robin, had already moved back to Crested Butte. Julia found the online posting in the Crested Butte News employment classifieds for the position of KBUT membership director. “I felt it would be the perfect job for me because I like asking people for money and I love community radio. I’m passionate about music and independent media and it seemed like the right fit.” They gave her the job after her successful interview and the child of local community radio had come full circle.
When general manager Eileen Kennedy Hughes decided to retire, Julia applied for the position and was hired in June 2016. “I have the ability to help this organization that I care deeply about. It’s a good opportunity to work for a cause that I believe in and I feel fulfilled. I feel that my whole life was preparing me for this moment. I had the intention of building a career so I could move back to my home, knowing there was a need for non profits here.
“Our federal funding is being threatened again with the new administration. Four years ago, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which doles out the funds for all public media, wanted to ensure that radio stations were sustainable themselves before they would give out any funds, so we had to grow our budget fairly significantly in order to retain the federal funding. My experience in the non profit world has shown me that funding is always uncertain—you can’t rely on federal funding to be there forever so you have to diversify your revenue streams.
“It’s my hope and intention, over the next couple of years, to wean our dependence on that federal funding. I want to get KBUT to a place where threats, such as the ones we’re currently facing, aren’t a make or break for us, that we don’t have to be constantly living in fear, by building a major donor program.”
Julia continues, “The community has really stepped up and they are why we didn’t lose our federal funding four years ago. We just celebrated our 30th birthday in December and had a fabulous party, the kind that only this community knows how to throw. It’s special to be part of this place and have such a vibrant community radio station that’s a cornerstone of the community and when I say community I mean the entire valley. I grew up skiing with girls from Gunnison and it’s really important to me that we maintain this valley-wide one community.”
Julia echoes the sentiment of many long-timers here. “Change is inevitable and this community has changed a lot but it still beats a lot of other places. For many years, we have prevented Vail and Aspen-type overdevelopment but now I feel that we’re in a totally different era. Whatever Crested Butte was, there’s now a new citizenry and they’re experiencing it in a different way than we did and with the same excitement that we had for it.
“I love Colorado. What keeps me here is mostly my job because I’m so super passionate about this station and its success. Living here, I both love and hate the tight-knit community,” she laughs and explains, “because it’s hard sometimes when there’s zero anonymity but at the same time, that’s one of the greatest things about this community, the pulling together. And I don’t have to call my friends to go to the bar—I just go to the bar and they’re all there.”
KBUT’s pledge drive started last Monday, February 13 and goes until they make their goal of $45,000 for operating expenses. Call the station at (970) 349-7444 to pledge.