After 16 years in radio journalism and eight years (and counting) as host of Colorado Public Radio’s daily interview show Colorado Matters, it’s safe to say that Ryan Warner is a veteran of this form of media. The Palm Springs native still gets giddy, though, about recording radio shows—especially live. Luckily for him, he gets to do just that during “Colorado Matters at the Tattered,” a monthly series that invites local writers and authors of Colorado-focused literature and stories to be interviewed by Warner in front of a live audience. The interview is later aired on CPR, so guests also have the rare opportunity to witness radio-in-the-making.

Warner’s enthusiasm for the series must be contagious, because less than a year after its start, the Colfax Tattered Cover’s subterranean space is consistently standing room only for this event. (Seriously, get there early to save a seat.) We sat down with Warner to get the scoop on the series’s success, learn more about the process of making radio, and uncover who’s at the top of his list of dream guests.

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5280: You’ve been making radio now for 16 years. What is challenging about doing it in front of an audience?

Ryan Warner: I actually find the studio the bigger challenge. There, you are putting a writer in a soundproof booth that really looks like a padded cell, and you’re asking them to be at ease, and warm, and comfortable. To have a conversation at the Tattered Cover, surrounded by books in front of smiling faces and people who love to read, I think that puts both me and the guest at ease.

How many hours a week do you spend in the studio?

Oh, the bulk of my week is spent in there. I would say, somewhere around 20 hours a week. That’s the studio itself, and then the office is another 30.

Is “Colorado Matters at the Tattered” less work, and more play?

I have to say, I’ve hosted Colorado Matters for about eight years, and one thing I love about my job in general is that everyday is different. But having the monthly interview at the Tattered Cover has really brightened a light in me and has made me all the more enthusiastic about the work I do.

Tell me more about making radio.

I think it’s fun; I call it the sausage making. What people can’t hear on the air is me messing up and taking a question or a line over again, or recreating a moment because I got something wrong, or the guest got something wrong. I think that’s part of the fun. I’m not afraid to make mistakes in front of the audience because if at the end of the day they’ve gotten to see some of that sausage making, the event is actually a little more textured than it would be otherwise.

Are you surprised by the turnout at your Tattered Cover events?

I have to say that I am. I’m a worrier; I might lean towards pessimism. It’s every performer’s worst fear that no one shows up. I’ve never been disappointed by the audience. If anything, it might become frustrating for some people because we run out of space.

Do you attribute its success to something in particular?

Oh I think it helps that we have a partner in the Tattered Cover, which is a bookstore that has a lot of admirers, so we’re certainly drawing on that institution’s success in addition to our own. My sense is that a city that can support an independent bookstore like that—which by the way has many branches, we did an event at their branch in Highlands Ranch as well—I think that’s a reflection of a community that likes to read. So, I think that we’re lucky to be in Denver and Colorado because we have a naturally engaged audience.

Do you always read the books before your interviews?

Always, always. And what’s funny—this is true for the years I’ve been in public radio—an author inevitably expresses surprise that I’ve read the book. Which amazes me! It’s like, how do you speak to an author if you haven’t read their book? My assumption is that many interviewers don’t do the reading. The beauty of reading the book is that you can draw connections that the guest may forget to draw, or you can ask follow-ups that I think are more precise and more engaging because you can draw parallels or you can say, ‘Wait but that’s a contradiction, that’s not what you said in the book,’ or something like that. I think a lot of nuance and a lot of insight comes from having read the book.

Who is you favorite author?

My favorite author is Armistead Maupin, because of the Tales of the City series. They’re basically my favorite books on the planet.

If you could have any guest(s) on “Colorado Matters at the Tattered,” who would you pick?

If Trey Parker and Matt Stone ever write a book, I think that would be a blast.

Details: Join Warner as he interviews Cynthia Swanson, author of The Bookseller, in the next installment of Colorado Matters at the Tattered; Tuesday, March 3, 7 p.m. at Tattered Cover, 2526 E. Colfax Ave.

Jerilyn Forsythe
Jerilyn Forsythe
Jerilyn Forsythe is a freelance writer and editor, and 5280's former digital associate editor. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @jlforsyt.