The KAZZ-Sonobeat Connection
How a tiny but groundbreaking Austin, Texas, FM station launched a record label
The KAZZ Austin skyline logo that appeared on the station's letterhead, advertiser rate card, and other printed materials
KAZZ's music librarian during 1964-'65, name not recalled
The KAZZ music library in 1965
In September 1964, Bill Josey Jr. (who had spent the summer of 1964 training as a deejay at Galveston, Texas, rock station KILE) submitted his deejay demo (on a 3" open-reel tape) to KAZZ-FM station manager Gib Divine. Bill Jr.'s pitch was simple: KAZZ could be the first FM station in Austin to program rock 'n' roll, which would attract a larger and more valuable University of Texas audience and, thereby, attract new advertisers to the station. Bill Jr. reasoned that because the sonic quality of FM radio was higher than that of AM, discerning listeners would appreciate the hi-fi broadcast of rock 'n' roll music. Of course, in 1964, the reality was that few college students had FM radios in their dorm rooms or apartments and almost no one had car FM radios (which had only first become available in 1963). Nonetheless, convinced to give it a try, Gib gave Bill Jr. a shot at a weekday afternoon slot plus a three hour Saturday morning slot. Adding the new rock block to KAZZ's program schedule meant shifting around some of the other distinctive program blocks, a task Gib handed to KAZZ program director Sam Hallman, then a University of Texas law student. Using his "air name" Rim Kelley (later to become the name he used to produce and engineer Sonobeat recordings), Bill Jr.'s Top 40 show premiered on KAZZ-FM at 4 PM on October 5, 1964.
About the same time, Bill Josey Sr. saw an opportunity to help KAZZ capitalize on its diverse programming. As the only block programmed station in the Austin market, Bill Sr. felt KAZZ was an ideal medium for advertisers, similar to television stations with their differentiated programming of game shows, news, variety shows, dramas, and comedies during different parts of the day. To Bill Sr., KAZZ offered an advertiser a simple and inexpensive way to reach a broad demographic cross section. In addition to his role as station manager, Gib Divine served as the de facto station sales manager, but he also operated a separate business producing Spanish-language educational filmstrips and tapes, so when Bill Sr. pitched him the idea of hiring a full-time sales manager, who would work on a small salary draw against earned commissions, Gib agreed. Within the span of a two months, KAZZ had two Bill Joseys working for it.
KAZZ-FM didn't advertise itself to the public beyond its listing in the Austin telephone book. Instead, it relied on occasional mentions in John Bustin's and Jim Langdon's amusements and entertainment columns in the Austin American and Austin Statesman newspapers and word-of-mouth from listener to listener to attract and build its audience. Because it was block programmed, KAZZ's audience base shifted from daypart to daypart. The Latino listeners who tuned in early weekday mornings for KAZZ's Mañanitas Desde La Capital! program were largely replaced by at-home mothers and office workers when the easy listening pop block began at 8:30 AM, and an entirely different largely male audience tuned in for the evening folk and jazz blocks. What would KAZZ do to avoid loss of the afternoon audience it already had and to build a new audience when the rock 'n' roll block began at 4 PM? The answer ultimately was simple and already in use by Austin's Top 40 AM station KNOW: issue a printed list of the top 50 best-selling rock singles KAZZ would be playing each week and distribute it through every record store in Austin. But the cost of printing and distributing a thousand copies of a weekly hit list was more than Gib Divine wanted to spend. Bill Sr. approached station owner Monroe Lopez, who also owned Austin's popular Big Four Mexican restaurants – El Matamoros, El Charro, El Toro, and Monroe's – to pay for the printing of the weekly hit list by taking an ad on the back. This way, Monroe promoted his restaurants (he already advertised The Big 4 daily in the Austin American and Austin Statesman) and supported his new business venture, KAZZ.
KAZZ-FM's Fun Fifty hit list premiered October 30, 1964. Bill Sr. and Rim covered Austin's record stores – from J. R. Reed and The Record Shop in downtown Austin to the Sage discount department store on Airport Boulevard to G. C. Murphy on Red River to the University Co-Op and Hemphill's on the Drag across from the University of Texas campus – with copies of the hit list for free distribution to customers, hoping to build an audience for both the station and Rim's top 40 show.
When Monroe Lopez bought KAZZ and changed its format from big band and jazz to block programming, he wanted to create a clear differentiation between the "old" KAZZ and the "new" KAZZ. To help make that distinction, Gib Divine issued a policy that the station couldn't be referred to as "Kazz", rhyming with "jazz", as the station had been known before its format change. The new rule, then, was that the call letters would always be given as "K-A-Z-Z" and never as "Kazz". During the '60s, radio stations seemed to always have a slogan to promote themselves, and Rim, forbidden from using "Kazz", decided to use "Alive 95", referring to the station's frequency, 95.5 megacycles (or in today's parlance, megaHertz). Slipping up one day in his first week or two on the air, Rim referred to "Kazz" on air and immediately got a reprimand from Divine. The next day, at a station break, Rim called out on air, "You're listening to K-A-Z-Z, the station that's not just great, it's divine!" Of course, he got another reprimand...