The KAZZ-Sonobeat Connection

How a tiny but groundbreaking Austin, Texas, FM station launched a record label

Staff changes

On the air with John Jay and Folkways
Kirk Wilson takes a short break
Stan "The Man" Parks in control of all things soul
"Ruff" Ruffins morning program
Paul Davis (left) and John Jay clowning on their late-night program
Rim Kelley multi-tasking during his afternoon rock program

In July '66, Kirk Wilson took over the Saturday morning rock 'n' roll block from Rim Kelley, who opened a new 2 PM rock slot on Saturdays. Sam Hallman took a sabbatical over the summer of '66, returning in fall. In mid-'66, Gary Thomas' friend Bill Curtis, an electronics whiz kid, took over as the station's chief engineer. As teens, both Gary Thomas and Bill Curtis held 1st Class Radio-Telephone licenses from the FCC, a remarkable accomplishment and a requirement to serve as a broadcast station's chief engineer. In August, Jack Josey (Rim's brother) took the 7 to 9 AM Saturday morning slot, adding two more hours to KAZZ's weekend rock programming. Jack, at 13, made history as the youngest deejay in Texas radio. Jack's program moved to noon Saturdays in October '66. In November '66, Marcelo Tafoya took over the early morning weekday Spanish block, which changed its name to the Valmon Spanish Hour (although it was a 90 minute program), and Bob Lockhart took over the midnight rock 'n' roll slot. In December '66, Stan Parks' R&B program shifted into the midnight to 3 AM weeknight slot. In January '67, Rim's Saturday rock show expanded to fill the 2 to 7 PM block, and he took over duties as the station's program director. And in early 1967, Ralph Y. Michaels, a diehard KAZZ fan who collected air checks from rock stations around the U.S., got a shot at a weekend on-air rock program of his own.

Thirteen year-old Jack Josey followed by Rim Kelley on a Saturday afternoon KAZZ-FM shift change in 1967

Live remote broadcasts

In late 1966, station manager Bill Josey Sr. began weekly live remote broadcasts from Club Seville at then Wilbur Clark's Crest Hotel on Austin's Town Lake. The lucrative broadcasts, for which the Crest Hotel paid a commercial fee, regularly featured The Kings IV and The Michael Stevens IV, the rotating house bands with whom Club manager Don Dean did an occasional turn at vocals, punctuated by a regular stream of guest artists, including the Lee Arlano Trio, Bach-Yen, and Fran Nelson, all of whom would eventually record for the Joseys' Sonobeat Records. The remotes were broadcast using a two-microphone mixer – one mike for Bill Sr. to announce and the other to capture the band's performance – connected to a special direct phone line back to KAZZ's studio in the Perry Brooks Building. While KAZZ's live remote broadcasts from Club Seville focused on jazz and pop, very soon other Austin live music venues also were featured on KAZZ remote broadcasts. Among the first of the rock venues to sign on was New Orleans Old World Night Club, but the earliest weekly broadcasts from the New Orleans Club featured jazz stylist Ernie Mae Miller at the piano bar and were hosted by Bill Sr. Later, Rim took over hosting the New Orleans Club broadcasts when acts like the 13th Floor Elevators began to push out the club's pop vocal and Dixieland jazz acts.

Other night clubs to sign on for KAZZ live remote broadcasts included Club Saracen, Jade Room, and The Eleventh Door, where in 1966 Rim infamously broadcast a pre-Big Brother and the Holding Company Janis Joplin; throughout the hour-long broadcast, Rim had to constantly and quickly cover for Janis' proclivity to curse uninhibitedly between songs. During this era, any profanity broadcast over the air would get a station a stiff FCC fine. It was that broadcast of Janis that forced KAZZ to install a five second tape delay on all future live remote broadcasts. John Jay soon took over the live remotes from The Eleventh Door, broadcasting performances by such luminary Texas folk and blues artists as Allen Damron (who also managed Austin's Chequered Flag folk cabaret), Carolyn Hester, and Mance Lipscomb. Broadcasting all these Central Texas artists, meeting their managers, and connecting with club owners and managers began Rim thinking about starting a local record company.

Live broadcasts from Austin-area night clubs weren't all KAZZ was doing during '66 and '67. When KAZZ moved across the hall from its original two-room suite on the 10th floor of the Perry Brooks Building, it doubled its space and outfitted a production room, complete with a two-turntable and microphone mixer set-up that fed the station's Ampex 350 and Ampex 354 2-track recorders. It was in the production room that the deejays recorded commercials for local businesses and public service announcements for local charities. The production room mixing console was built into a folding table and, therefore, was relatively easy to transport in the back of a station wagon, so with some frequency, Bill Sr. would haul it to the facilities of regular station advertisers, like the Cinema Theater in Capitol Plaza and G. C. Murphy's in Hancock Center, for remote broadcasts of Rim's Saturday rock 'n' roll show. Like KAZZ's night club broadcasts, the signal from the production console was transmitted back to the station over telephone lines.

In February 1967, Rim hosted KAZZ's broadcast of a hot Austin-based rock group, the Sweetarts, from the Club Saracen. Rim had been playing the Sweetarts' Vandan Records single, So Many Times, on his program since mid-'66. Late in '66, Bill Sr. and Rim began planning a new record company venture. And in February '67, KAZZ chief engineer Bill Curtis completed a portable 6-channel mixer for the Joseys. In May, the Joseys officially launched Sonobeat Recording Company and used KAZZ equipment – its Ampex recorders and ElectroVoice microphones – for its sessions, the first with Leo and the Prophets. The friendships the Joseys had made with musicians and their managers across Austin – through KAZZ's live broadcasts – seeded most of Sonobeat's recording sessions in 1967.

The Sonobeat connection

When the Joseys launched Sonobeat, they were still employed by KAZZ and arranged to use not just KAZZ's tape recorders and microphones for their 1967 recording sessions but also the KAZZ facilities in the Perry Brooks Building. The long hallway outside the KAZZ studio and office provided a natural echo chamber for vocal overdubs on Sonobeat's first commercial release by the Sweetarts, on its third by Don Dean, and it's fifth by The Thingies. Near the end of 1967, the KAZZ reception room, emptied of furniture, served as a makeshift recording studio for Sonobeat's string, harpsicord, and vocal overdubs on Lavender Hill Express' first Sonobeat single. But shortly following the Lavender Hill Express overdub sessions, the Joseys had to find alternate sources of recording equipment and facilities.

The end of a short era

In November '67, KAZZ-FM owner Monroe Lopez agreed to sell the station to KOKE-AM, Austin's leading country western station. The December 2, 1967, issue of Billboard carried the announcement by KOKE general manager Ron Rogers of the pending sale, noting that the purchase price was $70,000, a true steal by today's standards. The sale was approved the the FCC at the end of December 1967, and at the end of its broadcast day on January 4, 1968, KAZZ went silent. Several weeks later, it re-emerged as KOKE-FM (still broadcasting on 95.5 mHz) with a relocated transmitter and tower. KOKE-FM simulcast KOKE-AM's signal, so there was no need for any of the former KAZZ-FM staff, who scattered to other jobs. In March '68, Rim took a part-time weekend deejay position at Austin's top 40 AM station, KNOW, but left in July '68 to take a part-time news job at KOKE, where he used a new air name, Bob Underwood ("Underwood" was taken from the brand of electric typewriter he used in the KOKE newsroom). Since Rim's radio jobs in '68 were part time, the Joseys, capitalizing on the friends they had made through more than two years of KAZZ live remote broadcasts, moved Sonobeat Records into high gear.

The August 25, 1966, KAZZ Starline Survey announces that Jack Josey, then only 13 years old, would join the deejay staff for a Saturday morning top 40 program
The production room console, which doubled as a remote broadcast console that KAZZ
Another view of the production room console, looking through the double-pane window into the main broadcast control room
The December 2, 1967, issue of Billboard reports the impending sale of KAZZ-FM to Austin's AM country station, KOKE