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KAZZ-Sonobeat Connection page 1

In the beginning

KAZZ-FM (95.5 mHz) was among the first group of low-powered FM stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission in 1956 and '57. Originally licensed to the Austin, Texas, market, it began broadcasting in 1958. KAZZ's call letters were selected because on its launch, and into the early '60s, it programmed big band and jazz, catering to an audience of University of Texas students and state government officials. Rod Kennedy, later to become famous for his popular Checquered Flag folk club in downtown Austin and as founder of both the Longhorn Jazz Festival and the Kerrville Folk Festival (which continues to this day), served as KAZZ's first manager. At that time, KAZZ was owned by James Moore's Audioland Broadcasting Company, which also owned KHFI-FM in Austin, which had gone on-air a year before KAZZ. Rod also managed KHFI. Notably, KHFI and KAZZ presented the first stereo broadcast in the Austin area; because both stations actually broadcast in monaural, one station broadcast the left channel and the other broadcast the right channel of the stereo program. Of course, listeners needed two FM radios to hear the stereo effect, but selling newfangled FM radios was one of Moore's goals, since he also owned Austin audiophile equipment retailer Hi-Fi Inc. (from which KHFI's call letters were derived).

 

KAZZ's offices and studios on the 10th floor of the Perry-Brooks Building in downtown Austin, Texas, 1963-1968

The Perry-Brooks Building in Austin
 

In August 1964, Moore sold off his broadcast holdings. James Kingsery's Southwest Republic Corporation bought KHFI, and Austin restaurateur Monroe Lopez bought Audioland Broadcasting Company and KAZZ-FM, moving the station's facilities to the Perry-Brooks Building at 720 Brazos Street, a block east of Congress Avenue, in downtown Austin. The station's 250 watt broadcast transmitter was locked away in a room off the Perry-Brooks Building's stair well, half a flight down from the 10th floor studio, and the 4-bay antenna, which multiplied the transmitter's output to an effective radiated power of 840 watts, was mounted on the building's roof. The entire electrical output of KAZZ's transmitter barely exceeded a dozen 60-watt light bulbs.

Initially, after the move to the Perry-Brooks Building, KAZZ occupied two-room suite 1014, next to the elevators; in 1965, KAZZ moved across the hall to larger suites 1003 (housing the reception room, music library, and administrative office) and 1004 (housing the control room and a production room for recording commercials and public service announcements). The station's AP news wire -- an old-style teletype machine -- was housed in the transmitter room.

   
 
Hallway doors into KAZZ's office and studios (left) and reception room view of control room and office (right)

Unlike many AM radio stations that were limited to a sunrise-to-sunset broadcast day to avoid nighttime interference with each other, all FM stations were licensed for 'round-the-clock operation. Nonetheless, to save money and because the all-night audience for FM radio was low, when Bill Jr. arrived at KAZZ in fall 1964, its broadcast day was 6 am to 1 am. Soon after buying KAZZ, Lopez hired Gib Divine as station manager. Divine dropped the big band and jazz format that had launched the station in 1957 in favor of a block programming format, hoping diversified programming would attract more advertisers. The typical KAZZ broadcast day in mid-1964 included blocks featuring Spanish pop hits, easy listening and pop standards by artists such as Mantovani and Sinatra, a smattering of light classical music, entire showtune albums, folk, country, and jazz.

In spring 1964, future Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. was commuting weekly from Austin to Galveston to serve as sales manager for top 40 AM station KILE, and future Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Jr. was finishing his senior year at Travis High School in Austin. On his weekend trips back to Austin, Bill Sr. brought home spare "promo" copies of hot new rock 'n' roll singles that KILE received free from record companies. Bill Jr. was fascinated with his dad's stories of the DJs at the island radio station and entertained his siblings by spinning the promo singles on the family's living room record player. Bill Sr. arranged for Bill Jr. to take an apprenticeship at KILE the summer following his high school graduation, and there he learned how local commercials were produced, how news was gathered and reported, and finally how to "DJ" -- select and cue up records, use the control board, launch commercials on tape cartridge players, speak into the microphone without (much) fear, and get all those elements synchronized. About halfway through his KILE summer apprenticeship, Bill Jr. landed the early-morning Sunday time slot. It was common during the '60s, radio's "golden age" of personality-driven music programs, for DJs to use "air names" concocted for dramatic effect (for example, KILE's afternoon drive-time DJ went by the name "Roland Holmes", a clever soundalike for "rollin' home") as well as to protect their real identities from often overly-zealous fans. To choose his "air name", Bill Jr. wrote dozens of last names he liked on slips of paper and threw them into a hat; then he randomly pulled a slip -- on which he'd written "Kelley" -- that had been caught in the hat's rim, inspiring his entire air name. When his summer internship at KILE ended in August 1964, Bill Jr. returned to Austin to start college at the University of Texas. Jobless, but now with a potential broadcast career percolating in his blood, he solicited work at Austin's only top 40 station, KNOW AM. Turned away from KNOW as too inexperienced, and at Bill Sr.'s suggestion, Bill Jr. recorded a short demo tape that he sent to other Austin radio stations, including Austin's oddball KAZZ.


Next: top 40 hits the FM airwaves

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