The Ralph Y. Michaels KAZZ-FM Collection

An avid radio fan's photos and air-checks from the '60s
deejay John Jay catches a quick dinner during his Folkways program on KAZZ-FM
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels
Nighttime folk, blues, and jazz deejay Kirk Wilson at the KAZZ-FM control board
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels
KAZZ-FM program director and early afternoon pop standards deejay Sam Hallman at the microphone
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels
Stan "the Man" Parks, KAZZ's midnight R&B deejay, cues up a hit
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels
Afternoon rock 'n' roll deejay and Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley at the KAZZ-FM control board
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels

If you came here from Sonobeat's home page or Features page, you may have bypassed the story of the connection between small Central Texas record label Sonobeat, founded in 1967, and Austin's KAZZ-FM (which ceased operations in January 1968). Briefly, Sonobeat was spawned from the live remote broadcasts that were regular features on KAZZ-FM in the mid-'60s. The broadcasts featured local rock, jazz, and folk artists as well as visiting bands and singers from around the world performing at top Austin night clubs. These broadcasts included the Sweetarts, Lee Arlano Trio, and Bach-Yen, all of whom recorded commercial releases for Sonobeat. Coincidentally, at the same time, Ralph Y. Michaels, then in his early 20s, was serving in the military and stationed in Austin.

During his tenure in Austin, Ralph, an avid radio fan, used an open-reel tape deck to record hour after hour of "air checks" of the local radio stations. These included Austin's #1 AM radio station, KNOW, which played top 40 hits, "good music station" KHFI-FM, and the eclectic KAZZ-FM. From its launch in 1958 until it became KOKE-FM in 1968, the KAZZ call letters were assigned to 95.5 megaHertz in Austin; years after KAZZ in Austin shut down, those call letters were re-assigned to an unrelated station in Dear Park, Washington, broadcasting on 107.1 megaHertz.

Austin's KAZZ-FM began playing top 40 music in October '64 – an abberation in FM radio at the time – but it also continued a block programming format it had started in 1963 that featured the nationally syndicated hour-long Grand Ole Opry, a Spanish-language music hour, and pop standard, showtune, jazz, folk, and R&B blocks in addition to rock 'n' roll. The Sonobeat archives contain a few KAZZ air checks, but the vein of gold – Ralph's personal air check archives – was never publicly available until Ralph generously gifted them to us. His collection even includes an air check of Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley, whose rock program anchored weekday afternoons on KAZZ-FM in the mid-'60s, working an evening shift on KNOW several months after KAZZ shut down in January 1968. In addition to a sampling of many air checks he made of KAZZ programs and live remote broadcasts, we're pleased to also present a selection of Ralph's candid KAZZ-FM control room snapshots.

Air checks generally are "gutted" recordings of radio programs; that is, most of the music is clipped out, leaving the focus on the elements that differentiate one radio station from another and demonstrate the station's "personality": the deejay's patter, station ID jingles, commercials, and news. So, a typical hour in real time ends up telescoped into an 8-10 minute air check.

First up, we present an excerpt from perhaps the rarest air check in Ralph's collection: KAZZ's program director Sam Hallman hosting a remote broadcast of Austin's iconic psychedelic rock band, Roky and the 13th Floor Elevators, from New Orleans Old World Night Club (in Austin, not New Orleans). This broadcast was oddly out of character for Sam, who hosted the weekday showtunes and pop standards segments on KAZZ, a far cry from the psychedelic sounds of the Elevators. Don't blame the poor quality of the air check on Ralph, who typically made air checks by simpy placing his tape recorder microphone in front of his radio loudspeaker; blame it on KAZZ: for its live remote broadcasts, the station connected from the remote location to the station's main studio using a class "C" phone line (with quality just a little bit better than that of a standard voice land line) and a simple 2-channel microphone mixer. The microphone that picked up the live band was usually 20 or more feet away from the stage and pointed upward to minimize crowd noise. The resulting broadcasts – especially of rock groups – were invariably muffled and distorted.

Next, an air check of KAZZ's eclectic nighttime deejay Kirk Wilson. His program merged folk (under the umbrella moniker Folkways), blues, jazz, and a bit of whatever struck his fancy, including poetry and stream of consciousness patter. Today, Kirk owns Bazzirk, Inc., a business to business marketing agency based in Austin, and writes award-winning fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

For a change of pace, we next present Ralph's KNOW air check of Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley, who held down the afternoon rock 'n' roll slot on KAZZ-FM from October 1964 to January 1968. In March '68, two months after KAZZ shut down, Rim took a weekend time slot on KNOW, Austin's #1 AM top 40 station. Ralph marked this air check July '68.

The fourth air check is composed of a series of excerpts from one of KAZZ-FM program director Sam Hallman's Sunday afternoon programs. Mild-mannered, witty, and dulcet voiced, Sam mixed pop standards, upbeat showtunes, rock ballads, and an occasional folk tune, creating a pleasing and tasteful pastiche. Ralph noted that this air check was made in June 1967.

KAZZ-FM midnight R&B deejay Stan "the Man" Parks shows off his height
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels
Early afternoon pop standards deejay and program director Sam Hallman at the KAZZ-FM control console
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels
deejay Kirk Wilson selects albums for his nighttime folk, blues, and jazz program on KAZZ-FM
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels
KAZZ-FM afternoon rock 'n' roll deejay Rim Kelley checks the turntable
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels
KAZZ-FM afternoon rock 'n' roll deejay Rim Kelley cues up a top 40 hit
courtesy Ralph Y. Michaels