The KAZZ-Sonobeat Connection
How a tiny but groundbreaking Austin, Texas, FM station launched a record label
In the beginning...
Entrance to KAZZ's office and studios on the 10th floor of the Perry Brooks Building in downtown Austin
Interior view of KAZZ's reception room with entrances to the studio control room and main office
KAZZ-FM (95.5 mHz) was among the first group of low-powered FM stations licensed by the Federal Communications in 1956 and 1957. Originally licensed to the Austin, Texas, market, the station began broadcasting afternoons and evenings on October 31, 1957. Its call letters reflected the musical tastes – big band and jazz – of its target audience, University of Texas students. In fact, KAZZ, pronounced to rhyme with "jazz", announced its launch via a small ad appearing in the October 31st edition of the University of Texas student newspaper, The Daily Texan. KAZZ, founded and initially owned by Austin businessman Frank L. Scofield, was co-located with Austin's first FM station, KHFI-FM, on the premises of Audioland, an audiophile equipment retailer in downtown Austin owned by Scofield business associate James Moore. Moore had launched KHFI-FM (which took its call letters from Audioland's parent company, Hi-Fi Incorporated), only a few months before KAZZ launched. In an unusual experiment, in November 1967, KAZZ and KHFI 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 and brought customers to Audioland. FM radios at the time were expensive, and the best model Audioland sold, the Granco, cost $39.95, a hefty $350 in 2017 dollars.
KAZZ's first station manager was ex-University of Texas student Bill Oxley. His reign was short-lived, because only a few months after KAZZ's launch, Scofield sold KAZZ to Moore, who installed KHFI's manager, Rod Kennedy, as manager of both stations. Rod, later to become famous for his popular Chequered 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), in turn bought KHFI from Moore in 1958.
Early on, KAZZ was making waves: from May 6 to June 6, 1958, RCA Victor ran a high-stakes contest to promote Dinah Shore's recording of "Secret of Happiness", which was based on Chevrolet's Impala TV commercial theme, made popular on The Dinsh Shore Chevy Show. RCA awarded a 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala convertible to the person writing the best letter describing his or her secret formula for success. Entries were submmitted through local radio deejays. Indeed, the deejay who submitted the winning entry also was awarded a Chevrolet Bel Air Impala convertible. Although over 1,000 deejays submitted entries on behalf of their listeners – there were more than 700,000 entries from across the U.S. – the prize winning letter was written by Austin resident Peggy Todd, whose entry was submitted by KAZZ-FM deejay Bill Jackson. Both were awarded identical Impala convertibles. Nice way for KAZZ to start its first year of broadcasting.
Rod Kennedy, who had bought KHFI from Moore's Audioland Broadcasting Company in 1958, in turn sold the station to James Kingsbury's Southwest Republic Corporation in August 1964. At the same time, Austin restaurateur Monroe Lopez bought Audioland Broadcasting Company and its remaining station, KAZZ-FM, from Moore, moving the station's facilities from Hi-Fi Inc.'s offices at 3004 Guadalupe 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 antenna 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 building's main elevator bank; by the end of 1964, KAZZ had relocated across the hall to suite 1003 (housing the administrative office and main studio control room) and suite 1004 (housing the reception room/music library 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.
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 musical diversity would attract more advertisers. The typical KAZZ broadcast day in mid-1964 included blocks featuring Spanish-language pop hits, easy listening and pop standards by artists such as Mantovani and Sinatra, a smattering of light classical music, entire showtune and movie soundtrack albums, folk, country, and jazz. Unlike many AM radio stations that were limited to a sunrise-to-sunset broadcast day to avoid nighttime atmospheric 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 at the time, in fall 1964, KAZZ's broadcast day was 6 AM to 1 AM.
In spring 1964, future Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. was commuting weekly from the family home in Austin to Galveston, where he served as sales manager for top 40 AM station KILE. At the same time, 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 deejays at the resort 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 a two-month summer apprenticeship at KILE following high school graduation, and there Bill Jr. learned how local commercials were produced, how news was gathered and reported, and finally how to "deejay" – 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 deejays to use "air names" concocted for dramatic effect (for example, KILE's afternoon drive-time deejay 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" in homage to Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly – 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.