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. 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. In June 1967, University of Texas senior Paul Meyer, who met KAZZ's Rim Kelley while taking a radio-TV-film class together, landed the Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon shifts.

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

Live remote broadcasts

In autumn 1965, station manager Bill Josey Sr. began weekly live remote broadcasts from many downtown Austin night clubs. The remotes used a two-microphone mixer – one mike for the KAZZ live announcer and the other to capture the performer – connected to a special direct phone line back to KAZZ's studio in the Perry Brooks Building. The New Orleans Old World Night Club at 1125 Red River was first to sign on in September '65. The lucrative broadcasts, for which The New Orleans Club paid a handsome commercial fee, initially featured the piano and vocal stylings of Ernie Mae Miller, a regular at the Club's basement Creole Room, but soon expanded to include rock acts, including the 13th Floor Elevators, performing on the Club's upper terrace. Bill Sr. helmed the mike for The New Orleans Club's pop and jazz broadcasts, and Rim handled emcee duties for the Club's rock acts. The broadcasts were popular enough that The New Orleans Club sponsored KAZZ remotes for almost a year, buying two and occasionally three half-hour to one-hour live broadcasts weekly until its owner, Andy Porter, closed its doors in July 1966 after an unsuccessful attempt to covert it to a private club. Also signing on to KAZZ live broadcasts in late 1965 was The 11th Door, a folk cabaret at 1101 Red River. Coincidentally, The New Orleans Club and The 11th Door anchored opposite ends of the same block on Red River, a short walk from the Texas state capitol grounds. It was at The 11th Door in 1966 that 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, the broadcast of profanity would attract a stiff FCC fine for the offending station. It was that broadcast of Janis that forced KAZZ to install a five second tape delay on all future live remote broadcasts. But it was also at The 11th Door that future Sonobeat co-founders Bill Sr. and Rim were introduced to folk-jazz vocalist Fran Nelson, who would record with Sonobeat in 1968.

When The Club Seville at the then-brand new Wilbur Clark Crest Motor Inn overlooking Austin's Town Lake opened in January 1966, it, too, signed on for regular KAZZ live broadcasts. The Club Seville's live remotes featured The Variety IV and The Michael Stevens IV, the Club's rotating house bands with whom Club manager Don Dean did an occasional turn on vocals, punctuated by a stream of guest artists, including Colorado's Lee Arlano Trio, Vienamese songbird Bach-Yen, and Los Angeles-based pop combo Paul New and the Crew, who eventually recorded for Sonobeat, and dozens of local pop and jazz acts, including Geneva and Her Gentlemen. The Club Seville sponsored weekly KAZZ remotes until the station shut down at the beginning of January 1968. While KAZZ's live remotes from The Club Seville focused on jazz and pop, other Austin night clubs that featured rock bands rapidly signed on for live remotes, including Club Saracen and Jade Room. Rim took on on-air hosting duties for the rock remotes, handing over to John Jay emcee duties for live remotes from The Eleventh Door. John hosted live remotes 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. By mid-'67, KAZZ was broadcasting live remotes five and sometimes six times a week. Broadcasting all these national, international, and Central Texas artists, meeting their managers, and connecting with club owners created the impetus for Bill Sr. and Rim to start a local record company.

Live broadcasts from Austin-area night clubs weren't all KAZZ was doing during '65 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 special telephone lines.

In February 1967, Rim hosted KAZZ's broadcast of a hot Austin-based rock group, the Sweetarts, from Club Saracen in downtown Austin. 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. In November 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, has joined the deejay staff for a Saturday morning top 40 program; Jack's new show even gets a call-out in Wray Weddell's Austin column on the front page of the August 16, 1966, edition of The Austin Statesman newspaper
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