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 Commission in 1956 and '57. Originally licensed to the Austin, Texas, market, in November 1957, KAZZ didn't actually commence broadcasting until July 1958. KAZZ's call letters were selected because it was conceived as programming big band and jazz to cater to an audience of University of Texas students and state government officials. Indeed, from its launch in 1958 until Rod Kennedy, 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), briefly 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. Rod also managed KHFI and bought the station from Moore in 1958. In an unusual experiment, shortly after KAZZ launched, it and its sister station 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, since he also owned Austin audiophile equipment retailer Hi-Fi Inc. (from which KHFI's call letters were derived).

Rod Kennedy bought KHFI from Moore's Audioland Broadcasting Company in 1958, and, 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 1958 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.

Floor plan of the 10th floor of the Perry Brooks Building shows the locations of KAZZ's original office and studio suite and its subsequent, larger office and studio suite
Future Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley makes a short demo tape to help land a job as a deejay in Austin