KZAM in the 1960s
The original KZAM, known by its moniker "KAY-zam!," was Seattle's first all-black-format music station. It went on the air in 1961 and lasted until December, 1963. Its broadcast facility was a small, modest building at 2401 East Union Street (24th Avenue & Union), in Seattle's predominantly black Central District. The station featured such notable northwest radio pioneers as jazz aficionado (the late) Bob Summarise, and Fitzgerald Beaver, who went on to found and publish The Facts newspaper. Other original KZAM air personalities included Larry Braxton and "Mr. Century." On Saturday nights in 1962, the station featured 12-year-old blind deejay Gordon DeWitty. An August 1962 article in Ebony shows DeWitty at the controls.
The main control board was manufactured by Gates. (This board was later used by KYAC-AM 1460). Above the board was a combination log and ad copy book. Below the board were two Russco turntables. On the console to the right of the deejay was a "jingle machine" with selectable, pre-recorded jingles, IDs and PSAs. On the console to the left of the deejay was a singles rack with the "Hot 150" 45's. To the deejay's far left at the end of the console was a three-section, 6-foot-tall (1.8 m) power stack that included a tape cartridge player and transmitter switching and metering. Directly behind the deejay, on a pegboard wall, were racks of R&B, Blues and Jazz albums.
On Saturday afternoons the station gave five hours of programming over to local high schools. In 1962-63, students from Franklin High did the programming; in 1964, students from Garfield High got the slot. Franklin High core staff included Jeff Jassen (later known as Jef Jaisun of music and photography fame) as Chairman of the F.H.S. KZAM Committee, Assistant Station Manager and deejay; Mike LaPonte, Station Manager and deejay; Ed Wright, deejay; Rita Pulido; Penny Matthews; Lyla Tsuji. Franklin student Ken Levine, who had done some deejay work at KOL-AM, did at least one air shift at the original KZAM. As part of their broader station responsibilities, all participants were required to sell advertising for their school's time block.
The station published the "K-ZAM KaZette," a weekly newsletter that included the K-ZAM Hot 150 playlist.
The 1963 edition of Broadcasting Yearbook, Page B-198, lists the following information: "KZAM 92.5 FM, Foremost Broadcasting. Began broadcasting: Nov. 20 1961. 100% black music format. Monty Strohl - Owner; Larry Braxton - Assistant Manager; Ernie Opel - Chief Engineer. Mailing address: P.O. Box 12767, Seattle 22, WA. Telephone: EA 4-8515." The station's physical address was 2401 E. Union, Seattle. The broadcasting tower and transmitter shack were located on Cougar Mountain, outside Issaquah, WA, roughly 18 miles from downtown Seattle.
In 1964, Kemper Freeman, Bellevue real estate magnate and developer responsible for Bellevue Square, bought the station from Monty Strohl. KZAM was reincarnated as KFKF-FM, a partner station to Freeman's existing KFKF-AM 1330, and relicensed to Bellevue WA.
Stewart Ballinger and his group (referenced below) bought both stations from Kemper Freeman in 1972 and changed the call letters to KBES-FM (Bellevue East Side). In early 1975, both stations were renamed KZAM. Ballinger and his staff were unaware of the earlier KZAM history. Then-KBES Station Manager Jim Nelly chose the KZAM calls by pure coincidence, because (according to reports) he thought the slogan "92 kuh-ZAM!" had a catchy, snappy ring to it (ala "23 skidoo!"). When Jef Jaisun applied for a position at the new KZAM, he presented Ballinger with a portfolio of his work at the original KZAM. That was the first Ballinger knew of the earlier station. Records indicate the new KZAM-FM took to the air April 18, 1975.
KZAM-FM, the second incarnation of the call letters, was a pioneering progressive rock radio station in the Puget Sound region from April 1, 1975 all the way to 1983. It broadcast at 92.5 MHz. As of 2006 that signal is home to Adult Rhythmic Top 40 KQMV (Movin' 92.5).
A leading eclectic radio station in Seattle, Washington in the 1970s, KZAM-FM was influential as one of the first stations to play many new artists, music on small labels and music in new genres, notably including "new-age music" by the Windham Hill label. The music mix was exceptionally diverse yet generally accessible, and the station attracted a large and surprisingly mainstream audience. Unlike most earlier "alternative" stations that appealed almost exclusively to a very young, primarily male audience, KZAM reached a broader audience that usually had at least as many women as men, and was the strongest station among women in the 25-34 age group. KZAM's programming concepts were nationally influential, and spawned the so-called adult album alternative format. The station differed from many alternative music stations in the scope of its news and public affairs offerings and its ambitious direct involvement with its listeners in community events. When KZAM first went on the air, its original air staff featured more women than all other Seattle radio stations combined at the time, which was a topic of some local controversy. The Seattle Times ran a story about the station in 1975 headlined "Female Overkill". In its later years, the station was also known for innovative television commercials.
The station was originally owned by a local group of Seattle investors led by Stewart Ballinger, a one-time Broadway actor with deep Seattle roots, and Howard Leendertsen, one of the first people to import premium Japanese-made stereo equipment into the United States in the 1960s. In 1979 it was purchased by Sandusky Broadcasting, an Ohio-based group led by Dudley White, an owner of newspapers and, starting in 1979, radio stations. The on-air sound and staff underwent some changes as a result of the change in ownership, but the station remained distinctive well into the 1980s.
When the station went on the air, female voices were rarely heard in broadcast media, but fully half of the KZAM on-air staff were women. The decision to put women on the air was part of a deliberate effort to build a new audience counter-programming against then-dominant "high-testosterone" rock music stations. Early on-air staff members included Tom Corddry (founding program director), Jon Kertzer (founding music director), Davidson Corry, Shelley Morrison, Leilani McCoy, Marian Seymour, Jeff Hanley, Jeff Heiman, Steve Suplin, Jude Noland (news reporter and anchor), Dennis Fleenor (founding News Director), reporter Lee Somerstein, news intern Joni Balter, Nick Morrison, Jim Stutzman (morning news anchor), Bruce Buls and Nils Von Veh. Later staffers included Larry Snyder, Dave Scott, Bruce Funkhouser, Pamela A. Fuller (news reporter), Robert L. Scott, Paul Carlson, Matt Riedy, Steve Ward, Ken Vincent, and Michael Soto. The KZAM News Department repeatedly won state and regional awards for journalism excellence.
Several of the original KZAM staff later ended up in high tech careers: Corddry, Kertzer and Von Veh were at Microsoft (the always creative Corddry launched the Encarta product), Morrison at RealNetworks, Corry at Attachmate, Hanley at Oracle and Heiman at PlayNetwork. Some of the on-air talent personalities worked at competing communications outlets before pursuing other careers. Seasoned and much beloved KZAM morning news anchor, Jim Stutzman, landed a position at the University of Washington administering, among other things, audio-visual content for a wide range of University programs and campaigns. KZAM's longtime News Director, Denny Fleenor, enjoyed a long career as a news and educational writer and communications manager for Washington State University. Repoter Lee Somerstein went on to be an editor at ABC Radio News and then pursued a successful 25-year career as a communications professional. Joni Balter became a famous columnist and political pundit for The Seattle Times newspaper. A couple of younger KZAM staffers went to law school and became practicing attorneys, including KZAM news reporter, Pamela A. Fuller who, after first working as a news anchor and news-talk-show host for a large West Coast NBC affiliate (KING Broadcasting), developed a specialty in international tax law in New York. Matt Riedy has been in Los Angeles since 2005 pursuing an acting career appearing on shows like Mad Men, True Blood, Big Time Rush and Modern Family. He will also be seen in the movie The Judge with Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall October 10, 2014.
The last two minutes of KZAM's final day of broadcast in 1983 was Porky Pig stammering "That's all folks!"
KZAM was KZAM-FM's sister station. From 1979 through 1981 it played exclusively punk and new wave music as the "Rock of the ‘80s". DJs included: Greg McClure (Spudboy), Cindi Bemel, Kerry Loewen, Michael Stein, Leroy Henry and Stephen Rabow. In the spring of 1981 the station's call letters were changed to KJZZ, with a jazz format that foreshadowed the arrival of "smooth jazz."
The KZAM "family" has stayed in touch over the years, with major reunions about every five years.
- Marty Loken, "Radio in 1963-A Year of Promise Flux and Failure," The Seattle Times, 29 December 1963, This week in TV, p. 19.
- Susan Paynter, KZAM mavericks plan a rockin' reunion, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 23, 2005
- Lee Somerstein, Recalling the heady days of progressive station KZAM, The Seattle Times, April 1, 2005
- KZAM.net - Webcast version of the KZAM format
- Jon Kertzer interview at Museum of History and Industry, July 31, 2002