The bad news: San Antonio hasn't had 24/7, on-the-air jazz since the megacorporate-owned smooth jazz station changed its format to "jammin' hits."
The good news: You can still hear jazz every day; and as station managers and underwriters discover the desirable demographics (well-educated, professional/academic/creative, usually with disposable income) of the ever-growing jazz audience, airplay is expanding.
College Radio Takes the Lead
In the '90s, deregulation spawned a massive corporate buyout of radio stations nationwide. Revenue became paramount; playlists were centralized and individual and local programming reduced or eliminated. The role of airing local, regional, and non-commercial music fell largely to college stations like Trinity's KRTU and San Antonio College's KSYM. These stations, following a mandate of community service and education, use students and community volunteers for on-air talent and programming. Everbody benefits from the mix: Students get hands-on experience; the audience gets the benefit of knowledgeable volunteer DJs, who usually format shows based on their area of expertise.
The station also benefits. College stations rely largely on fundraising events, membership drives, and business underwriting to cover operating expenses; many of the long-time volunteer DJs have built followings of loyal listeners who support the stations financially in ways cash-strapped students cannot.
KRTU-91.7 FM (www.krtu.org): 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily
At present, KRTU leads the pack in sheer number of hours of jazz: 5-10 p.m., seven days a week. Operations manager Ben Donnelly programs a successful, eclectic mix: Dizzy Gillespie might be followed by Roomful of Blues, John Coltrane by Arturo Sandoval, Diana Krall by a local or regional artist.
"I've listened to some of the best jazz stations in the world, and Donnelly does everything right," says drummer Gerry Gibbs, whose hit show on Friday nights highlights his own unconventional approach to music, featuring anecdotes and outtakes from players he's known. Gibbs, whose father is renowned vibrophonist Terry Gibbs, grew up in New York and Los Angeles and has played with some of the best-known names in jazz. In a separate interview, Donnelly returns the compliment: "The audience loves Gerry because he knows what he's talking about."
A large contingent of the jazz audience is typified by two of KRTU's popular volunteer DJs, Charles Parrish and Dr. Bradley Kayser. Parrish's show, "The Jazz Lab," airs Tuesday nights at seven. Kayser's program, "The Jitterbug Waltz," follows at 8 p.m., featuring straight-ahead jazz. Parrish and Kayser have built a strong following over the years, and their efforts have brought about annual jazz concerts featuring outstanding national artists at reasonable prices (see related article, "Jazzbugs in June").
KSYM-90.1FM (www.ksym.org): 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays
"KSYM has always been about the love of the music," says station manager of 10 years John Onderdonk. They began playing jazz years ago "because it's an important part of the community, and at the time, nobody else was doing it." Saturday morning jazz starts at seven with Carl Stewart. Popular Bobby J, the station's second-longest-tenured DJ, follows with a mainstream show at nine, followed by Rocky Boschert and Dan Klein from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Boschert, a self-avowed "non-purist, tired of the chauvenistic approach to jazz," likes to create controversy and interest by playing "stuff that people call up and say they don't like."
KSYM's mixed approach works; the Saturday jazz audience has been loyal and financially supportive, says Onderdonk.
KQXT-101.9 (www.softrock1019.com): 8 a.m. to noon Sundays, 8 p.m. to midnight Saturdays
At the commercial end of the spectrum is Sunday Morning Jazz on KQXT Soft Rock 101.9, from 8 a.m. until noon, with David Muñoz. Muñoz, whose voice is smooth as the jazz he plays, has garnered a loyal following over the last decade; his show recently placed first in ratings for adults aged 25-54 and 35-64. The format has been so successful that the station is adding another slot on Saturdays, from 8 p.m. to midnight. Muñoz, who plays local, regional, national, and international artists, also hosts Thursday Night Jazz at Mark's on the River Walk.
KSTX-89.1 (www.tpr.org): 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, noon Sundays
Texas Public Radio's jazz programming on Saturday nights is short on time but long on quality. All shows feature knowledgeable hosts, great production values, and internationally-known guest artists. At 7 p.m. (repeated Sunday at noon) is Jim Cullum's "River Walk, Live from the Landing," produced locally and distributed to over 200 radio stations nationwide, followed by Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz at 8 p.m. JazzSet, at 9 p.m., features live jazz from festivals and clubs around the world.
24-Hour Jazz Station?
Two of the River Walk's most successful venues, the Landing and Swig, book jazz seven nights a week year round. Festivals like Jazz'sAlive and KQXT's Summer Jazz Fest draw huge crowds every year. "San Antonio's could definitely support a 24-hour jazz station," says KSYM's Onderdonk. "The audience is here."