Originally published in California Jazz Now February 1992.
Photo by Bob Hershon
Pat Henry passed away at the age of 79 in 1999. He founded KJAZ and dedicated 59 years of his life broadcasting and promoting jazz.
“I call Pat Henry the creator.. He set the standard (for the Jazz format). He only picked people with taste. And then he trusted them to the point of allowing them to develop personally as well as professionally. He was not out to control anybody. As great as John Coltrane was, he never told anyone what to play. If they were up there with him, he trusted the magic to come through them.”
-Bob Parlocha, KJAZ
If you approach the question logically, one must pause to wonder why anyone would try to start a Jazz radio station. Jazz has never paid or treated its performers very well, even the most successful progenitors of the art world, in comparison, occupy the lower rungs of the rock pay scale. But let’s say you beat these long odds and build a successful Jazz property. Take the privately owned KKGO in Los Angeles. The station’s Jazz format was born when some musicians from Central Avenue asked for some air time. Things changed from Jazz when the owner, all of a sudden decided to “corner” the classical market and now calls itself “go country”. If you are a “public” station you could be under the opinion that you are safe from these predators, well, think again. The top F.M. Jazz station in the L.A. Basin has just been subjected to a fiscally (physically also) nuisance suit and competing application for the same frequency. All this by a group that thought they could profit by occupying that spot on the dial, even though they never demonstrated the wherewithal to run an operation of that size. Though the case was decided in the group’s favor, the suit could have very well had a different ending. The situation was best expressed by a lawyer’s comments after he obtained a favorable ruling for Pat Henry during an epic battle to save KJAZ. When Pat asked, “how’d we do,” he s aid, “that high pitched whine you just heard was that bullet whistling by your head.” You see, even if I have no resources, I can tell the FCC you are abusive or morally corrupt and you have to spend thousands of dollars proving to the FCC that you aren’t. There is an epidemic of these wolves out there, and the barn door is open.
Pat Henry has suffered and endured all these slings and arrows and more. And in the end he created, from scratch, what might be this country’s top Jazz station, KJAZ. It certainly has out lasted and out played every station in California. “Jazz is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve done staff announcing, but I’ve been principally a Jazz specialist. In the old days when A.M. stations were run by individuals, not these huge corporate entities, they would hire me as a Jazz Man because they liked my popularity and my style. But eventually, they’d find they couldn’t obtain advertising for my programs. I came to the realization by the mid 50’s, about the time I was on KNOB in LA., that the Philistines were coming down the pike, with their intention of buying these stations and turning me and the other broadcasters into windup dolls. It would have driven me crazy. I was already drinking too much, a problem I have since licked. And of course, I would not have been able to play Jazz. The market was wide open. F.M. was in the doldrums. There weren’t many F.M. sets, so hardly anybody listened. KPFA was on up here (The San Francisco Bay Area). A couple of the A.M.’s that kept their F.M.’s were simulcasting but that was about it. So I figured the thing to do, was to build my own station and find some way to make it work.”
“Almost all the stations lost money. The exceptions were KPEN, run by James Gabberts, who played novelty records. Al Leavitt was just about breaking even with KFSR (which became KSAN), the finest classical station in the market; Bill Agee was on that station. KPFC
did simulcasting with KIBE. When I got into it, a big month was four or five thousand doll ars. Everyone worked for minimum wage. Everybody was supposed to sell their own ads. Nobody did. I did all the selling, the logs, wrote copy along with Judd Snyder, who ran the office and answered telephones.
At first I had to work midnight to six on KROW (ICABL) , then run down the street with the logs and radio copy and open KJAZ. I was practically working around the clock. By the winter of 1959 I was able to break even with KJAZ, which was in Berkeley on Telegraph and Russell streets.”
It was even a battle to get the call letters KJAZ. The designation had been given to the Coast Guard during WWII. So the FCC told Pat they were unavailable and gave him KZEE, Pat said, “I didn’t want KZEE. KJAZ was not being used, so through the efforts of an inexpensive trade out lawyer, I got them to return the letters to the FCC and then me.”
There was not a plethora of trained Jazz D.J.’ s at the time. And oddly enough, two of the few trained D.J.’s Pat started with are still
around, Jerry Dean and John Rogers. Pat continued, “Mainly it was a matter of finding good people who had good taste and then sum
them loose. There were, of course, times when the station sounded better than others. With 25 announcers it couldn’t be helped. There weren’t many full-time people, the station just couldn’t
afford them. Very few came in with any back- ground whatsoever. Jerry Dean was working a shift on a Pittsburg station on the weekends
while he made his money working at The American Trust Bank’ during the week. John Rogers had some background in radio; he has
always been in the music business. Some people grew into great programmers like Ray Spaulding. I kept rousting my people to play records from the station library, not the records they brought from home. That was so they wouldn’t play by rote. To me, programming a show is like a form of composition. ‘There was a lot of juggling around over the years. I lost programmers who wanted to play folk or rock, even when the station sounded good. People always blamed the format (Jazz). Then they’d find there wasn’t any money (and little joy) in their new sound.” Perhaps if stations allowed D.J.’s to grow as Pat did, instead of dictating their every move with time tables and colored dots, radio would become more various and interesting. Pat Henry took live recording to a whole other level. Originally he broadcasted out of a place called the Stew Den, near Sather Gate in Berkeley. The prohibitive costs of phone lines and the American Federation of Musicians kept him out of San Francisco. It was then he his upon a brilliant strategy to make remotes viable for KJAZ. The line costs were insane. We didn’t have the remote equipment and the AFM wouldn’t allow us to do tape delays. We snuck a few of them in, like Bill Evans from the Trident. Later on, we had lines that terminated at the Matador, The Keystone Korner and The Great American Music Hall. We only had to pay from the club to a central phone company location downtown on a per use basis. The unions prohibited us from having commercials during the broadcast, so I had the record companies buy schedules of announcements for their latest records. It was crazy, because not only was it co-opted through the local record stores, but the announcements often had more to do with the stores’ desires, than the record companies’, the ‘ads’ often had nothing to do with artist who was playing on the broadcasts. But I earned enough money to keep the lines ‘hot’ across the bay.” Of course, since it was live, there were those occasional unplanned for occurrences: as when a short caused electricity to arc across Milt Jackson’s vibes, or when a prominent actor from Hollywood thought he deserved to play his tenor on the same stage with Sonny Stitt, who, when confronted by pretenders could be aggressively critical. Pat never stepped on the acts with uncalled for chatter, as is the habit nowadays. He let the acts announce themselves and complete their set, before he ran any spots, however long it was. “I just Its it run. Sometimes, the players would get mike fright and nobody would say a word till it was finished.” The reaction of the press and the music ians was mainly positive, with the exception of a few, who wanted to push the station in an experimental or tradition direction. But that would be as stultifying a format as anything else. Just as Pat got a taste of success, the vultures descended upon him and the station. “It was a non-entity, didn’t really exist group, that filed upon about 27 stations. They stayed on me because they knew I didn’t have any money. Everytime the commission (FCC) would vindicate me and renew me they’d appeal. They had these lawyers filing on everybody in town every three years. Now, you only have to renew your FCC license every seven years. They were basically shaking ev eryone down for money, control and spots on the air. It started in 1974 and lasted till 1980. As long as they filed aganist you, you can’t sell. And they offered S1,000,000 with no guarantee of payment. One of the local writers came to my aid and organized a benefit for KJAZ with Tony Bennet, Sarah Vaughan and others. Everyone, congressmen, educators and the press was on my side, but that just ticked the FCC off because they hated to be dictated to. They were just about to bankrupt me, when a local person said, ‘why don’t you sell it to Mayor Lionel Wilson, who was a clo. friend of Jimmy Carter’. The only may you could sell while being filed upon, was a distress sale to a minority. They even attacked Wilson. Jimmy Carter passed through here a few months later and they stopped the attack on Wilson, then the transfer went through. I got out alive.” This, however, wasn’t an unrestricted sale. There was a non-competing clause in Pat’s contract, stating that he could only work for a non-profit station. (Get thee to a nunnery, Pat). Then noncommercial stations had no value to these bad guys. I would’ve been happy to nut one of these stations, but I got caught up in a legal wrangling with a station down south, long enough for things to change for these non-commercial stations to have real value. I really just wanted to duplicate my experience at KJAZ. I had the wherewithal to make studios and libraries work for the DJs and seemed to have some talent for training new programmers. But often now when I approach new stations, (non-commercials) I’m this hoary old broadcaster with a zillion years experience walking into their chicken house wearing the fox outfit. I’m now working out of my home studio, programming for KSDS in San Diego noon to three every Sunday, Saturday one o’clock to five on KCSM San Mateo and KPLU in Seattle. I should mention this may not have been possible without Chuck Huggins of See’s Candy arranging for my underwriting. I even sent them DAT recorders, so I can send them clean live sounding tapes. I would just like to create a property that would be secure from attacks by these pirates. So I could leave behind a Jazz station that would survive to deal with the everyday financial slings and arrows. So I or whoever would suceed me, could take the heat, and once in a while sell their car to pay the taxes.” I never cease to wonder why it’s so damn hard for this beautiful music called Jazz to be played. Whether it’s by programmers or progenitors.