Jazz Travels



SJ.COM: Is "Smooth Jazz" still doing it for you after all these years? Are you still feeling the passion for the music?

RS: Yeah, sure. But I got my big chance in the 70's with jazz. I played a lot of fusion, free form stuff. In my opinion, Smooth Jazz is the evolution of fusion. Milder fusion, the original fusion was pretty electrc. I worked at KRE in Berkely (which became BLX).

After that station switched I got into news from '79 to '92 because I just coulddn't have anybody telling me what to play. I did end up working for KKSF in the early 90's for a little extra cash. I used to think that some of the music was great and that some was just not.

I also feel that it's the instrumental side of the format that has evolved to the more forefront. The vocals that are currently getting play in the format puzzle me. We used to play really eclectic vocals and now smooth jazz stations play AC vocals.

Also, I'm discouraged by the single service that the labels are providing the format. I think a good majority of our listners want to hear more than one song. That's why the Smoothjazz.com chart is so valuble because you show CDs.

As a jazz fan, there's still alot that puzzles me within the format.

SJ.COM: Why's that?

RS: I got into radio because I liked music, when I heard a piece of music that I liked, I wanted to share it with someone else.

The tightness of the format drives me crazy. We don't add a lot of stuff here, but we do take a chance at this station and play stuff that other stations may not go on.

SJ.COM: How long has Smooth Jazz been in Santa Rosa?

RS: The station has been on the air for 7 years. But we started with a Sunday morning jazz show on our AC station, KZST, before that. KJZY signed on in November of 1995. The owner, who is a jazz fan and a fan of KKSF, decided to do a full time Smooth Jazz station. Gordon (Zlot) said, "Let's try Smooth Jazz". Gordon started up KZST in 1971, it was the first FM station between here and Portland, OR.

SJ.COM: What do you think of all of the cover tunes coming down the pike?

RS: Being a jazz radio guy, I see cover tunes is a jazz tradition. I think there's heavier interest in them now because artists see that radio plays them.

SJ.COM: Smooth Jazz live, is a whole different animal than what gets played on the radio.

RS: Every concert I've been to in this format has shown the artists stretching out. P1's in the audience just love the musciians cutting loose.

I personally love drummers, and I don't like drum machines, so it's great to see these bands live.

SJ.COM: Do you test your music or work with a consultant?

RS: Lee Hansen of KSSJ advises us. Regarding testing the music, I can't help be feel that auditorium testing is driving the format into oblivion. You can't play 8-10 seconds of a song and have it test well. "She Walks This Earth" by Sting is a great song, everyone loves it, but yet it doesn' test well. Please.

Anybody programming a station based solely on the results of these tests are simply not a music fan. And you're going to get a mediocre station from this result.

SJ.COM: Ratings seem to be elusive in this format outside of major cities.

RS: Personally, I'm looking forward to a better approach to ratings, new technology. Like this "People Meter" that I'm hearing about. You wear this thing like a pager during your waking hours and apparently it picks up any radio frequency that you would hear during the day. Did you know that only 30% of the people who have agreed to fill out diaries actually return them?

SJ.COM: No. Geesh.

RS: I understand that some radio people are fighting this new approach to ratings because a lot of stations are going to lose shares. It would really help out Smooth Jazz radio though.

SJ.COM: It's a challenge having to play the ratings game in the current Arbitron climate isn't it? Our listeners aren 't available for the present way the ratings are determined.

RS: And the smooth jazz audience is so perfect for advertisers. There may not be as many as the AC audience, but they have a lot more money and they are not afraid to spend it.

SJCOM: What's the deal with new music? Are you happy with the direction that the format is heading and what would you personally like to hear more of from the new stuff?

RS: I think that the format has already scared away a lot of new artists. The artists are doing what they need to do for airplay rather than making the music they want to make. If you get a song from an established artist that sounds like a song from a brand new artists who's making this kind of music to get airplay, you're going to play the established artist. That's the way it's going.

SJCOM: How is KJZY contributing to getting the word out about new music?

RS: I listen to all music that comes in, doesn't matter what label. We have a feature called 'NEW ON TUESDAY' where people can vote on new tune. I even went out and bought the new Rod Stewart CD, which has Michael Brecker on it, just to test it in our format.

SJCOM: What was the response?

RS: Quite good.

SJCOM: What's it like working so closely with the owner of the station?

The owner is truly the program director. He listens to the radio station, likes what we do and has turned down offers to sell, so we're pretty lucky in that respect.

He understands me and knows that I rail against radio tightness. He agrees with me that a song does not have to fit a formula to get play, it just has to be a great song. We both also like "spice" from different formats which makes us unique I think.

SJ.COM: What artist(s) do you think will be the next core artist(s) (the next Rick Braun, Boney James, or Sade)?

RS: Euge Groove has arrived as a core artist, Steve Oliver is supposed to be great live and that helps. Eric Marienthal is another artist that I am watching, musically speaking he is great. Really strong personality - He should be a core artist.

SJ.COM: If you could cross over any sound or artist into the format without concern of risking ratings, who or what would you introduce to Smooth Jazz? Why?

RS: We already play a lot of "spice" to enhance the format. Like some jazz, Wes Montgomery, Oscar Peterson, you know the pop songs like "Watermelon Man", "Take 5". We're mixing in Brazilan, Latiin, some soul, even Reggae.
If I can get the boss to go for it, I mix in a little of everything.

But if I were to really do what personally appeals to me the most I'd have to say some jazz fusion from the 70's. Like "Sun Goddess" from Ramsey Lewis. But then again, if I had a free hand here I'd probably drive the station right into the ground. (Laughs.)

SJ.COM: What are you doing in your market that you feel is unique to the format?

RS: "Jazz Tracks" on Thursday nights where we feature an entire CD. This week is the new Bob James. We also do Listener parties 3 or 4 times a year. 1500 people show up to the Vineyard Creek Hotel and the KJ winery we get up to 3000 people!

SJ.COM: Impressive.
What was the last live show you caught?

RS: Eric Marienthal. I don't go to much live music shows anymore. Woriking in radio so long, I guess I tend to go to bed early because I'm doing the morning show here.

SJ.COM: What's in your CD player (home or car)?

RS: Rick Braun / Boney James -- Love that album. Coletrain and the Soul Sonics. You should check them out, they are kind of a funk jazz fusion Latin deal.

SJ.COM: Outside of radio, are you an enthusiast for anything else (wine,
golf, movies, etc.)?

RS: Sports, I play soccer.


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