Sunday, April 2 will not only be Community Radio Day, as declared by mayor Dave Sakrison, it’s also the 25th anniversary of the first broadcast aired by KZMU — Moab’s community radio station. The station will celebrate with a “birthday soiree” at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center (MARC), 111 East 100 North, on April 2 from 4 to 6 p.m. The event is open to the public, with a requested donation.
The station has come a long way since it began broadcasting out of a trailer with a 100-watt transmitter, program director Christy Williams said. Williams was there at the beginning, she said, so “I can compare and contrast why KZMU is, in my opinion, the best radio station that Moab has ever had.”
Before KZMU, Moab’s only radio station was KURA (later KMOB), a commercial AM station that played adult contemporary music and where Williams worked as program manager.
“ [It] was still very commercial and it was very fixed about its programming,” Williams said. “ ... It left a whole bunch of people out in what kind of music was played and what kind of voices were heard, and the fact that it was commercial itself ... ”
Longtime Moab resident Carl Rappe came up with the idea of a community radio station to fill what he saw as a void.
“There was really nothing going on as far as radio or anything really. It was during one of the down times in [Moab’s] boom-and-bust cycle,” Rappe said. “So I was hanging out with some friends ... talking about radio and just said hey, we should probably start [a station].”
Williams and Rappe wrote the first grant proposal and the FCC license application to get the station started, Rappe said. Together with friends, they formed a board and threw fundraisers at Rappe’s restaurant, the Main Street Broiler. The movie “Thelma and Louise” was being filmed in Moab at the time and actress Susan Sarandon, her family and film crew members donated to help the station get started.
The process took three years, according to Rappe. Then, on April 2, 1992, KZMU went on the air for the first time.
Seven years later, KZMU moved to its current building on Rocky Road and upgraded the sound equipment.
In the past few years, the station has kept growing and adapting, said station manager Marty Durlin. KZMU has strengthened partnerships with community nonprofits and hired new, younger staff — music director Serah Mead and accountant and administrative assistant Kik Grant.
The station has a new program with the Moab Music Festival, Durlin said, and recently added a new science show, Science Moab, to its Friday lineup. They have collaborated on a monthly radio book club with Back of Beyond Books and produced their second year of the live, original radio drama “Downtown Abbey” this winter. The station has also started hosting “Tiny Station Concerts” featuring live bands and a small studio audience. In April, KZMU will organize Youth Rock Camp Moab.
The anniversary comes 1 1/2 years after the federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting stopped providing funding to the station, and since then, the station has been funded entirely by donations, Durlin said.
“[CPB] just felt that this wasn’t big enough to be a viable operation and worth their funding ... I think it’s a wrong-headed policy,” Durlin said. “ ... [T]he problem is that they don’t recognize the value of these small shoestring rural organizations,” Durlin added. “And of course they’re tremendously valuable and they can be a virtual town square, a meeting place. It’s a cultural institution, it’s an educational institution, it’s a way of discussing the main issues of the time in a small place that no one else is going to cover.”
In the coming years, the station may have to make changes to survive, said station engineer Bob Owen. Still, some things haven’t changed.
“The dynamism is there because our situation is fluid,” said Owen. “I think that the signs of the future are fairly good ... To me, it’s amazing the way that it has come this far, that it came from a trailer to an actual building and has become this sort of community.”
Williams said KZMU remains an important resource for the community.
“KZMU is the best ... because of its diversity and variety and the number of voices you hear, and the fact that it’s an open platform for freedom of expression,” Williams said. “It is rare for a town this size to have something like this. It’s a tremendous resource to have it grow into the kind of community institution that it is now. I’m just so proud to have been a part of it.”
The station hosts 150 volunteers, including DJs, show hosts, budget and development committee members and other behind-the-scenes positions.
Richard Schwartz has been hosting his radio show Amarillo Highway for 19 years. Over the years, he says, KZMU’s core values remain the same.
“What stayed the same is a real commitment to bringing good community radio to friends and neighbors ... “ he said.
Jon Gottschalk — DJ Fjord Lord on his show Get Psyched — is a more recent addition.
“[M]ainly the value to me is not so much to have a place to speak or say anything but just to have quality music on the airwaves,” he said. “It’s cool to have rock and roll in the desert ... to have stuff from all over the world just floating through the ether in the middle of what someone called nowhere.”