106.1: Fans continue to tune in, but KRZX remains a mystery
It began, as things sometimes do, with thoughts of arson.
I was driving around listening to music — one of my very favorite things to do — when I heard the piano intro to “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Bob Seger’s flaccid, toothless “homage” to oldies. I thought, “OK. This is it. I’m stopping at the store to buy matches and I’mma burn. Stuff. Down.”
And I’m a Bob Seger fan! “Fire Lake”? Great song! “Mainstreet”? I adore it!
“Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll”? Gaaaaa!! Justifiable homicide! I mean, just play the actual old time rock ‘n’ roll he’s singing about — Buddy Holly or Canned Heat or something! But no, it’s “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” about 873 times per day, over and over and over and…
So, I changed the station with enough force to poke a hole through my engine block.
This was when I landed on… something. I didn’t know what to make of it. Straining to pick out lyrics, I thought I heard “Bobby OD’d on Drano on the night that he was wed.”
Whaaaaa? I (very dangerously) pulled out my phone to Shazam it and learned it was “People Who Died” by The Jim Carroll Band. It’s morbid and fairly disturbing, yet really catchy! I bought the song as soon as I got home.
The song that followed was “Teacher Teacher” by Rockpile. I bought that one, too. I’d never heard either of them before.
No DJ announced what the songs were, and there were no ads. None at all. There was station identification at the top of every hour, per Federal Communications Commission requirements, but that was all. It was only music on 106.1 KRZX.
Several months later, though, the station went mysteriously quiet. No explanation on air or anywhere on the internet; just silence.
I was fairly bummed. Thanks to that station, I had been introduced to some pretty great deep cuts and B-sides, music from the ‘60s through ‘90s that nevertheless was new to me.
A few weeks later, however, scanning through the radio in an attempt to avoid “Money” — don’t bother, Pink Floyd fans, you will never convince me it’s good — I heard “Sweet Jane” by Mott the Hoople.
Wait, what? I never hear that on the radio! Aaaand… yep. KRZX was back on the air, no explanations for its multi-week silence, just classic rock. These silences of varying times have happened every so often since the station went on air in 2012.
I declared right then, with greatest professional confidence, that I would solve this mystery. I mean, how does the station even stay on the air with no ads? Why the occasional silences?
Unfortunately, my professional confidence turned out to be hubris. I’m embarrassed to confess I’ve solved little, if any, of the mystery.
What I do know: According to the FCC, the station is owned by Cochise Media Licenses LLC, which is owned by Ted Tucker. The Cochise Media address on FCC ownership documents is a P.O. box in Jackson, Wyoming, and Tucker may be there, or he may be in Tucson, Arizona. He didn’t return any of my multiple messages over several weeks. Neither did Cochise’s attorney, Susan A. Marshall of Arlington, Virginia.
Tucker did, however, talk to reporter Murphy Woodhouse, then of the Nogales (New Mexico) International newspaper, in January 2015. The reason for Woodhouse’s story, it seems, is that 98.1 KTBX out of Tubac, Arizona, created a similar sort of mystery: no ads, no DJ, no playlist, just music.
Woodhouse, who is now at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, said he had a very difficult time getting hold of notoriously media-shy Tucker and the conversation was friendly until it turned to controversial aspects of the business: “He definitely wasn’t excited to talk about that,” Woodhouse said.
Those controversial aspects are the run-ins Tucker has had with the FCC, including a November 2012 notice of violation regarding station KHSK in Allen, Nebraska, in which the FCC contended that Cochise Broadcasting LLC, also owned by Tucker, did not have an address on file for the station per requirements.
Woodhouse said Tucker felt like that situation in Nebraska was a bit of a “witch hunt. He definitely feels like the victim in that one.”
Tucker got in a similar scrape with the FCC in 2013 and 2014 over KOMJ 1490 in Omaha, Nebraska, when an FCC agent claimed not to be able to find an address for the station. The FCC fined Cochise Broadcasting $17,000 for “failing to operate and staff a main studio with a public inspection file.”
Cochise Broadcsting sold KOMJ to Walnut Radio LLC for $450,000 in late 2014. Also, according to published reports, Cochise Broadcasting sold a Phoenix station in 2004 for $18.7 million.
Penelope Dade, who deals with broadcast license applications for the FCC in Washington, D.C., said the FCC doesn’t require a local address for radio stations if they are owned by a larger company, but does require an address for that company. In the case of Cochise Media Licenses, she said, the P.O. box in Jackson suffices.
All of which is to say, I have no idea where KRZX even is beyond its “Redlands, Colorado” registration. It has a transmitter on Black Ridge, but I don’t know if there is even an office, or a closet, or a wide spot in the road that’s home to KRZX.
Tucker told Woodhouse, according to the Nogales International story, that expenses for stations such as KRZX and KTBX are “out of my pocket.” He didn’t specify a dollar amount, but told Woodhouse that music licensing costs are based on station revenue, so it was cheap for KTBX, which has no revenue. I guess it would be the same for KRZX.
But the unexplained, occasional radio silence? That’s still a mystery.
As for who chooses the music, Tucker told Woodhouse that the song order is determined by a computer, but “what goes into that playlist, the songs that are available on the playlist, a human does that. They decide what’s going to be there and what’s not going to be there.
“There’s so much good music that’s out there that’s just ignored because they’re not the big money. You listen to some of the top 40 stations and you might hear the same artist every hour, the same song every hour. Whatever is hot and popular is played,” Tucker told Woodhouse.
Cochise Media Licenses owns stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nebraska and Idaho. Judging by previously reported stories, the no DJ/no ads format is common to several of them, and I guess it’s entirely possible that the same playlist is being transmitted to multiple stations. But that’s just a guess, because the only way to know for sure is to listen 24 hours a day, find someone in the other stations’ markets to do the same and then compare.
What these stations do have, however, is fans. In 2004, Tucker told Arizona Republic reporter Richard Ruelas that “it’s so satisfying just to hear people be thankful, saying I haven’t heard that song in 30 years.”
That’s part of what inspired Kim Jessup, a Grand Junction tile contractor, to listen: “I’m building bathrooms all day long so the radio is right there. When I hear the same radio ad 20 times a day it makes me crazy. (KRZX) is like KAFM — sometimes they’re brilliant, sometimes you wonder what they’re thinking. You hear some off-the-wall stuff that nobody else plays.”
On a radiolineup.com forum, KRZX fans have posted praise since 2012. In November 2013, Kay and Don Cook wrote, “Love Love Love this station. No commercials and awesome music. Whoever you are picking this music… it is so darn great! Tell us who you are. Can we support your cause? Why are you off the air sometimes?”
“I’ve been listening for almost a week solid now and I don’t think I’ve heard more than one or two songs twice,” wrote Daleen Brown in June 2014. “Frickin awesome. Who knew that Fleetwood Mac made more than three songs, amazing!!”
That’s what has kept me listening, the surprise and sense of discovery, when before I smugly thought I knew so much about classic rock. Among the songs I’ve Shazam-ed: “Now We’re Getting Somewhere” by Crowded House, “Love and Loneliness” by The Motors, “Sweet Lui-Louise” by Ironhorse and “Swallowed by the Cracks” by David & David, to name a very, very few.
So… mystery not really solved, but music redeemed by the old time rock ‘n’ roll that I want to hear.