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KOZT’s Community-Oriented Approach to Commercial Radio

KOZT logoOver the weekend I was driving around Mendocino County sampling the radio options. A three hour drive north of San Francisco, the region is comprised of coastal towns, mountains, forests, and inland valleys. Mendocino itself is a big tourist destination, with its quaint New England-style inns, restaurants, and charming shops. Further south, Anderson Valley is a rural community peppered with vineyards, a handful of restaurants and shops, as well as a brewery. On Saturday morning, as I scanned through the radio dial, at times I could only get good reception for two FM radio stations: community radio station KZYX in Boonville (which airs one of my all-time favorite shows) and commercial radio station KOZT (aka “The Coast”) in Fort Bragg. Since I’d met KOZT’s owner Vicky Watts at an event the day before, I decided to make KOZT the soundtrack for my Saturday drive.

When I tuned in to KOZT 95.3 FM just after 7 AM on Saturday, I was surprised to hear a live DJ. During the first mic break that I heard, DJ Russ Faust talked about the weather and front-announced a Mark Knopfler track from a new double CD import that was recently added to the station. After a few songs, there was another mic break and I was delighted to hear a familiar DJ name from the past: Joe Regelski.

Regelski, who I remember from his days co-hosting the morning show with Alex Bennett on “The Quake” in San Francisco in the 1980s, now heads up the news department at KOZT. On Saturday morning he was live in the studio at KOZT providing numerous, regular updates about a dangerous wildfire in the area. As I continued to listen, I was struck by how local KOZT sounded. Not only did they have live DJs in the studio (and it was early on a Saturday morning), but they also provided important local news updates regarding road closures and evacuations related to wildfires in the region. Even the commercials that were played had a local feel, from an ad for a local winery, to commercials for a local restaurant/music venue, a nearby hospital group, a music store, and a family-owned truck dealer.

Mendocino Coast (Photo: J. Waits)

Mendocino Coast (Photo: J. Waits)

The DJs took regular mic breaks and not only front-announced all songs, but also back-announced every song that was played. The music was a mixture of new and classic rock, blues, and some surprises. Although there were plenty of familiar artists and songs (Dire Straits, Robert Plant, Pretenders, Beatles, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan), there were also some lesser known tracks. I was a bit mesmerized when the DJ played the instrumental Taj Mahal track “Kalimba.” I’d never heard it before and the DJ said that it was a live track that had been recorded on the Flip Wilson show (apparently in 1973).

I was most surprised when I heard the song “Who Stole My Radio” by Shemekia Copeland. With lyrics lambasting the current state of commercial radio, it seemed like a brave choice for a commercial radio playlist. In the song, Copeland pleads:

“I want passion. I want feeling. I want to be rocked from the floor to the ceiling…Something’s missing when I turn off the lights…I want to know…who stole my radio?….Who stole the funk? who stole the soul? Who took the rock out of rock and roll? It’s a shame. It’s a crime. What I’m hearing is just a waste of my time….”

She continues by putting blame on corporate radio owners:

“Might be the fat man…in his new Jaguar, making lists and telling you what to play. Same ten songs night and day, what I’m hearing sounds all wrong…Hey there Mr. DJ, baby I’m on your side. Rip up that playlist, forget those suits and ties. I hate to beg, don’t make me plead…”

As I listened to that song on KOZT, I couldn’t wait to hear what the DJ would have to say about it. When Russ Faust back announced the song, he shared an anecdote about meeting Copeland once. He said that he had “applauded her on the song” and agreed that radio had been going down hill. With that, he also mentioned that they’d recently had a caller from South Carolina (KOZT streams online and had several mobile apps) praise KOZT for being different than anything on the radio. The caller said, “it’s not about the music, it’s about y’all.” And with that, Russ Faust added that the DJs at KOZT are like a family and that they are “doing what they love.”

I’d have to agree with both DJ Russ Faust and with the caller from South Carolina. Listening to KOZT on a September Saturday, I could feel the personality of the station and it was obvious that it was inextricably linked to its community. Small town, locally-owned commercial radio stations are a dying breed, so it was refreshing to get a glimpse into the world of KOZT in Fort Bragg, California.

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12 Responses to KOZT’s Community-Oriented Approach to Commercial Radio

  1. Eoin Kenny September 10, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I listen in Edmonton, 2500 kilometres away! And when was the last time a real honest to God DJ mailed you plum jam? Rock steady, my K-O-Zed-T friends!

  2. Bruce Vogel September 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    KOZT is the best …so,much


  3. dave™© September 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    I’m a big fan, listening mainly on the internet. KOZT has the only “morning show” I listen to regularly. Another of their “community-oriented” broadcasts – on Labor Day, they had live coverage of a local parade. They did the same thing on 4th of July. I thought that was pretty cool!

  4. Phil September 10, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    After Burning Man, I was returning to Tucson by way of the Coast route and was pleasantly surprised to tune into KOZT and listened to it as long as the signal held out. When I got home, I tuned in to the live streaming and now it is all that I listen to. What a refreshing station! It is so wonderful to actually hear live DJs, who put thought into their shows and I too love the local news and vibe. It’s such a shame that stations like this are so few and far between. Thank you KOZT!!!!

  5. Terri Ebrey September 10, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    KOZT is the heartbeat of our community. Good neighbors and good music. Tune in for an episode of “I Love This Town” on KOZT to get a taste of what it’s like to live here. We are a friendly, sometimes hokey, compassionate, smart, talented bunch of people! So lucky to have this unique radio station and all the people who work there.

  6. Richard Beban September 11, 2012 at 12:40 am #

    When I’m not listening to local stations here in Paris to learn French, I listen to KOZT exclusively. Best radio station in the world.

  7. Bob September 11, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    KOZT is likely the best commercial music station in the USA. It has a distinctly Northern California vibe, not forgetting the important legacy of the music from that region. among the eclectic mix of new and classic tunes, they’ll still manage to slip in a nice long late 60s jam from a Bay Area band from time to time. My only slight gripe is that I wish their stream sounded better, but that’s a small price to pay to hear a truly live and local music station that reflects and represents its community.

  8. Deb September 12, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    I like The Coast too… I was told the correct term is “Radio Personality” instead of DJ. Disc Jockey is for those who play music at weddings and bars….has anyone else heard this?

  9. Jennifer Waits September 13, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Deb– That’s curious. I think it depends on the DJ/radio personality, but am interested to hear what others say. I’m also a radio DJ and refer to myself as such, for whatever that’s worth.

  10. ed z September 13, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    i have a show at a 15000 watt college radio station in cleveland, oh. i refer to myself as a radio programmer. i think the term “radio personality” stretches the truth a bit, and these days, the term DJ is mostly relates to club DJs and the like. it doesn’t really matter how other people refer to what i do, i’m just flattered and pleased that they listen to my station and my show, whether over the air or on the internet.

  11. Steve September 13, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    I think anybody who would fuss about such a distinction probably isn’t worth your time. “Radio personality” sounds pretty pretentious to me. Like your “personality” is more important than the music you play? In my experience, no matter how witty I think I am, people are tuning in to hear good music. Not my “personality”.


    The Malderor & Dr. Junk Show

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  12. Russ Faust March 17, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Thank you for your kind words … it is always nice to hear about how things are coming across on that side of the speakers. I saw that someone mentioned Kate’s regular feature called “I Love This Town” and I must say that those words ring so true for all of us here. We love the kind of Radio we do and the amazing people we do it with and, most of all, the incredible place where we live … and we hope that comes through in every mic break.
    One example of what I am trying to do for our community right now is detailed in this article:
    This local landmark sits right across from our studios and has been practically abandoned by the out-of-town owners … I have been working with our local SBDC folks (The West Company) for over a year on trying to revive this part of our town’s historic charm. We have just started our campaign on RocketHub asking for friends who feel the same to give “Just Five Bucks” and then encourage five friends to do the same … hoping that we can turn a lot of Lincolns into BIG change for our small community!
    If you can help spread the word, please search for “Old Coast Hotel” and Like, Pin, Tweet, Blog and Share from there!
    Thanks again!

    Russ Faust
    Mornings on Mendocino County’s FM – The Coast

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