Over 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.
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.