Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cool Radio

I guess I'll always chuckle at the irony of it. The date was April 1, 1986 and KCNR, 1410 AM inaugurated its brief, improbable jazz run on the Portland airwaves. April Fools Day. How totally appropriate. A script writer couldn't have improved on it.
It had been KCNR, a yawner of formula pop music. You know the routine. A hundred tunes. Rotate 'em  ad nauseum and toss in slick, over-produced stattion IDs between songs.. Apparently there were problems with the ownership of KCNR which put the station in a sort of limbo. A need was at hand for KCNR to be "baby sat" until a new owner could b e found.
I never quite understood his role in all of this, but a man from a long-time Portland radio family, Bill Failing (last name yet another irony) stepped in attempting to steady the ship. Failing called upon veteran jazz deejay Ray Horn as Program Director, instructing him to assemble a crew of announcers. To his credit, Horn was able to entice a surprisingly skilled and experienced deejays. And a few wide eyed novices as well. Bill Failing's next move was to bring in former "KISN Good Guy" Roger Morgan to manage the station. Roger had been one of those jocks in the window at the corner of NW 10th and Burnside; spinnin' the hits for the kiddies. His jazz knowledge was suspect, to be kind. But Failing needed an experienced radio man to set up a sales department and to start wheeling and dealing to get commercials on the air. Morgan knew the business and managed to pull one rabbit after another out of the hat. More on that a bit later. 
Meanwhile, Ray Horn had gotten together a pretty capable crew with Roger Hart, Bob Dietsche, Steve Brockway, Rita Rega, Peggy Calame, Don Manning, and yours truly among others.
Within a few months, Ray Horn began to realize the challenge facing what was now known as KKUL, Cool Jazz Radio. Remember, this was a commercial radio station with an expectation of paying all of its announcers. As the station began to fall seriously behind in these obligations, Horn resigned, leaving an opening for the position of Program Director. Two of us applied for the position, and to my surprise and delight, I was hired. At that point, I was the 6-10 AM host on weekdays. At the end of my shift, I would assume the PD duties until completing an eight hour workday. I added a couple of KBOO stalwarts in Jim Andrews and Bob Riddle, both valuable assets and extremely dedicated  jazzophiles.
The station was located in a rather dilapidated building at the top of Portland Heights. It offered a gorgeous view of Mt. Hood, but that view was not visible to Cool's 
announcers. Directly across the hall, with their nose in the air, was "rock your socks off" KCNR-FM. They were nice enough neighbors, but it was pretty clear that KKUL was considered Triple A by comparison. Eventually, that location became unavailable to us and we were on the verge of being a homeless radio station. Ever heard of such a thing? 
Well, Roger Morgan was turning over every rock, trying to find a new location for COOL. Miraculously, he was able to forge an agreement with the Gentner family, owners of what was then known as the Imperial Hotel at the corner of SW Broadway and Stark streets.  While Morgan was setting up numerous trades (construction, glass,  other materials, engineering, electrical, etc.) to build a studio in the hotel lobby, the station moved to temporary quarters to NE 153rd Avenue north of Sandy Boulevard. It was little more than the original "radio shack", smack in the middle of nowhere. We called it "The Killing Fields", after a book and movie from that period. The utilities were not always dependable; the mice  made frequent visits; and overall, the atmosphere was not exactly as celebratory as the music emanating from the shack.
Roger Morgan's budget was restricted to trades for commercials, and that was a challenge. As a result, progress on the new digs was at a snail's pace. After six months of negotiations and construction, the job was finally finished. A small miracle when on thinks about it, because there was no money to actually pay any of the sub contractors. But eventually, after several delays, we moved from the killing fields to the Imperial Hotel. With offices in the hotel and a very stylish and comfortable studio looking out the window to SW Broadway, we were ready to take on the world.
It was not lost on me that Roger had re-invented the old KISN radio model. The "window to the world" had simply moved from Burnside to Broadway. But in the midst 
of all the pride and excitement of a cool studio for COOL Radio, there remained lingering
 doubt about the future of the station.                                                                     
We achieved many small triumphs, however, perhaps in denial of ongoing problems. Roger put together a trade with the Portland Brewing Company. It resulted in a weekly live broadcast hosted by Steve Brockway and featuring legendary bassist Leroy Vinnegar. Morgan also sealed a deal with the now long gone jazz club, The Hobbit, to broadcast a Sunday afternoon jam session. He even engineered a trade with trumpet player and print shop owner Rick Homer to produce business cards, stationary, bumper stickers and other very professional printed materials for the station. 
All of those involved with the station were putting in Herculean effort based on love of the music. The on-air personalities weren't being paid, but steadfastly showed up to do their shifts, even paying for their downtown parking! Management, pretty much Roger Morgan regarding finances and myself in the music department, was making every attempt to help the station onto a path of progress.
The sales staff consisted primarily of people inexperienced the selling of air time. They were good, jazz loving folks who wanted to do their part keeping the station afloat. The only barriers they faced, other than their inexperience, were these:
1- they were trying to sell jazz to a listening public drenched in pop and rock
2- they represented an AM station in a world increasingly dominated by FM
3- the station was a "day timer", broadcasting from sunup to sundown, a distinct disadvantage in the business aspect of radio.
4- even at full power, the station had a weak signal. It didn't even cover the metropolitan Portland area with a strong, dependable voice.
5- the sales staff was working on a straight commission basis. There were no benefits, not even paid parking.
6- the station had to rely on local advertising. Agencies representing national brands wanted the "top five radio stations in the market." It's easy to understand that  KKUL, an AM, daytime station playing, of all things, JAZZ, hadn't cracked the top five!
During all of the time these good and not so good things were going on, an ongoing effort was being made to sell the station. For2 1/2 years, from April Fools Day, 1986 to the fall of 1988, COOL had been owned by a Berkeley, California court judge. He had taken over ownership in lieu of a debt owed to him. My understanding is that he made an effort to maintain the existing jazz format to a new owner. I recall that two jazz loving celebrities, Clint Eastwood and Kareem Abdul Jabbar were approached in regards to buying1410 AM. Both politely declined.
Eventually, the station was sold, and, I might add, in a state of disarray, disappointment, and even anger over unmet obligations to a multitude of people. 
KKUL, 1410 AM, COOL Jazz Radio, became KBNP (business news Portland) and remains so today. 
On October 15, 1988, the few of us who remained, packed up station belongings and bid adieu to one another. It was a short but musically beautiful ride of 2 1/2 years. It was a testimony to the dedication and determination of many that it lasted that long. 
Many of the jocks moved on to other stations. Ray Horn and a crew that included Steve Brockway, Rita Rega  and Peggy Caalme hooked up with another daytimer, this time in Vancouver, Washington, for a brief period of time. Bob Dietsche had long stretches at both KBOO and KOAP/KOPB. Jim Andrews continued a great run of many years at KBOO as did Don Manning. Bob Riddle worked a great shift at KMHD before
 returning to hi original home at KBOO, where he remains today. My own radio path included simultaneously working at KKUL and KOPB for over two years. When KOPB dropped its classical music and jazz in 1995, I took a breather from jazz radio until 1997 when KMHD manager Tom Costello came a-callin'. I answered the bell, eventually settling in on  Sunday afternoons from 2-6 PM until early 2014.
Looking back, COOL Jazz Radio was a mostly wonderful, worthwhile, sometimes frustrating artistic thrill ride. It was, in essence, a thirty month time filler between "serious" radio stations.
And, just to make it clear, who was it that was heard on COOL? Well, how about Bird, Miles, Louis, Ella, Monk, Duke, Bud, Chet, Konitz, Frishberg, Shearing, Rosolino, Sarah, Oscar, Desmond, Scotty,  Dameron,  Jackie and Roy, Clifford, Getz, Lady Day,Kenton, Hwak, JJ, Navarro, Ben, Sinatra, Stitt, Cedar,  Marsh, Lee M and Lee W, Mobley, Horace, Burrell,  Lester, Brubeck, Dexter, Holman, Peggy L, Thad, Brookmeyer, Marmarosa, Trane, Kessel,  Torme, Hodges, Ray, Flanagan, Matt D, Peppers: Art and Adams, Barron, Fats, Teddy, Mingus, Troup, Jamal, Leroy V,   Basie, Joe W, Adderley, Tatum, Lucky T,  Sheldon,  Jobim, Terry, Roy,  Barry H, Paich,  Adderley,Mose,Anita, Turrentine Chambers, the Greens: Grant, Freddie and Urbie; Jolly, Farmer, Zoot, Al, Broadbent, Quebec, Betty, Tristano, Pass, Mulligan, Milt, the Byrds: Chalrlie and Donald.Rowles, Criss, Hamp, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross Gibbs, McLean, Hall, Blue, , Edwards, Farlow, Hayes, Sloane, Haig, the Bennys: Carter, Goodman & Golson, McShann, Tyner, HHOP, Taylor,  Rollins, McShann,  Shelly,Quinichette, Mance, Mark M, Dorough, McPartland, Max, Tjader, Zeitlin, the Lewis's: John and Mel: Cobb, Monty, Parlan, Shank, Costa, Higgins, Carmen, Friedman,  Kamuca, MJQ, Carl P, Donaldson, all the Joneses, all the Reds, all the Smiths and 101 other jazz champions.                                                                                  
To this day, over 25 years since its demise, I still hear exuberant praise of COOL from time to time. In retrospect, even if many of felt we had been "used" between owners, COOL Jazz Radio, with all its warts, was a journey to Oz. A dream come true. It happened just once and will never happen again. I'm glad to have been a part of it.                                                                  


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