In our travails to publicize the Jazz Society concert series, we were always looking for ways to introduce folks to jazz. In Lincoln, jazz was only broadcast on the radio for two hours on Sunday evening on a usually rock and roll station. They were playing really stupid sounding commercial fusion stuff. I started to help program that show, by introducing myself to the DJ and then bringing down stacks of records to play. That ensured that some good stuff was played each Sunday.
Soon after, I learned that a group of community activists, led by Ron Kurtenbach, a Lincoln grassroots political activist and anarchist, had applied for a license with the government to form a listener sponsored community radio station. They were incorporated as Sunrise Communications. They intended to have programs run by volunteers who would broadcast according to their personal interests. This seemed to be a good way to expand Lincoln's music scene so I associated myself with their cause.
Their application with the Federal Communications Commission had been stalled for three years because the one available open non-commercial frequency was close to Channel 6 in Omaha. Channel 6 was worried that this little 10 watt station was going to interfere with their 100,000 watt signal. Their picture quality in Lincoln was fuzzy and substandard anyway since the city lay more than 60 miles from Channel 6's transmitter location.
Our lawyers had negotiated a deal that allowed Sunrise to do a broadcast study using our prospective transmitter in order check the TVs in houses within a mile and a half of the transmitter site for interference.
In late 1977, we trudged through the snow and knocked on hundreds of people's doors to ask if we could glance at their TV screen as we performed our broadcast tests. We were looking for the charcteristic herringbone interference pattern that would show if we were truly interfering. When the tests were complete, we found that we interfered with one TV set located 100 yards from the transmitter in a trailer park located right at the foot of our antenna. We could eliminate the interference with a 2 dollar RF-filter.
Having proved that we would cause no interference trouble, the FCC granted our radio staion, KZUM (pronounced ka-zoom) it's license to broadcast on Valentine's Day, 1978. In anticipation of being granted our license, we did practice broadcasts from our studio several weeks before, which we recorded on the station's portable Nakamichi tape recorder and reviewed later. On the day we received approval the station still did not have a phone connection from the studio to the transmitter. That came a day or two later.
I did my practice jazz program the Valentine's evening and recorded a half-hour broadcast. The guy who had the program right after me, Mason Youngman, added on a half-hour of new wave rock and roll. Then we grabbed the Nakamichi, piled into his van, drove to the studio site at the Lincoln Yellow Cab lot in sub-zero weather at the tail end of a blizzard, directly attached the tape player to the transmitter, and did the first official broadcast. We listened to our recorded program playing on the radio in Mason's van while we froze our asses off.
The first tune broadcast that Valentine's Day around 10pm was Miles Davis' version of My Funny Valentine from his NAACP benefit performance in 1963, one of the all-time great moments in recorded jazz.
KZUM has operated since that time with a volunteer broadcasting staff, each of them doing a show that they love. The station started out broadcasting from 6AM to midnight and moved to a 24 hour broadcast schedule about a year after it started operating. The station subsisted on its creaky 10 watt transmitter until the late-80's when it was able to upgrade its equipment.
KZUM is still alive 31 years later and now broadcasts a much stronger signal, 1500 watts. You can hear then for 60 miles now, to the outskirts of Omaha. They have a website now http://www.kzum.org. Maybe someday they'll webcast. A little station in Lincoln, Nebraska has a lot to offer the world.