Dennis Newhall, co-founder of the returned K-ZAP


Listen to the new K-ZAP at or at 93.3 FM.

After a 23-year-long nap, the rock radio station K-ZAP is celebrating its one-year anniversary of returning to the air. The station originally launched in 1968 and ran for 23 years, before returning last summer. Now at 93.3 FM, the all-volunteer station includes Dennis Newhall, a staff member at the original station and co-founder of the new K-ZAP. SN&R distracted Newhall from his work long enough to talk about how radio has changed, album-orientated rock, the K-ZAP cat and more.

How has the first year been?

It’s been pretty amazing to sort of pull a radio station out of our hats and make it, I think, sound great, like a well-funded radio station, for a year. [It’s] been quite a feat. We’re all really pleased with it.

What went into bringing it back?

We wanted to bring back a station in the spirit of the original K-ZAP, which was a rock station that not only played a lot of the great music that existed already, but continued to move forward and look for new music that fit the sound. We felt that Sacramento had been missing a forward-looking rock station for 23 years; it was on the air for 23 and off for 23. And so, several of us, with history at K-ZAP and other rock stations in Sacramento, jumped on the opportunity when the FCC announced that they were going to grant low-power FM licenses.

How has radio changed from 20 years ago?

Radio really started to change about the time K-ZAP was experiencing its biggest financial success and its biggest audience. Corporations were starting to, well, had been, by then, for quite some time been using a lot of research, a lot of kind of conservative approaches to bring in listeners in order to sell more ads and boost ad revenue. Much more of a corporate model for profits than a way to serve the community in some way. Which, up until the last ’70s, early ’80s, the laws were in place that assured the radio was more a community, mom-and-pop entity, than a big corporate thing. … We’re actually taking kind of a retro approach in what we do. We’re reaching back to what was called album-orientated rock, or AOR, in the ’70s and ’80s.

By album-oriented, you mean …

Well, we don’t follow necessarily what the hit singles are. … James Taylor put out his most successful album in years, and we didn’t like the singles, they didn’t fit us. They were like middle-of-the-road songs, but he had a couple of really good introspective rockier songs on the album, so we played those instead of the ones that the record labels might want to have you focus on. And, you know, the ability to play more than one track, instead of just the single.

What’s with the cat logo?

I’m trying to remember the year, because I was there then, I would say it was about 1973. Roger Shepherd, who was a local artist and did the K-ZAP logo, he did posters for bands, he did logo’s for K-ZAP’s competition, he did artwork for the two competing nightclubs in town; he was a friend of K-ZAP. And he did some bus sides—you know, the ads that they stick on the sides—with four cats, very similar to the current cat. They were just cute little figments of Roger’s imagination that he used on there, just as, you know, it could have been a beautiful woman, it could have been a turtle, it could have been whatever. But it was four cats. A little later down the road, K-ZAP was looking for a bumper sticker that would grab attention, so that cat was the basis for an artist named Bill Styler, who took that and his own cat named Tubby and used it to create the famous logo.

You guys are doing online radio streams, right?

Oh, yeah. Actually, our broadcast signal is limited. The low-power FM signals, we knew it was going to be limited to begin with. It’s kind of a bone that the FCC threw to community radio. It’s very limited by the big signals that already exist. It’s like the holes where there was nothing. And so, they were meant not to be very strong, and there were some engineering issues that made them even less so. So, we wouldn’t have near the audience that we do if we were just a broadcast station. … We have a lot of people, a ton of people, that listen to us on their apps, and everybody, every age group is adapting to “radio” on the internet, which is great.

What got you into radio?

Insanity. I think it’s a desire to turn people on to music they may not be familiar with. I didn’t get into it because I wanted to be an announcer, I got into it because it was fun playing records and telling people about them. If you’ve ever been to a party where somebody wants you to stop talking and ‘Hey hey, listen to this, listen to this,’ it’s one step less obnoxious than that.