The real Jack

Growing older, as in moving toward geezer-esque territory, is often viewed as a liability in a pop-culture milieu that prizes youth. But one benefit is a memory of something better.

“Yeah, yeah,” you drone mockingly, “life today totally sucks. So, tell us about those nonexistent good old days again?” Well, whippersnappers, there was a time when you could turn on the radio and hear something you liked, and a station’s playlist didn’t sound like infinite variations of Creed. And you could hear lots of different styles, too, like rock next to R&B next to Nashville pop next to something from left field—not 10 not-so-different variations concocted from the same corporation-friendly foist-rock blueprint.

Apparently, other people remember, too. People like William Major, a partner in the low-power KNOZ 96.5 FM, a station based on 16th Street in lower Midtown.

For the past couple of years, KNOZ—by definition a micropower station, meaning its signal can’t exceed 100 watts, giving it a reach of about a three-mile radius—has been broadcasting a mix of independent hip-hop and R&B, pretty much all of it originating in Northern California. The renegade station has attracted the attention of the FCC and some adversaries, which may or may not have included an engineer for the local four-station outpost of a Christian-rock and right-wing talk-radio chain, along with a competing hip-hop station. (Those conflicts were covered in the SN&R news story “Everybody KNOZ” by Cosmo Garvin on January 20, 2005.) According to Major, the station is nonprofit and exists on donations, not to mention the largesse of one benefactor. “He likes what we are doing,” Major said.

But on June 5, KNOZ will broaden its palette by flipping to a more eclectic playlist, one that promises to play local and regional rock, reggae and gospel acts, along with the station’s original repertoire. “This is going to be the most diversified radio station Sacramento has ever seen,” claims a blog post by local music promoter Charles Twilling on the MySpace page for Junta Live, the all-ages K Street club the city shut down in April. Twilling is now working with Major and his station partner Wendy Thomas as a consultant, which should nicely exploit his connections with the local underground band scene. (At press time, Twilling could not be reached for comment.)

Major said he’s bucking the advice he got from other radio consultants. “'You have to specialize,’ they told us. ‘You can’t be a general practitioner,’” Major said. “But you go over to Europe, and radio doesn’t have genres. They play everything. A perfect example is Gnarls Barkley, which is from the U.S. but had to go over there to get played.”

The idea that people will listen to a playlist that’s all over the map may make sense to music fans, but the closest the corporate stations seem to be able to come to that ideal is the feebly pseudo-eclectic format at Jack 93.1 FM. Factor in a playlist sourced largely from unsigned acts from Northern California, and the result could be quite wonderful.

Of course, the three-mile broadcast radius might keep the new KNOZ from really catching on. But come July, Major promises, the station’s now-exclusive signal will be streamed over the Internet so everyone can listen.