The Savage Touch

Coming Full Circle

KAZI was started in 1979 by Dr. John Warfield, a professor of African-American studies at UT. At the time, an African-American-oriented station of any sort was desperately needed, commercial or otherwise. Despite being a growing urban center, Austin didn't have the type of contemporary R&B stations that cities like Houston or Dallas had.

The station today features a very well-rounded schedule. Music predominates, with a full spectrum of black sounds -- weekday mornings and afternoons play a mix of contemporary R&B with some oldies and hip-hop, but there is also gospel, blues, various strains of jazz, and reggae. However, there are excellent talk shows as well, including Garrett's Wake-Up Call and Friday morning's The Breakfast Club, in which Garrett discusses political issues with Akwesi Evans and Tommy Wyatt, the publishers of East Austin community papers NOKOA and The Villager, respectively. (It's kind of like a more intelligent version of Sammy & Bob.) Also, KAZI carries the nationally syndicated Pacifica Network News -- which originally aired on KAZI years ago and was picked up again after KOOP alienated the Pacifica network -- and Street Soldiers, an extremely interesting, nationally syndicated call-in show wherein the hosts take calls from young people about gang life and try to convince them to get out of it. And finally, throughout the day, news director Terry Callahan puts together news briefs, often covering topics of importance to the African-American community that haven't made it onto the radar of mainstream news outlets.

The station can boast several alumni who have gone on to greater notoriety, including KXAN reporter Quita Culpepper, KUT jazz deejay Jay Trachtenberg, and KOOP founder Jim Ellinger. Even Daryl Slusher, who went on to be the Chronicle politics editor and eventually a city councilmember, used to give City Council reports on KAZI.

Today, KAZI faces a bit of a challenge, as commercial stations such as KJCE ("K-Juice," 1370AM) and KQBT ("The Beat," 104.3FM) have moved in with R&B formats. Savage and Nickerson say they aren't worried, however, pointing to a more diverse playlist than commercial stations are usually willing to try.

"We have a 20-song playlist that programmers have to follow [during the midday R&B hours], but after that deejays can be creative," Nickerson says. "We play more album cuts," Savage adds. The commercial stations "play about a 12-song playlist." And, as said, KAZI's evening hours offer genres that the commercial radio world barely touches, if at all.

Of course, KAZI also has a mission to fulfill that commercial institutions don't necessarily share. "There are very few institutions operating east of I-35 that, in a positive way, focus on underserved communities," Shaw says. "I'm white, but I volunteer for KAZI because until you spend time over there, you can't understand the challenges people over there face. Institutions like KAZI need support. We need to invest in those communities while children have a chance to move forward. ... I'm there because I can't undo the history of what happened between whites and blacks, but I can give service to the black community, and that's what I try to do with my show."

Yes, KAZI seems to have pulled it together. Now they just need for more people to know they exist.

"I still have to remind people what our call letters are," groans Laczko. "Before KVRX, before KOOP, there was KAZI. There still is KAZI. I don't know how we compare, but we're still here. That's because of Steve Savage, Marion Nickerson, all the old programmers, and the new people."

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