By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
For decades, 88.1 KKJZ harmonized and jazzed up the Cal State University Long Beach campus. But on March 14, it all came down to a yard sale.
Jazz, blues, Latin jazz and swing, CDs, vinyl and DVDs, books and merchandise from Sinatra to Fitzgerald to Coltrane were all available for sale.
The nonprofit station has moved from the Chuck Niles Studio to Westwood, where Global Jazz–the company that runs it–is headquartered. The move was finalized March 7, after a December vote by the CSULB Foundation, the station’s license holder. Stephanie Levine, KKJZ’s station manager and general counsel, described the stations relocation as a cost saving measure. She said that operating the station will be less expensive, more efficient and have a professional studio for use because KKJZ is not having to keep an office in Long Beach.
“Our most important plan is that we keep Kjazz … the only full time jazz and blues station in the country,” Levine said. “It’s a decision that made sense and continues to make sense. The most important thing is that we are keeping the music alive in the station.”
Global Jazz has stated its intent to maintain its student internship program with the university. Student’s seeking experience interning at the radio station will have to fight through a traffic congested 405 Freeway. However, students are expected to have access to a full staff and a fully functioning office.
Cal State Long Beach brought in the Mt Wilson FM Broadcasters Inc. affiliate, to take over management of the radio station in 2007, following several years of financial difficulty. Under the contract, the station was supposed to provide four $5,000 scholarships to CSULB students and offer paid internships to four students. The format continued to be blues and jazz.
Originally KLON, the station was founded in 1951 and licensed to the Long Beach Unified School District. The state bought the station from the school district in 1981 and the license was transferred to CSULB. In 2002, KLON changed its call letters to KKJZ to reflect its content, and nicknamed K-JAZZ. In time, it became the No. 1 jazz station in the United States.
“It was a long-term process to become a full-time jazz station,” said David Grudt, a former employee who worked at the station during its early years. “It didn’t all happen overnight.”
For some years, the station would put on the Long Beach Blues Festival, bringing about 30,000 people to the campus’ athletic field.
“We were the big cheese as far as jazz in the town,” said Grudt, who left the station in 1992. Grudt described KKJZ as “the little station that could,” when the station initially opened, operating on 1,200 watts off Signal Hill.
By 1991 the power increased to 8,000 watts. The station took the slogan “American Jazz Station.” With 30,000 watts these days, the 88.1 KKJZ is considered a boutique station.
“Unfortunately, it’s an audience that is shrinking,” he said. “It’s not a mass audience anymore.”
The station has maintained its jazz and blues format throughout the years. But it has gone from disc jockeys selecting music to a mix in which a preset playlist is used for some programs.
Global Jazz renewed its contract for another five years in 2013.
Like Grudt, many people understood the move as a business decision. “But from an emotional standpoint, I don’t like it.”
No matter what, it’s a challenge, Levine said. The station has plenty of listeners but not as many contributors.
“I don’t anticipate it will get any easier,” Levine said. “It’s incumbent on us to be creative and to keep the station going.”