From College To Media
Sac State vs. The Suck State of Mainstream Media
Chapter 2: The Art of Radio

Introduction: A Journey Through Mass Media Education
Chapter 1: Why I Majored in Communication
Chapter 2: The Art of Radio
Chapter 3: Writing TV News
Chapter 4: Studying To Be a Rock Star
Chapter 5: Exploring the Age of Incoherence
Chapter 6: The Science of Media Persuasion
Chapter 7: How Stats Influence Perceptions
Chapter 8: Strategies for Winning a Debate
Chapter 9: Programming Music Instead of Computers
Chapter 10: My Career in Media

by Alex Cosper, October 21, 2015

At Sac State I recognized that communication is both an art and a science. I made it a point to not get too sucked into the artistic realm of it, which I sensed could turn out to be a bottomless pit to nowhere. But I still considered myself more of an artist than a scientist. After all, I was left-handed and spent most of my leisure time listening to music or working on writing songs with my guitar. My first hobby even going back to early grade school was cartoon art.

I didn't think much of the popular music on the radio of the early 80s, which was heavily saturated with bland adult contemporary formula songs following the meltdown of disco. The music I played at the rink, which I thought was better than the top hits, was mainly r&b that wasn't big on the pop charts. I liked certain new wave music and I still kept up with the Billboard charts to know "what was going on." I knew that the "cool people" listened to rock station KZAP and I never really questioned their coolness at the time.

Radio to me was something I thought could be so much better, but it wasn't nearly as corporate then in the eighties as it became after the late nineties (when it started to suck so bad I just stopped listening and replaced it with the internet). In other words, it hadn't become so cookie-cutter yet that it was unlistenable. I kept up with the hits and some of the rock music, but more from looking at the Billboard charts to find music to play at the rink. By 1983 I noticed popular music had actually become pretty decent, as it was partly fueled by modern rock and partly by inventive soul music like "1999" by Prince.

Why Radio Turned Me On and Off

Throughout the eighties, KZAP was a top station in Sacramento, even though skaters at the rink were in a different world and didn't request much rock, except for speed skate, which tended to be music by bands like Motley Crue and Def Leppard. Skaters generally were more hooked into soul and the emerging hip hop sound as well as electronic music. My favorite radio station during this period was KHYL 101, which played oldies, especially a lot of Beatles, my all time favorite band. At the same time, my dream station simply didn't exist on the radio dial. KHYL always went from something trippy like "Light My Fire" by The Doors into something extremely dorky.

I wanted to hear a 60s/70s based (psychedelic/stream of consciousness) rock station that mixed in all the cool 80s new wave music without all the corporate rock or the bubble gum top 40. I also wanted to hear intelligent commentary from an insightful storyteller, not the typical meaningless hyper or burnout presentation. So I made a lot of my own mix tapes of my ideal station.

KZAP was the closest thing that fit my dream station even though it was far from what I really wanted to hear. I was a rocker more in a philosophical sense and not so much a headbanger. In other words, I preferred music that could rally people behind intelligent causes (like the Beatles did) as opposed to just any ol' rock band or the "tough guy" music. I didn't mind AC/DC's Back In Black album because all the songs were different and had a powerful party sound that worked at my gigs. It was nothing I preferred to listen to in headphones, but it sure made crowds rock when I needed that reaction at my mobile DJ events.

My classmate Sam Cadura and I followed each other around since high school. We went to junior college and Sac State together, not to mention we worked for the same mobile DJ company and a few of the same roller rinks. We also ended up in radio together after college at KWOD. We both agreed the Beatles were the best band ever. I mostly heard KZAP when I rode in Sam's car, which was frequently.

I did respect KZAP as the untouchable "coolest" station in town. Their orange cat logo on bumper stickers was all over town. As a cat lover, that's probably what I loved about the station the most. I certainly didn't hate them - the way I did most of the dial. Radio was no longer what it was when I was growing up in the seventies, when you could always hear surprises on the air, back when DJs were actually in charge of their own shows and were allowed to engage in theater of the mind. Tony Cox on KROY FM was one of my all time favorite radio personalities, as he got to be as creative as he wanted on the air.

Making it on the Airwaves - Sort of

My first time on the radio was as a teen contestant on 1240 KROY AM in late 1975, in which I called in to guess the prizes in the station's secret stash, based on hourly clues. Getting any kind of air-time in those days was considered monumental with friends, since it felt like an iron curtain separated stations from listeners physically, yet radio still bonded with individuals like a close friend mentally.

To KZAP's credit, they were big on reaching out to the community and putting out a "Hometown" album full of local rock artists, as well as featuring "guest DJ" hours. Sam wound up as a guest DJ on the station in 1981 around the time "I Love Rock and Roll" by Joan Jett was becoming a hit, which he played on his show. That was the first time I heard it and thought it was incredibly fun compared with most of what was popular at the time.

The KZAP Experience

I asked Sam to share some memories about KZAP and he replied:

"My earliest and best radio recollections involve 1240 KROY (which I listened to for several years as a teenager) and more importantly, 98.5 KZAP which I started listening to in 1978 after buying my first car. KZAP remained my favorite station for more than a decade! I clearly recall never being bored with the music I heard on that frequency with the cat bumper sticker. The few songs that were repeated on occasion, were newer songs that I actually didn't mind hearing 2 or 3 times in the course of a day.

"The rest of their playlist seemed diverse, deep and musically interesting. I ended up learning more about the rock n' roll of the 60s, 70s and 80s during my 20,000 hours as a KZAP listener than from any other source in my life (including college and years later, the internet).

"One of my favorite radio memories was enjoying the opportunity to be a guest DJ on KZAP's amateur hour (with thanks to Bob Keller for suggesting the idea to me, after meeting at a roller-skating rink where I was a DJ and he was hosting a remote). My one hour on KZAP was a blast .. not only did I get to pick and play every single song during this hour, but I also got to say whatever I wanted.

"I'm not sure if this was standard protocol for KZAP's amateur hour .. but I was actually left unattended for the entire 60 minutes .. I was able to pull things off like a professional, at least in the technical sense. Otherwise, I'm sure I sounded like a kid, fresh outta high school. Anyway, this experience was the final piece in me committing to a career in radio. I pursued as many broadcasting courses as possible during my years at Sac State, and over the following 30 years, worked for more than 10 radio stations including KWOD, KROY and eventually a few gigs in San Diego."

College Radio

Sac State had a radio station on campus (KXJZ), but it operated separately. It played a wide variety of jazz music, which I did not know much about at the time, although I did respect it as sophisticated music and I was a fan of certain jazz artists. One of my first concerts had been Chuck Mangione in 1978. But I wanted to be more part of the rock scene. Many years later I developed more of a deeper appreciation for jazz and classical music.

Interestingly, several KZAP personalites had come from an earlier Sac State station called KERS, which was a student run freeform radio station in the sixties and seventies. I learned years later when I wrote The Legend of KZAP that modern rock radio pioneer Rick Carroll was a student at KERS. Carroll went on to make his mark at KROQ in Los Angeles and consulted "Rock of the 80s" stations around the country, including KPOP in Sacramento, which briefly played modern rock in 1983 through early 1984. There was no mention of any of this from any of my teachers in any of my communications courses, which could have been helpful to students looking for career inspiration.

Destination Unknown

If there was a song during my Sac State years that summed up my college experience and ambitions, it was "Destination Unknown" by Missing Persons. The new wave track never made the national top 40 but got airplay on KZAP and KPOP. It was also a favorite tune at the roller rink. I had no idea if I would end up in radio or not at the time. It seemed like a distant dream, whereas announcing to live crowds at the roller rink seemed to be more of my niche that I enjoyed. The only problem was that it only paid minimum wage, which back then was close to three bucks an hour.

At one point I was taking too many classes at Sac State, as 18 units was too much for me to handle. So I dropped a literature class because the professor assigned way too many thick books to read. I also had to consider dropping a super trippy psychology-type "self knowledge" class that a hippy-like teacher took to the threshold of a metaphysical level, which I found incredibly interesting, but not necessarily useful for my career.

I knew I had to branch out into something that could get me somewhere in the real world, so I took a media course called Broadcast Technique. To my surprise, the professor worked at local independent TV station Channel 40. One day she told me that I was the only person in the class she would recommend for a job interview as a news writer for the station .. as a new light bulb began to shine in my mind.

Continue to Chapter 3: Writing TV News

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