|Submitted by Zookeeper on Mon, 11/24/2008 - 02:30|
In the summer of 1973, John Dew left W4 Detroit first to go to Dallas to talk about a position at Belo Broadcasting. John then calls Ira Lipson and asks him come to Dallas to talk to the Belo bigwigs. Ira leaves W4 and heads for Dallas, while Ken Rundel takes over as W4's Program Director. Reports state that John Dew and Ira Lipson originally came to Dallas to work for WFAA-AM and not FM, but the FM radio craze had just begun, even cars now had FM. John and Ira had already brought Detroit's W4 from number 12 to number 2 in two years, and this zookeeper believes someone saw opportunity. Dallas had an FM station, at the very center of the dial, in the 5th largest radio market in the country, that was not being fully utilized.
John somehow convinced the powers that be at the conservative Belo Corporation (The Dallas Morning News, Channel 8) to let him and Lipson try out a rock 'n' roll format on the company's FM signal. Belo's FM station was not doing much business with its beautiful music, so management was willing to let the "hippies" take a shot. Ira Lipson remembers, "I was originally hired as the program director of WFAA AM in Dallas but lusted after their FM frequency - 97.9. John Dew brought me on board to be PD here. John finally convinced the board of directors that we should change the format of automated beautiful music WFAA-FM to a new album rock format. After a lot of brain storming, I finally came up with the name for the station. At the time all stations were K-This or K-that. I decided to give us a totally different identity --- The ZOO. The name captured a unique identity, sort of a wild place to be."
For the price of a change in call letters, KZEW was born. Ira explains, "We filed for the name change with the Federal Communications Commission, so our competitors knew what our call letters would be. But prior to our first day on the air, we sent them a note about our call letter change and attached a kazoo. They all thought that the station would be named KAZOO, and the industry buzz was all about the new KAZOO. It was a great scam. We had fun with that."
Ira calls up W4's Ken Rundel, Mark Addy, and Gary Shaw and asks them to join the ZOO. Gary Shaw remembers, "Ira called and offered me a shift at a new station he was putting on the air in 'Big D'. I turned him down because I was doing afternoon drive in my hometown, at the number one rock station. What could be better than that? A few weeks later, Ira called me back, and again offered me this same opportunity in Dallas...and again I turned him down. But as we were ending our conversation, he said..."I just thought I should tell you...Mark and Ken are coming". As I recall, it took me about a nano-second to change my mind. On August 6th, 1973 I moved to Dallas." Ken Rundel also remembers his phone call, "Shortly after Ira left W4 in Detroit and joined John Dew in Dallas, he called W4 DJ's Mark Addy and Gary Shaw, trying to convince them to move to Dallas to be on the proposed "Zoo." I was PD at W4 after Ira left. Mark and Gary had told Ira they wouldn't come unless I did, too. So he asked me and I accepted."
At last, the Detroit 5 reunited. W4's John Dew, Ira Lipson, Ken Rundel, Mark Addy and Gary Shaw are back together and are about to make radio history. Ken Rundel remembers, "As soon as I got to Dallas, Ira and I toured Texas, listening to other DJ's, trying to find some local talent. We found Mike Taylor working for a station in Austin. Mark Christopher applied for a job. Before we found JD...Jon Dillon, Ira also liked some local Dallas DJ whose name I can't remember, but on our "practice" day he excused himself. He was a Top 40 jock and wasn't ready for this underground nonsense. Nice move, fella."
Mark Christopher remembers that guy, "His name was Wayne-something, but because of him, I had the fastest meteoric rise of all. I was hired as a weekend part-timer and before the day was out, I was the all-night guy and before we went on the air, I was the late night guy, because the mid-day guy came in and heard what we were doing and just said no way, "I don't want to be a part of this." He never got past the first day of rehearsals. He was a Top 40 jock and he thought you could never get an audience by playing these long deep cuts off albums. We didn't talk over the intros, we didn't have sweepers, we didn't have jingles and he was freaked...this wasn't radio to him."
Good thing that guy bailed because instead, they found Jon Dillon. Jon was already a four year veterian of Dallas progressive radio, but had recently decided to get out of radio to pursue a career in group management and concert promotion, but somehow was coaxed out of retirement to join the ZOO. Dillon would go on to be the longest running employee in KZEW history. Ken Rundal continues, "After we found JD, that was our original air staff. Oh -- and Jamie Friar, Laural Oruish, Suzette Smith and Martin Lowy doing news and part time DJ's Joan Green and Rob Dayton."
Ira had a artist friend Dan Philips design the station's logo. Ira explains, "The ZOO elephant with the built in speaker was designed by Dan Philips, who was an old friend of mine and was working as a designer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in Toronto. Dan also did almost all of our ads from 73 to 78, and also created our animated TV commercial."
When the DJs showed up for their first day of work, they were stopped by Belo's security guards and denied access to the building. The guards thought that there was no way this scraggly crew of "hippies" could be working for their company. Belo officials were somewhat embarrassed that a bunch of longhairs had taken over a corner of their huge communications complex, and they did little to trumpet the fact to the general public. For the first six years that The Zoo was in existence, its name did not appear on the Channel 8 Belo sign in the lobby, there was no sign on the door of the office, and the staff was tucked away on the second floor, consigned to the older studios and production equipment. "They buried us in a closet, " laughs Ira Lipson "They gave us all of the old equipment, but that forced us to make all of the energy go out through the microphone and turntables." Ken Rundel also remembers, "About two weeks before we went on the air we started messing with the automated system that ran the programming for the "beautiful music" format. We would keep the same weather forecast in there for many days in a row. We let "dead air" happen periodically for 5, 10 minutes or more. And we took 2 of the 3 tape decks out of service and kept the same tape on the one working deck so the station kept repeating the same 50 songs in the same order. We did all that to try to steer the Belo Board of Director's wives away from the station before the format was switched. As far as we could tell, they and doctor's offices were the only ones listening."
At 6:00AM Tuesday, September 18, 1973 Ken Rundel keys his mike, "Welcome to the ZOO..."
Not like Johnny Fever's WKRP format change and I doubt he said "booger".
But in the laid back style we've all come to love, "...you are listening to KZEW Dallas-Ft.Worth."
The first song played was Simon and Garfunkel's "At the Zoo."
To be continued...