Jazz DJ Steve Williams speaks about the origins of KRCL-FM
Interview with Michael Evans at Nostalgia Coffee House — Summer 2015
KRCL was very important to my radio career.
It was an exciting time for me and anyone involved — anyone who had an interest in a new radio station going on the air. I’d actually got my training on the equipment at KUER in 1979 — running a board shift. They were called “board shifts” for people who would run shows. Of course everyone up there at that time were volunteers. There were not many people paid — mostly students. So I learned how to “do the equipment” at KUER.
But in that same few months of early ’79 is when Steve Holbrook called me (after speaking with musician Harold Carr) and said: “I hear you’re the Jazz guy. I’m starting a new radio station that we expect to go on the air at the end of the year, and would you like to be involved?” and I said “YES!”
“I’d like you to do a Jazz program on Saturday Night for me,” and I said “OK!”
(Note from Michael — Steve Holbrook was a community activist turned politician.)
Here is a flyer from one of Holbrook’s political campaigns, circa 1972:
I continued to do my board-op at KUER …
just to keep my experience up on the equipment, which was definitely an advantage!
Me and other guys like Smokey and Michael G. Kavanagh, and other people who had worked at radio stations before, had that same advantage of knowing the equipment — it helped out.
So we were meeting a couple of times a week, or one time a week, I can’t remember — here at the Blue Mouse, and we’d actually meet in the theater too.
When we went on the air in that early December …
I remember the place was still kind of messy. We were wondering if we were indeed going to be on the air, and the excitement of it all — like, a new station, and all that was overwhelming!
So the first Saturday Night — I think they went on the air like on a Tuesday, maybe mid-week, then I came up a few nights later.
Saturday night! … the night before, Friday night, I had come up to the station because I wanted to see somebody work the operation before me, and that someone was Michael G. Kavanagh, who I had known from the past.
Michael G. Kavanagh was an engineer with a First Class FCC license who could work late nights by himself on KCPX and KNAK. He also ran the board as a DJ at KSXX, and KALL, plus lent a hand at KMUR in Murray.
Michael G. Kavanagh was an extraordinarily influential Disc Jockey in the Salt Lake City radio scene — He graduated from William B. Ogden’s School of Broadcasting and his First Class FCC license enabled him to run a radio station through the nights at the height of the Sixties Rock Revolution. He played Folk, R&B, and Jazz in the wee wee hours as “Iron Mike” on NBC’s KALL Radio before the Beatles Era.
He enjoyed a long productive career doing a variety of roles in broadcasting. Kavanagh was playing Smooth Jazz over KZBN (The Breeze) in 1999, and retired later in the 21st Century. He was planning to make another journey to Ireland for his 80th birthday, especially because of his successful and enjoyable visit in 2016, but suddenly passed away in August of 2018, the month before his 79th birthday on September 3, 1939.
So I came up and sat behind him during his Friday night show …
I was going to be on the NEXT NIGHT. This was the first Friday night of KRCL, and to watch him … The place, first of all, you had to step over piles of stuff just to get in where the board was, and to sit, so I sat behind him and watched him operate.
And to watch Michael G. Kavanagh with his act on the radio !!
He was actually back-queuing records on the air where you could hear “eh eh ahh ahh ah” and then he’d say “Well here goes …The Beatles … or somebody,” after he’d back-queued it on there.
I thought, “If he can do that kind of stuff, nobody’s going to get heavy on me for anything!” So it made me relax too. My program — they’d kinda came up with a name called City Jazz, and I liked Jazz City better, so I turned it around to Jazz City and I kind of named myself the Mayor of Jazz City.
Steve Williams — The Mayor of Jazz City — and that’s what I did for two years, that show. Got my act together and then in ’82 I was hired back at KUER to actually be paid to do the weekends. And that began my professional career, being paid, where I moved into being the director in ’84 and now retiring.
KRCL was an exciting time, though.
It was all new and at the time there wasn’t a lot of what we called Free Form Radio at the time — not at KUER, I felt at the time, even though they had SOME Jazz programming and all that.
At KRCL, I could be myself amongst everybody who were all brand new. It wasn’t just me who was brand new, it was everybody, and I had the advantage of having that KUER experience as recently as days before. I was running a board, so I was prepared for the show I was about to embark on, and I did it for two years.
We had to rely on our own records of course, and Smokey would loan some out (from the Cosmic Aeroplane record shop) and we’d always “beg, borrow, or steal” whatever we could to have material to play. Smokey would let us borrow records – behind-the-counter records. He’d get upset if we didn’t get them back in time. I had a pretty good collection at the time myself – from my parents and my own and then what I could get – so it was always a struggle. It was once a week. I had to plan. I’d always take a lot in, so I’d have lots of choices.
It’s funny, when John Greene came onto KRCL they wanted to give him some kind of program – and they wanted him to do Saturday Night, so I moved to Sunday Night for my second year. John moved into management, too. (Note from Michael — Greene became Director at both KRCL and KUER, announcing his retirement from the latter in 2017.)
I was the first to play ECM Records out of Europe – they had Keith Jarrett, a Norwegian sax player named Jan Garbarek, John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago did an album for them. There was also the group Oregon.
My last night at KRCL, I was planning on giving my C’est la Vie, because I was beginning the next weekend as an employee of KUER doing weekend Jazz there — Saturday AND Sunday nights. So my last Sunday Night at KRCL, we were knocked off the air because of a lightning storm hitting a tower – right in the middle of my program. Without a word about me going, “this is my last night,” or any of that kind of business. They were off the air for a few days in my case.
So the next weekend, I’m at KUER — both nights there. At KRCL these guys laugh about: “Hey Steve, we want you to come down and do your last night on KRCL – Do your Grande Finale down here!”
KRCL started off with really great intentions. It was a great place to get my act together. Under those circumstances, I was free to explore my own reality there, and what I could create with my music!
About meetings, equipment, and KRCL staff members:
You know, I enjoyed it. I liked the KRCL crew. There was a comradery about it, Michael — that we were all new in it, and it was exciting!
My show was followed by four seventeen year olds, they alternated. One of them was Mike Anderson, so I groomed him from that “kids show” more or less to do some Jazz programming.
Holbrook was around quite a bit in those days. Another woman was around too, Marti Niman, a program director. I remember meeting (talk radio host) Joe Redburn, who had a show at KRCL. Wes Bowen had a (talk radio) show like Redburn’s on KSL too, when he was Public Affairs Director. He also had a Jazz show.
Lewis (Downey) was one of our early engineers at KRCL, as I recall, and when he came to KUER, we’d worked with each other before.
We brought in other people – John Schellinger was a friend, he did an earlier program. He was a Jazz lover! Perry Shepard was another guy. We’d gone through some program directors like Bob Flores, Steve Holbrook, and a woman named Sunny Pietrafesa – she’s the one who issued me my KRCL I.D. card so I could go to the festival in Telluride and represent KRCL.
As we decided in our programs, as we eliminated and came up with the actual programming grid for the week. We had meetings at the beginning about who would end up with a program, I recall – there were more people than those who got programs at those meetings. I remember meetings we had when we were deciding on a festival.
(Note from Michael — After they moved their studios to 8th South, KRCL promoted a well-attended Day in the Park festival at Liberty Park for two decades.)
I was already gone when they moved to Eighth South. When I was at KUER, as jazz director and host, I also helped set up the Salt Lake Jazz Society’s Canyon Jam. For Snowbird Blues and Jazz Festivals, I helped with the choice of groups and MC’d every festival for nineteen years!
I was told by Wes Bowen – I know this ‘cause I saw the equipment:
The equipment was all donated to KRCL by KSL, and Bowen told me that this was easier than KSL having to air other viewpoints on issues. They allowed KRCL to go on the air, with alternative views, with their equipment — it all had KSL written on the back.
(Note from Michael — Steve Holbrook sued KSL after they refused his request for a rebuttal about the Viet Nam War after explicitly soliciting “responsible” contrary opinions. KRCL-FM eventually came into being out of the lawsuit.)
Oh, Brad (Collins) was a character, ‘cause I’d known his dad. His dad was such an influence you know with Jazz music – Al “Jazzbo” Collins. Brad came honestly through his interest in music. My parents were friends of his dad and mom and when I was a kid, they moved from Salt Lake to someplace – we went over as a family and bought a whole bunch of these records of his with his little logo on them – the Jazzbo Collins logo. (Look for the cartoon owl — center right in the drawing below.) It was a good time.
You know, Brad was breaking the barriers with his type of music – that was my beginning of hearing Punk music back then. And here’s the first Punk Guy, whose dad was the Early Jazz Guy. He has his personality, so of course we were friends, and he loves Jazz too – he grew up with it.
As far as genres went, there were people who wanted certain kinds of music and would ask for that – Doc Floor (of Zion Tribe) and David Santavasi; I remember (Blue Mouse Manager/Reggae DJ) Michael Hatsis being on the air; Native American Music — Donna Land (Maldonado) was with us early. She put in a lot of time!
We wanted to represent a lot of different kinds of musics and cultures – ethnic cultures, people who were under-represented. This valley can be a real wasteland sometimes, and still is, if you ask me.
(This interview was originally published late in the summer of 2015 — M.E.)
(Above Right) Steve Williams introducing the venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans at the State Room in June 2015; (Above Left) Steve Williams addresses a crowd of several hundred well-wishers outdoors at the Gallivan Center in Downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday June 25, 2015 — the night before his retirement/final Jazz show on KUER-FM.
Williams also introduced the Corey Christiansen Quartet and Jazz legend Joe McQueen outdoors at the Gallivan Center. Williams is holding a special plaque in the leftmost photo above, engraved with an appreciation from his myriads of fans. He acknowledged Michael G. Kavanagh and Brad Collins, who were both sitting in the audience.
Williams continued to MC for live musical events during “Jazz Nights” on Thursdays inside Downtown Salt Lake’s Gallivan Center.
Williams has always supported the fine Jazz players and composers of Utah’s musical scene by means of his long-running career on the radio, which didn’t end with KUER’s abandonment of musical programming — plus his next gig coincided with an amazing expansion of venues for live Jazz during the twenty-teens. (see below)
People don’t think there is a jazz scene in Salt Lake but I’m playing six gigs this week alone and I’m not the only one making a living playing jazz here,” says local musician Steve Lyman …
The Ebb and Flow of Jazz by Katherine Pioli (Oct. 31, 2014)
Thanks to Catalyst Magazine for this link!
“Jazz Time With Steve Williams” started broadcasting October 18, 2015 —
6pm to 10pm every Sunday Night on KCPW 88.3 FM in Salt Lake City.
Roger McDonough, Communications Director and Producer, with Station Manager Lauren Corlucci, encouraged Steve Williams back on the air.
After an absence of only a few months, high quality Jazz rings out again over the radio throughout KCPWs listening area — and on the Internet. A historical Jazz program with few interviews and LOTS of music precedes Steve Williams’ spot.
The community reacted positively to hearing Jazz on their radios again, indicated by articles in contemporary periodicals.
Utah Stories, reported:
“We’d been hearing from people in the community they wanted jazz back on the air and Steve was the obvious choice …”
Catalyst Magazine. quoted this on page 23:
“Having Jazz at the turn of a dial … created a whole new generation of Jazz lovers. It was the best way for a new listener … to have casual introduction to a uniquely American art form.
Among other things, the City Weekly‘s Best of 2015 issue said:
“Best return of daddy-o” Steve Williams on KCPW
Longtime radio host Steve “Daddy-O” Williams only thought he retired from broadcasting when he departed KUER 90.1 in June 2015. He even went on an European cruise, just like real retired folks do. Upon his return, however …
The Salt Lake Tribune reported: Steve Williams is bringing jazz back to the Salt Lake City radio dial …” by Sean Means, September 29, 2015.
The First Anniversary of Jazz Time with Steve Williams went on the air from 6pm to 10pm the evening of October 16, 2016 —
The second anniversary show of Jazz Time With Steve Williams went over the air on October 22, 2017
(L) Fellow Ex-KRCL D.J. ‘Bad’ Brad Wheeler, a respected musician, generously lent his fund-raising skills to “Jazz Time with Steve Williams” (R) more than once.
Steve said: I was retired for a few months, but it felt good to come back to work! I’m a natural-born programmer, and this is what I’d do anyway, he asserted, If you like Jazz on the radio, support KCPW 88.3 FM .
The 3rd Anniversary of Jazz Time with Steve Williams was October 18, 2018, and this landmark show went over the air on October 21 from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM.
KCPW 88.3 FM is a listener-supported non-profit, and is grateful to everyone who contributed to their new and improved transmitter, reaching a much wider range of Wasatch Front communities in 2017. The station can always utilize additional contributions from the Jazz-loving public to improve its services —
Link to KCPW’s website.
Jazz Time with Steve Williams started broadcasting throughout Utah in 2016.
Beginning on December 4, 2016, Utah Public Radio began broadcasting ‘Jazz Time’ on Sundays from 6pm to 10pm — Link to the announcement on Utah Public Radio’s website.
Utah Public Radio also transmits KCPW’s “Behind the Headlines,” and has FM Translators and Full Power Stations throughout the state, and even in Idaho — Link to UPR Stations
Read UPR’s descriptive brochure as a scalable PDF —
Enlargement of UPR’s map, showing the coverage of its network —
Steve Williams continued to be MC for an increasing amount of live shows as Salt Lake’s Jazz Scene expanded its venues:
The Jazz Scene continued to increase its audience around Salt Lake in 2017 — at the Garage On Beck Street; Gracie’s on West Temple; The Bayou on State Street; Lake Effect on Second South; and Avant Groove Jazz Club on Pierpont Avenue. Seasonally, the 13th East Unitarian Church featured Jazz Vespers during the Holiday Season; Caputo’s still has Jazz in the Summer on Fridays near the Cosmic Corner at 15th East & 15th South across from the old Smokey’s Records location, and Saturdays in Holladay. In Salt Lake’s Avenues District, Hatch’s Chocolate Emporium sponsors Jazz performances.
Steve is regular Master of Ceremonies at free concerts sponsored by Excellence In The Community, all along the Wasatch Front. Steve is also MC for GAM Foundation‘s JazzSLC Concerts, presented at the venerable Capitol Theater, home of Ballet and Opera, on 200 South between Main Street and West Temple in Downtown Salt Lake City.
Williams is also an eloquent historian of Jazz, and contributed to the Salt Lake Tribune’s article about the old Manhattan Club near Exchange Place, where his father Murray Williams played saxophone in the days when they featured a regular Jazz quartet.
Steve Williams was MC for the 99th birthday celebration of Utah’s jazz legend Joe McQueen in 2018
Steve was also extensively quoted in Michael Evans’ contemporary article about Jazz in Salt Lake’s West View newspaper.
Steve Williams was beginning his 40th year as a Jazz DJ when 2018 came to a close.
The First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City on the high east bench of the Wasatch Mountains, near the University of Utah, presented their Vespers services with live Jazz music on Sundays during the USA Holiday Season for 35 years, sensibly calling this annual series of events “Jazz Vespers.” Bandleaders Vince Frates, Steve Keene, and David Halliday, chose various themes to structure their shows over thirty-five years, often honoring notable singers, instrumentalists, and composers. Reverend Tom Goldsmith was there every year with fresh chapters from his series of talks entitled “The Other Side of the Wasatch.”
Rev. Goldsmith announced the final Jazz Vespers season in its Thirty-Fifth Year, during the winter of 2018. Wishes by their loyal audience for tickets to the very last Jazz Vespers Sunday were granted by presenting two back-to-back Jazz Vespers ceremonies on the evening of December 23, 2018. Near the end of both ceremonies, Tom Goldsmith thanked bandleaders Vince Frates, Steve Keene, and David Halliday from the pulpit of his historic building, and then immediately thanked Steve Williams by name for his persistence in playing Jazz on FM Radio.
Steve and Vicky Williams were seated with the later congregation as they heard their friend Rev. Goldsmith’s prepared remarks thanking Mr. Williams — especially for his work as Jazz Director for KUED 90.1 FM where he was responsible for a crew of enthusiastic disc jockies who played Jazz all night over four decades. (Eyewitness Michael was seated in both the early and late congregations.)
The Jazz Vespers Quartet continues to perform independently with the blessing of First Unitarian Church, as they also did in the years before the series reached its end. The band on that last historic night consisted of David Halliday on sax, Courtney Isaiah Smith on keyboards, Denson Angulo on bass, and Parker Swenson on drums. Vocalist Jazmin Olivo and percussionist Ricardo Romero joined them for selected songs.
The Utah State Legislature honored the 100th birthday of iconic Jazz Saxophonist Joe McQueen in the Rotunda of the Utah State Capitol Building overlooking Salt Lake City on February 8, 2019.
Steve Williams was invited to be part of the ceremony, and spoke in association with Mike Caldwell, Mayor of Ogden, and State Representative Sandra Hollins, plus Dr. Forrest Crawford and other community leaders.
While Steve was waiting for Joe McQueen’s ceremony to begin, he saw a poster in the State Capitol building announcing various celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of the ritual driving of the “Golden Spike,” which completed America’s first transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, near Promontory Point, Utah Territory, north of the Great Salt Lake. The Northern Utah city of Ogden eventually became an important junction in the nationwide network of interstate passenger railroads that existed for another century. Joe McQueen came to the city to stay after WWII, and eventually managed famous jam sessions with prominent traveling Jazz musicians at the Porters and Waiters Club near Union Station on historic 25th Street.
Williams told friends and well-wishers about his Great-Great Grandfather John H. Miller, standing to the right of California’s Governor Leland Stanford, and other dignitaries, at the historic event, as recorded in A.J. Russell’s popular photograph.
Buildings from the temporary town assembled at Promontory Point were moved elsewhere along the train tracks of different Western railways for the rest of the 19th Century, including the “Swede Town” section of Salt Lake City. Facilities for visitors were open around the original Golden Spike location in the wake of its Centennial.
Steve Williams celebrated forty continuous years as a Jazz DJ during 2019, starting on KRCL 90.9 FM, then thirty-four years at KUER 90.1 FM, and four years of “Jazz Time with Steve Williams” on KCPW 88.3 FM.
Steve’s friend ‘Bad’ Brad Wheeler, a fellow alumnus of KRCL, has hosted a series of films by the Utah Office of Tourism about Joe McQueen and live Jazz along the Wasatch Front. Wheeler is from Ogden, Utah, and goes ‘way back with Joe McQueen.
Cosmic Aeroplane co-founder Steve Jones saw McQueen perform for hundreds of concert-goers in Downtown Salt Lake during the summer before his own passing, and recalled seeing the Jazz legend at the Three Aces Club on West 2nd South, about three blocks from the 369 West South Temple location near the Union Pacific Depot, along with progressive DJ Michael G. Kavanagh.
Joe McQueen passed away at the age of 100 on December 7, 2019.
Brad Wheeler and others spoke at the public memorial service in Ogden, Utah.
Brad Wheeler said: “I first off wanna say thank you to everyone for being here today to honor the legendary Mr Joe McQueen. Joe and I spent a lot of time together over the last 22 years talking about a lot of different things …”
(Answers about if and when Steve Williams will ever finish his “last broadcast” for KRCL 90.9 FM are totally “up in the air” — read the whole story above.)
One More KRCL Connection:
Roger McDonough, the producer and engineer for “Jazz Time with Steve Williams,” also started his career in radio at KRCL 90.9 FM.
Read Rogers article from the Deseret News circa 1990 in PDF form:
Many thanks to Steve Williams for his contributions of personal memories and memorabilia. (Additional information in parentheses is from Michael Evans.) The photo of Michael G. Kavanagh (circa 1967) and Steve Holbrook’s campaign flyer (circa 1972) exist courtesy of Becky Roberts, Steve Jones, and Charley Hafen. The graphic images of Brad Collins and Al “Jazzbo” Collins were supplied by former Cosmic Aeroplane staffer Dave Faggioli. Additional thanks to Roger McDonough on many levels.
*Portions of copyrighted material used above are for informational and historical purposes — protected uses under International Law. Media links used with permission from Salt Lake Tribune, Utah Stories, City Weekly, West View Media, and Catalyst Magazine. Graphic processing and photo captions by Michael Evans.
We continue to actively request contributions of pictures, memorabilia, oral histories, and needed corrections, concerning the Cosmic Aeroplane, Blue Mouse, and KRCL-FM — please contact our Blogmeister: firstname.lastname@example.org