The first KZYX News department and other memories of the early days of KZYX
Spring 2022 E-Newsletter article By Annie Esposito
KZYX was committed to community news from the very beginning. Bruce Herring, I believe, organized a patch-work of local news - getting people from around the county to contribute news from their areas. The mission of KZYX is to cover the whole HUGE county.
But after about a year, KZYX put together an actual news department. The first news director was Joseph Leon. His family originally comes from Guam, and he had a special affinity with local Indian tribes - so that was a plus for the station.
I believe he is now the Chief engineer at PBS GUAM.
So when I found out the station was setting up a news department, the first thing I did was to call Joe and say – “I’ll give you one day a week, what would be helpful?” And he said he really needed someone to cover the Board of Supervisors meetings.
Eek - that was a pretty big chore - but it was good because I really learned the county that way.
When he left, there were a series of short term news directors. Finally I took it over and did it for about 10 years from 1997 to 2007. It was amazing because it was really COMMUNITY news. People called in their stories.
The first newsroom was a rickety trailer. And if someone slammed the door, the reels would fall off the shelves, clattering to the floor.
For a long time I did “pause button editing”. I would record stories on cassettes and take them into the studio. While I was outro-ing one story, I would be clunking in the next cassette cued up to the next story. One day Maria Gilardin of TUC Radio walked into the news cubby and was horrified. Practically the next day she had me set up with a computer with a sound-editing program. That was wonderful because now I could edit out everyone’s ‘ohs’ and ‘ums’, and that encouraged even more volunteer reporters.
Slowly I built up a dozen or more people who would contribute. The late Nat Bingham from the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association would call in and report on ocean issues. A familiar name - Alicia Littletree - currently your super hardworking Program Director here, was a teenage Earth First!er tree sitting to save the forest. She reported on the Judi Bari lawsuit against the FBI for violating her civil rights when her Subaru was blown up with her in it.
In fact, Judi Bari was a programmer here - doing a show on the environment, of course.
The people who started the station were many, and they were amazing. I instantly think of Carroll Pratt and Ross Murray. They retired up here in Anderson Valley after careers in Hollywood. Carroll developed the laugh track, and Ross was a dancer. Carroll was very conservative politically, and Ross was a lefty. But they were great buddies and both of them threw themselves into making a radio station up here in the woods.
Carroll and Ross both contributed to the community news when they found themselves in the middle of the action somewhere. And Ross did a popular political commentary series.
My youngest regular contributor was 7 year old Rachel Smith-Ferri. She covered cultural events, and her dad David helped her. But she could read scripts better than the adults. She grew up to design costumes for the theater.
I remember when a reporter from the San Francisco office of the New York Times came to the station - she was in shock that there could be a real live radio station in the middle of nowhere. She printed something about that, and the Newsroom being in an actual caboose.
My favorite story, though, will always be when the kids were doing their children's show, Rubber Biscuit. Jade Pagett-Seekins, a young teenager at the time, ran the board for the show and helped with logistics. Once a visitor came in and ran out exclaiming, “my god, that radio station is run by children!”.
I had to do the weather every day, and to break the monotony of my voice all the time, I recruited some of the classical programmers to read the weather, like Susan Juhl and Gordon Black, who both have beautiful voices. It gave the weather a little class. One day Walter Green, who started Wondrous World of Music, was doing the weather for me. He looked at it, frowned, and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen! This does not look good!”.
But it was amazing. People would say, “Well, what do you actually report on out there in the boonies - like, uh, a cow wandered off or something?”
But really - listeners to our station know there is a LOT going on around here - and they want to know.