KJZT Jazzin’ Up Tulsa
By MIRANDA ENZOR
Turn on the radio and listeners are bound to hear lots of noise: the heavy bass beats of rap, the twang of country music’s guitars or the digestible but bland sounds of top-40. But if listeners turn the dial a little further in Tulsa, they’re bound to find something smooth, unobtrusive and relaxing: Jazz Tulsa 107.9 FM.
Jazz Tulsa is a low-power FM (LPFM) station sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Such stations began to be licensed in 1999 when the FCC created new rules regarding LPFM programming. These stations are required to have non-commercial, educational programming and a broadcasting strength that does not exceed 100 watts which reaches up to a 3.5-mile radius.
With national radio becoming more homogenized, LPFM stations allow listeners to rediscover a sense of localism on the airwaves, which is exactly what Jazz Tulsa does. Jason Bennett, general manager of Jazz Tulsa 107.9 FM, is excited to expand his audience with the establishment of a second station reaching north of downtown Tulsa on 94.9 FM.
“If you’re anywhere north of downtown, you can now hear us at 94.9 FM,” Bennett says. “The new signal hits Owasso, Claremore, Catoosa and almost all the way up to Bartlesville so it has really expanded our geographic footprint.”
Jazz Tulsa began nearly seven years ago when Bennett applied for a license during a five-day window in June 2000. Jazz Tulsa has been broadcasting from 107.9 FM since Nov. 2005.
“There were 13 or 14 groups who originally applied for a Tulsa station,” Bennett says. “But after a few years, we were the last ones left standing.”
But in a market clearly dominated by country and top-40, why jazz?
“Historically, Tulsa had a jazz station and it had decent ratings, but it wasn’t number one,” Bennett says. “There were lots of stations doing country or contemporary music, so there were only really two holes to be filled at the time: one was Hispanic programming and the other was jazz.”
Jazz Tulsa fills that hole rather well.
“During the week we play smooth jazz, local artists and feature different non-profit organizations,” Bennett says. “On Sundays we have the ‘Classic Jazz Brunch’ featuring artists like Louie Armstrong, Etta James, Harmonious Monk and Nat King Cole between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. On Sunday nights from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. is a program produced by the Tulsa Jazz Society called ‘Tulsa Jazz Society Presents…’”
The station makes a conscious effort to spotlight local artists such as Mark Bruner, Jenny Labow or Steve Liddell.
“We usually have an interview with local artists that airs during the lunch hour once or twice a week,” Bennett says. “Of the 15-16 songs we play each hour, one or two of those is a local artist.”
Jazz Tulsa invites up-and-coming jazz artists in Green Country to submit their music for consideration under the ‘Local Talent’ section of their website.
One of the most unique features Jazz Tulsa offers is incorporating local businesses into their programming. Instead of businesses purchasing advertising, Jazz Tulsa has nearly a dozen local businesses and organizations that underwrite their broadcasting. Instead of broadcasting advertisements every ten minutes, Jazz Tulsa only takes five minutes each hour to broadcast information about local non-profit organization events and benefits coming up.
“We are completely commercial-free. We interrupt the programming a lot less than other stations.”
While jazz may not be most Tulsan’s first choice when it comes to radio programming, Bennett says they have had a loyal following since the station’s debut. As the station grows, he hopes more people in Green Country will become casual listeners.
“I hope listeners enjoy our music,” Bennett says. “I hope we’re engaging but not entertaining. We recognize that we’re just sort of the guy in the next cubicle who pokes his head over occasionally to say ‘hi.’ We try to be a safe place when it comes to lyrics and content, and we hope listeners pay attention to some of the content about the non-profit organizations or ministries we feature.”
As for Bennett, he says the station is usually more work than play from the general manager perspective.
“It’s fulfilling on a certain level. Occasionally it’s fun, but mostly it’s a lot of work.”
To learn more about Jazz Tulsa 107.9 FM and 94.9 FM, visit www.jazztulsa.org.