Back when radio was still broadcast and received in analog form, low-numbered stations could be found to the left of the dial.

The furthest reaches to the left became the domain of mostly public, religious or other non-profit type stations.

Now, of course, the digital age means finding a station usually requires hitting a seek button or advancing up and down through a series of two and three-digit numbers followed by decimals in tenths, beginning at 87.9 and ending at 107.9.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

But the low numbers are still the public and non-profit zone, and stations found there are often some of the least listened to in a given geographic area.

In some cases, that’s a shame.

About six or seven months ago, I was driving from somewhere to somewhere else in Texas County and was mindlessly hitting the seek button on my car’s radio. I pretty much stumbled across a talk program on a low-numbered FM station and what was being discussed caught my attention.

I can’t remember what the show’s topic was, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I started giving frequent listens to the 88.1 frequency I had stopped on that day. As I kept liking what I was hearing, the station became a favorite and now occupies preset 1 in the car.

What I had discovered was KZGM, a community radio station originating from the little rock building next to the pizza place in Cabool.

KZ88, as its team of on-air voices called it, was (and still is) a fresh-sounding departure from the radio norm. Its programming ranges from information not being made available by a stale mainstream media to musical selections that will never be used as a “crossover cut.”

I shared my discovery with my wife, and she quickly shared my enjoyment of the station.
So basically, it was a natural progression for me to write a story about KZGM. But I have to thank KZ88 listener and Houston Herald reader Barbara Byrd for calling the office one day and suggesting someone here do just that. I might have thought of it myself soon enough, but when that call came in, it was a no-brainer to make it happen sooner than later and the article that ran in the Herald a couple of weeks ago is the result.

The unusual made usual

Some of what is aired on KZ88 definitely belongs in the “and now for something completely different” file.

There’s a half-hour show at 12:30 weekdays called “Encounters” that features Alaskan cultural anthropologist and award winning nature writer Dr. Richard Nelson. The show’s website perfectly describes the program as being “recorded live in the field during close contact with the subject. Whether high atop a 65-foot tree to record a program on wind, kayaking along side a pod of sea lions or getting curiously close to a grizzly bear, Nelson engages the listener in feeling the place as well as the subject.”

Very cool –– my wife and I like it a lot.

An hourlong show at 4 p.m. weekdays and noon Saturdays called “If You Love This Planet” features Nobel Peace Prize-nominated pediatrician Dr. Helen Caldicott discussing “urgent planetary survival issues” with prominent guests. I recently heard a really good installment of that program in which Dr. Caldicott spoke with Ralph Nader about some of the dangers and myths surrounding nuclear power (I guess I have to agree with something Albert Einstein once said and Nader repeated: “nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water”).

There’s the Democracy Now news and information show, book reading and poetry shows, local call-in shows, and numerous music shows that sometimes introduce unknown (but often really good) artists and sometimes play a lot of that good stuff commercial stations seem to be forsaking.

The list goes on.

The sum total of the schedule is a fascinating and attractive array of audio satisfaction.
And it all sounds so good; no, really –– KZGM’s sound quality is top-notch thanks to some darn good equipment handling the signal (including an Orsis VP8 Digital Processor that at the push of a button from the rock building studio has the ability to set up the signal just right for whatever the transmitter might be broadcasting –– whether talk, music or the squawking of albatrosses on the Bering Sea).

While you might join me in enjoying KZ88’s programming (and its lack of negativity, yelling, perversion and overbearing opinion that is now common to modern day radio), you might also find the lack of commercials particularly enjoyable. Interesting shows are never interrupted by insurance company or pain reliever spots and never share time with beer peddlers touting “real men of genius.”

But keep in mind that community radio is a public entity and exists solely because of funds (OK, money, cash, bread, smackers) donated by generous listeners and supporters.
Hats off to KZGM directors Kazie Perkins, Myron Jackson and Gene Colliflower for putting together this valuable and important asset to the community. In its own unique little way, KZ88 offers a viable and palatable alternative to a lot of the noise that now permeates popular radio.

A jingle often heard on 88.1 says something like “I was bereft, then I looked to the left.” A throw-back to analog days, but very appropriate.

Somewhat surprisingly, KZGM has operated in its semi-anonymity for a year-and-a-half now. Check it out. Go back for more. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

I’m a fan.

Doug Davison is a writer, copy editor and office worker for the Houston Herald. E-mail him at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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