Fans of rock, soul, reggae, blues and R& B can now turn their radio dial to 100.5 FM KZRJ-LP Gulch Radio, broadcasting from the mountain village of Jerome, AZ. The 100-watt stereo signal covers the Verde Valley, and listeners report getting the station from as far away as Flagstaff and the Blue Ridge Mountains in eastern Arizona. Gulch Radio.com streams the same music on the internet, just as it has been doing for over a decade.
The romance of music on the radio sparked KZRJ co-founder Richard Martin’s soul when he first tuned in to The Mighty 690, a Tijuana/San Diego border blaster beaming such rock greats as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley across the American west. “How do all those people get in there to play music?” Richard asked his dad, referring to the shiny chrome, push button radio while sitting on the front seat of the family’s two tone green 1950 DeSoto sedan.
In 2002, Richard Martin and Chuck Runyon, who loved music as much as Richard, co-founded Gulch Radio. Both are long-term residents that arrived during the 1970’s, raised their families and built their businesses. Now they had time to make dreams that started so long ago come true.
KZRJ Gulch Radio is the only commercial-free station broadcasting live in the Verde Valley. The founders describe it as “free form” radio—free from the bonds of playing corporate-prescribed, listener tested-to-death songs. Free from having to push current and potential ‘hits’ from major record labels. Free from advertising and corporate sponsors to answer to. No begging for bucks either.
“Gulch Radio is a haven from over-amped and over-repeated news that is available over so many other radio and television stations,” Richard Martin said. The station’s only news is a daily weather report and hazardous weather reports. The station will also provide news that affects the local population, such as fire or smoke pollution, emergency highway conditions and Emergency Alerts.
“It’s all about the music,” Gulch Radio station co-founders Richard and Chuck said. The station is a throwback to old-fashioned radio at its best.
“Nothing presents music better than radio,” says Richard Martin. “Sure you can pack your pod with picks, but after awhile, the ‘random shuffle’ just doesn’t do it. Listeners want programs with live DJs who are passionate about the music they play. The best rivet the listener, shaping mood and memory. It’s like magic when a DJ seems to pluck just the song someone has been yearning for, even when they didn’t know it, maybe one that echoes their most furtive desires or sparks a forgotten memory. But when a DJ gets it wrong, the listener’s attention drifts to other stations. In the radio biz, it’s called a train wreck.”
Programming that Stirs Memories
Richard Martin DJs his “Ric ‘N Roll Show—The Morning Groove” from 5-8 AM weekdays and his “Geezer Rock Show” on Sunday afternoons from 4-6, pulling on his memory of thousands of songs. Richard calls them ‘the good ol’ good ones.’ He has the generous and magnetic personality that grabs listeners right away. They feel as though Richard is talking right to them.
Other locally produced shows, include ‘Gulch Fun’ with Mr. Carsos every other Saturday from 6 until 8 PM. “The Frank Zappa Hour” on Saturday evenings at 8 PM is hosted by local radio pro Jeff Demand. Thursday nights at 7 and Saturday mornings at 5, The Hermit picks the platters on “Stuck In the Psychedelic Era.”
On weekday evenings after 9, listeners can tune into “UnderCurrents” with Gregg McVicar and hear an eclectic mix of Americana mixed with Native American tunes.
Saturday nights also feature “The Grateful Dead Hour,” “Beale Street Caravan,” and “Mountain Stage Live”—quality National Public Radio productions. (Complete program listings can be found in the music pages of the stations colorful website at www.gulchradio.com.
“The music brings back great memories from when I was young and the world was wide-open and full of promise,” said Susan Dowling, a former resident of Jerome who now lives in Kingman and listens to Gulch Radio on her computer.“ Now, as an old hippy, the music still resonates. Back in the psychedelic era, it’s where I live.”
Gulch Radio’s Slow Build to Success
In 2002, Gulch Radio started up with a very low power AM radio signal that only could be heard in Deception Gulch. The deep canyon blocks most other radio signals. The little transmitter provided music for the artisans that lived and worked there.
But as avid music lovers, Richard and Chuck dreamed for a ‘real’ radio station that could play high fidelity stereo. An AM or FM license was the only way to accomplish that.
In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened applications for AM licenses. Richard and Chuck filed an application, but because they weren’t radio pros, fatal mistakes were made in filings and the application was denied.
Instead, Gulch Radio became Gulchradio.com, an Internet station that an avid following from Brazil to Japan. More importantly it provided a great learning experience for acquiring technical and production skills and the opportunity to build a vast music library. Today the station has 24,000— most of them purchased from i-Tunes.
In October 2013, Gulch Radio applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a license for a low power FM radio station that had become available for Northern Arizona. The owners hired an engineer and lawyer to make sure the station would be compliance with all the legalities the FCC required and that the complex application was filled out correctly. In early 2014, The FCC awarded Gulch Radio one of its coveted FM licenses.
A station that started small is now the Verde Valley’s newest giant. It can be heard live over 100.5 FM KZRJ-LP and all over the world on Gulchradio.com.
The story was first published in the Verde Independent newspaper.