For those of you who miss the last glory days of Utah radio, today's going to be an interesting treat for you. --- During the late '80s and much of the '90s, Chet Tapp was one of the most prominent names on the air, serving several shifts over the first run of KJQ and the later-formed X96, not to mention a morning show with Cuzzin Brad on the “relaunched” KJQ years later. When Simmons canceled the show and reformatted the station, Tapp found himself leaving radio for a number of years, but technology advanced and opportunities presented him a way to bring his idea for a radio station online in the form of KCQN.
Today, we chat with "The Pinhead" himself as we take a brief look back on his career in broadcasting, time spent at X96 and both versions of KJQ, starting up KCQN and the work it's doing, plus his thoughts on local radio in general.
Gavin: Hey, Chet. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Chet: I’m a overly sarcastic 47 year-old who has have lived in Salt Lake most of his life minus the two years he spent living in San Diego. I have always been more into things outside the mainstream, which would explain why he created this little monster called KCQN. I also like to use run-on sentences and talk about myself in the third person on and off.
Gavin: What first got you interested in radio and broadcasting, and what were some early influences on you?
Chet: I would have to say that I was interested in the music much more than the “broadcasting” idea. Much like everyone, I had my favorite jocks that I listened to religiously, but I was not the type who said, “I’m going to be on the radio someday.” I ended up going into radio because it was a creative outlet that you could be paid to do, and who wouldn’t want that job? Some of the KCGL personalities were definitely my earliest influences. Lara Jones, Mike Summers and Biff Raff talked like “real people” and were self-deprecating, therefore I could relate to them.
Gavin: Prior to the original KJQ, how did you first learn the ropes and how was it for you breaking into the business?
Chet: Believe it or not, I first worked for a local talk-radio station in town. At KTKK, I was a call screener for multiple show hosts. After a short stint there, I moved to San Diego in the early '90s and secured an internship/job with 91X doing a little bit of everything and getting paid a whole lot of nothing. Back in the day, the only way to get into radio really was to work for free and hope that weekend overnight position would come open and somebody would give you a shot; no different than most jocks, I’m sure.
Gavin: How did you get the overnight shift at KJQ and what was like joining the station at that time?
Chet: A funny story about that: When I got back from San Diego, I started calling KJQ every Friday at about the same time, asking to speak with Mike Summers, the program director at the time. It got to the point where the secretary, Lori, would hold out the phone and yell to Mike in the other room that I “was on the phone, AGAIN!” Then I would hear Mike yell from his office, “Tell him I’m not here.” I, of course, heard it all and told her to tell Mike to call me when he got back. This went on for months, and then one day, Mike did call and said he had a weekend overnight opening and asked if I wanted it. Persistence does pay, I guess. I joined KJQ at a time right before the station was to go through a bunch of changes. Being new, I, of course, had no idea just how bad things would become over its final months.
Gavin: You were at the station for a year prior to it being bought out. How was that small period of time working there while KJQ was at its peak of popularity?
Chet: It was a blast! I loved every minute of it. Sure, I worked at a spider-infested shack with a roof that leaked like a sieve, and I mean that. Part of my duties was to empty the garbage cans that filled with water when it rained. That being said, I was doing something I loved, and the creative energy in that place was amazing. During those days, things weren’t “tested” to death like they are now. It was fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants radio, which made it fun place to work and to listen to.
Gavin: What was it like for you during the departure from the station and helping start up X96 with most of the staff that had left?
Chet: I remember a few nights prior to us all leaving the station, I received a call from a former jock who simply said, “Embellish your CD collection” and then hung up. I knew something was up at that point. It wasn’t two day’s later that Mike Summers told me he was leaving and so were many others, and asked if I was interested in doing the same. I, of course, did. Leaving that place hurt because the owner and upper management were the only things holding that station back. They had an amazing wealth of talent and an extremely popular music genre to play and yet “they” thought they knew what the listeners wanted. Not to mention it had reached a point where you were lucky if your paycheck cleared at the bank when you went to cash it. I will let you guess as to where all the money was going. Starting X96 was one of the hardest, yet most fulfilling, things I have done in radio. I can’t count how many endless hours we all put in just to get it up and rolling. Nobody was getting rich from doing it, either. In fact, you have to remember that most of us quit KJQ and had no job or income for months. And since it was a “start up,” it meant long hours doing a little bit of everything. And as if we didn’t have enough motivation, it didn’t hurt that the new DJ’s and owner at KJQ sent along a fax telling us how they were going to destroy us. If I remember correctly, X96 decimated KJQ within six months.
Gavin: You and I could probably go on for hours discussing early years, so to kind of sum it up, what were your fondest memories from the eight years spent at the West Temple location and the original heyday of X96?
Chet: We had a lot of fun doing radio during those eight years. We still did most everything ourselves in those days. We didn’t have a huge production staff or promotion department, for that matter. We would come up with ideas alone or in staff meetings of what we wanted to do and we just did it. A perfect example of this is how the “Big Ass Show” got its name. While in a staff meeting, Mike Summers said, “We have to come up with a name for this big-ass show we are putting on” and everyone said, “That’s perfect, just call it that.” No focus groups were called in to see what they thought, it just happened. So I would say one of the best things about those eight years was the ability to be creative and to have your opinion matter. We were a dysfunctional, tight-knit group, to say the least.
Gavin: What were your thoughts on the Simmons Media purchase in late 1998, and how was the change for you now working for a major company?
Chet: I won’t lie. Many of us were extremely concerned that a major company was taking over the baby we had built with our sweat and tears, so much so that someone had spray-painted on the X96 studio wall, “Simmons does mattresses, not radio.” In the beginning, we all were sold the same line from the Simmons ownership and management: “We don’t know what you do or how you do it, so we are just going to leave you alone.” That, of course, lasted less than a year before they started “tinkering” with things they really didn’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, there were some benefits to having a larger company as an owner. We had more money to promote the station and grow the brand. But the trade-off was not good for the station as a whole. As time went on, it became apparent rather quickly that many of our opinions and ideas were no longer valued as we were just “employees” now.
Gavin: What led to your first departure, and what did you do during your time away from the company?
Chet: Actually, Gavin, I only left Simmons once, and it was after I was fired from KJQ the second version, which was replaced with Jack. I was being bounced from shift to shift on X96. I was doing middays on X96 when Simmons bought the station, and had been for years. Shortly after the purchase ,Simmons forced Mike Summers back on the air. This put me back on at night. The “tinkering” had begun. The explanation for most decisions from that point forward was the same: “We did this-this-and-this to save money.” Meanwhile, X96 was their top billing property. It made no sense to any of us.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to bring both yourself and Cuzzin Brad back to do the morning show on the newly formed KJQ?
Chet: Actually, Cuzzin and I were first considered for the morning show on another Simmons property, Star 102.7. In fact, we were told by the Simmons people that we were the new morning show on that station, only to be told a couple of days later that they gave it to a couple of guys from out of state. It wasn’t long after that many of us in the building began approaching management with an idea about bringing back the music from the KJQ days. We figured it would be a great compliment to X96, who had a much younger demographic. After months of campaigning for the project, Simmons finally agreed to use one of their newly acquired signals for the venture. Brad and I put together some air checks and were hired for mornings on KJQ.
Gavin: What was your time like working on that show, and what was it like essentially competing with your friends in Radio From Hell down the hall?
Chet: I must say that Brad and I really weren’t “competing” with Radio From Hell much at all. Sure, you want as many listeners as you can gather, but our biggest competitor was The End. At that time, The End was much more '80s-based than they are now. Sure, Radio From Hell did have an older demographic than X96 had the rest of the day, but they didn’t play much '80s music. Brad and I were trying to be much more music intensive than our competitors. We didn’t talk a whole lot because there were enough morning shows doing that at the time and we thought KJQ could be an option for those who wanted to listen to music in the morning. Brad and I have known each other and have been friends since the original KJQ days, so doing a morning show together was a dream come true. We get each other’s sense of humor and can play off each other without even thinking about it. Doing mornings at KJQ in the beginning was definitely hard, but fun at the same time. It wasn’t long, however, that the management was able to suck the life and any bit of fun out of it, and once that happened, it translated on the air. In other words, if you aren’t having fun doing it, the listeners aren’t having fun listening to it.
Gavin: What eventually led to the show being canceled and the downfall of KJQ before it became Jack-FM?
Chet: To be honest, I’m still to this day am not sure why we were let go. All I know is, I went on vacation and came back to be told I no longer had a job. The lesson learned: In radio, don’t ever go on a vacation. At the point that I was fired, the station was at a 2.3; to put that number in perspective, last time I checked, Jack-FM was at a 0.9 and has never gotten over a 1.3. There are literally hundreds of reasons that KJQ died. Some of the top reasons would be: first, Mike Summers was fired as PD of X96 and KJQ; second, absolutely no money was spent promoting the station; and third, jocks and personalities were castrated. An example of the last would be the conversation I had with a manager, where I was told to “tone down the sarcasm.” I responded with, “But that’s what I do and who I am.” I was then told, “Well, you have to understand that there are lots of women listening in the morning and they aren’t smart enough to get sarcasm.” Shortly after that, I was fired, and Cuzzin Brad was also let go after he trained the new morning show. It wasn’t long after that that they switched formats and became Jack-FM. Having spoken with some people who replaced us on KJQ, I found out that our experience there was not unique.
Gavin: What did you do after leaving Simmons, and did you still listen to either of your former stations after taking off?
Chet: After being fired, I didn’t really look that hard for another radio gig, mostly because I had become so jaded by the way corporate radio being was run. I bumped into an old friend who was a bartender at the Red Door, and she suggested I come in for a drink sometime. Louise, the owner, recognized me from my days on the radio and offered me a part-time gig. I have been there for over eight years as the general manager. What I love most about my job there is that it’s a small business and I don’t have to deal with the corporate mentality. I had stopped listening to the music that X96 was playing long before leaving Simmons, mainly because it was aimed at such a young generation. As for Jack-FM, it was like listening to a car wreck. You would hear a song you sort of liked and then it was followed by something from a completely different genre.
Gavin: How did the idea come about for you to start your own online station?
Chet: After seven years or more of trying to purchase and/or lease a terrestrial radio signal, I gave up the ghost. While radio signals have come down in the last few years, they still start at around $2 million for a flat-out purchase. I did look around for some LMA options, but the properties are all owned by one of the largest radio groups, and while low, I guess they are content with the ratings they are currently getting. It was last May that my friend Scott and I started talking about doing an online station. He is a computer whiz, and I knew enough about the broadcasting side that we decided to give it a try. Keep in mind that KCQN was designed to be more than just an Internet station. From the beginning, I wanted this to be as close to a “real” radio station, for a couple of reasons. KCQN would be an “air check” of sorts. This way, if an investor was interested in possibly purchasing a station, we could give them a finished product to listen to rather than trying to explain a concept. Also, we figured it was about time to bring back the music that we both had grown up listening to. Sure, there's Pandora and such, but we wanted to make it more than just an Internet jukebox. Besides, there is so much great music that even I had forgotten about and this was a perfect way to bring it to the forefront again.
Gavin: Where did the call sign and format come from, and how did you go about putting it together online and working out the details of streaming?
Chet: The format and call sign all stemmed from putting together two radio stations that I loved growing up here in Utah. I have been listening to “new wave/modern music” since the days of Super 107, but KCGL and KJQN definitely had the biggest effect on me; I listened to them both religiously in my youth. They weren’t just radio stations to most of us, they were also a lifestyle, as well. Putting those two stations together just seemed like a natural fit; hence, KC from KCGL and QN from KJQN. Working out the whole streaming side of this project would have never been possible without Scott. To put it bluntly, it was a bitch! This is not some streaming thing where we send our music to a company like Live 365 and they replay it like an iPod on shuffle. This is much more complex than anyone knows. Not only did it cost me thousands to acquire the technology needed, but also it took hours on Scott's end to keep running and updated. The running joke between Scott and me about KCQN is the line “two weeks” from the movie The Money Pit. You think you are close to being done with one thing and something else comes up. In other words, it’s never really done.
Gavin: What made you reach out to Stacee and Mister West to come join the station, and what were their thoughts on the project?
Chet: Long before the station was up and running, I met with a bunch of former radio people from the old stations to have them do some liners for the project. They included Bob Bedore, Lara Jones, Stacee Killian, Mister West and Andrea Gappmayer. They were all very excited to hear of what we were going to be doing. I originally had other jocks who were going to be helping with KCQN but were unable to because they were working at other stations by the time this project was ready to start. Mister West was a no-brainer -- who doesn’t love that guy? I listened to Mister long before I ever worked at KJQ in Ogden, and to this day, I consider him one of the most unique and entertaining jocks this state has. So when I was thinking of whom to approach to do mornings on KCQN, I called him and was thrilled to hear that he wanted to do it. Stacee -- love the Stacee; she had offered from the beginning to help in any way with the project. At one point, I was able to afford to add someone new to the station and I instantly thought she would be a great fit. She adds so much to the station since she has worked at most of the stations we are trying to emulate. I should also note that many former program directors of the stations we are trying emulate have heard of what we are doing and are thrilled with the station. That tells me we are doing something right.
Gavin: You launched the station last year and promoted heavily on Twitter and Facebook. What's the public reaction been like to the station, and how has it been for you running it daily?
Chet: I couldn’t be happier with the reaction from those who have found us. It ranges from “holy crap” to “thank God!” I knew we had a good product that people wanted, but even I am surprised by some of the reactions we get. It only proves to me that this state is more than ready for a station like KCQN. Our Facebook page is filled with people who are reliving their youth and are almost fanatical about our station. This is why we are doing it -- it’s all about the listeners. Everyone should know that KCQN, to this date, has not made a dime, and all the talent don’t get paid a thing. That includes myself. We are all doing this because we have a passion for this brand of music and, as we have found, we are not alone. Running KCQN day-to-day is just like any other radio station out there. -- plenty to do and very little time to do it, since I do have a “real” job to pay the bills and be able to buy stuff like stickers for the station.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand beyond what you're doing with it now, or are you mainly focused on keeping it stable and establishing it for now?
Chet: With the lack of money to purchase a signal at this point in time, we are focusing on growing our base. New people find us daily and we are trying to service them while finding new station features to keep everyone entertained. I won’t lie, I would love a terrestrial radio signal for KCQN. We, of course, would continue to use the Web for streaming. But with an actual signal, it would allow us to do so much more. As it stands now, we don’t even have studios. Everything is done remotely from our homes.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what's your take on local radio, both good and bad.
Chet: Honestly, I can’t even speak to this because I haven’t really paid too much attention to what’s been going on with local radio -- mostly because of the content that is being broadcast. From time to time, I scan the dial to try and find something new and innovative only to find it’s the same stuff that has been going on since I last listened on a regular basis years ago.
Gavin: In regards to podcasting, what's your take on the medium and how it has affected talk radio?
Chet: I believe podcasting is now giving a voice to many new and unique opinions. You will, of course, love some of the ideas out there and hate just as many, but in the end ,it may start some discourses that perhaps wouldn’t have happened when it was just a few people spewing the same opinions.
Gavin: What did you think of the rise -- and later discontinuation -- of UtahFM, both as a broadcaster and a fellow Internet station?
Chet: It’s a shame to see any fellow small broadcaster die. It’s a tricky thing trying to compete with the “big boy” broadcasters in the valley. They have piles of cash and endless other resources in their back pocket. I think as a small fish swimming with sharks you have to have something “they” cannot offer. Having worked for some of the “small fish” in the past, I know you have to concentrate on what it is you do best and not worry too much about what’s going on all around you. If you don’t, you will get caught up in the battle and lose your focus.
Gavin: Where do you personally see radio and online broadcasting over the next few years?
Chet: I think that streaming's effect on traditional radio will become more and more pronounced as time goes by. People no longer use radio they way they used to. Back in the day, you had just a few options -- standard broadcast radio, possibly satellite and maybe cable. Now that streaming and podcasting have become so accessible to the masses via smart devices, people have a plethora of options available and they are using them. There really is something for everyone just floating around on the Web at any given time.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Chet: The battle plan for KCQN over the coming months is the same as it has been from the start: Grow our listener base. New people are constantly finding us and enthused with what they are hearing. Obviously, the ultimate goal would be to acquire a broadcast signal. We would by no means stop online broadcasting; it would just be another way for people to listen when not near a computer or when without a smart device. Besides, there are way too many former Utahns who now live out of state who listen to us all across the country. It should be noted that most every person who is currently listening to KCQN found us by word of mouth, since the only promotion we have had to date is a write up in the UVU Review and bumper stickers -- and now, Gavin’s Underground. Yep, just like the good ol' days of KCGL and KJQN.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Chet: I would just like to thank the following people ,because without them there is absolutely no way my vision would have come to life: friends and family; everyone at XMission; past radio colleagues: Andrea Gappmayer, Bob Bedor, Lara Jones, Chone “Scott” Grep, Cuzzin “Warhammer” Brad, DJ Birdman, DJ Lex, John “E Cat” Geertsen, Kyle “Biz Whiz” Welch, Mario “Belt Sander” Hieb, Mr. “Meester” West, Rhett “5” Thomas, Stacey ”Connells” Killian, Warren “DV8” Woodward and Zeke “T” Prescott; and most importantly, all our listeners out there. You are why we do this.
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