Music News & Reviews

KC-style jazz station hopes to go on the air next year

Mary Lou Williams will be among the Kansas City jazz icons featured on the new KOJH.
Mary Lou Williams will be among the Kansas City jazz icons featured on the new KOJH. File photo

By this time next year, Kansas City-style jazz might be bebopping out of a new radio station near you.

The Mutual Musicians Foundation in the 18th and Vine jazz district announced this week it’s been granted a construction permit for a noncommercial, low-power FM radio station. The foundation is hoping the KC jazz station, at 104.7 FM, will be on the air by next January.

“Low power” is just what it sounds like. The signal would carry only about 10 miles in any direction of downtown, says Anita J. Dixon, the foundation’s executive director.

After the Local Community Radio Act was signed into law in Washington in 2011, some 2,800 nonprofit groups applied for low-power FM licenses in the fall of 2013. For the first time, some of those stations will be in major urban areas, although the signals can’t conflict with those of established stations.

You’ve heard stations boast about broadcasting at 100,000 watts? Low-power stations typically operate at about 100 watts.

The foundation plans for KOJH-LP to broadcast eight hours a day at the beginning, perhaps split between the morning and evening, “until ‘Scandal’ comes on or something like that,” Dixon jokes.

A major goal will be to broadcast live the late Friday and Saturday night jam sessions the Mutual Musicians Foundation has been famous for since 1930.

In addition to preserving and promoting the city’s jazz heritage, the station might boost tourism, too.

Dixon says she can imagine an out-of-town visitor at a downtown hotel hearing the jam session on the radio: “You find out live jazz, drinks and people are five minutes from you, you’re gonna get up and you’re gonna go.”

The station plans to play “a lot of local stuff” including jazz by “some of the local cats that hang around during the late-night jam sessions,” Dixon says.

Listeners can also expect standards by the likes of Bennie Moten, Big Joe Turner and Mary Lou Williams. Old-time gospel will be played, too, and one day a week will be devoted to world music.

Mutual Musicians will bring in a consultant to help get the station off the ground and will be looking for additional funding. Dixon says it should cost about $25,000 to launch the station.

Some of the events at the foundation’s Art of Kansas City Swing international jazz education festival, June 18-20, will raise money for the project.

The foundation expects to hire a full-time general manager but rely on volunteers for other jobs, including announcers.

The station will have studios at the foundation, 1823 Highland Ave., the former headquarters of Local 627, the “colored” musicians union. The tower, however, is expected to go up at Arts Asylum, 1000 E. Ninth St.

KOJH’s programming will also be streamed online, Dixon says.

The Mutual Musicians Foundation continues the jam sessions that were a mainstay of Local 627, which would be 100 years old in 2017. The foundation has been working for three years to launch a Kansas City jazz radio station.

“I’ve never had anything more exciting happen,” Dixon says. “One minute you’re dreaming and the next minute it’s there.”

To reach Tim Engle, call 816-234-4779 or send email to tengle@kcstar.com.

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