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When alternative radio meant Seattle's KJET

It's been exactly 21 years since the grunge-anticipating, AM rock station KJET signed off the air, leaving a flood of great memories for our writer, including his favorite place to listen: a radio-challenged Ford Pinto.

KJET: Jet Out of Bed

KJET: Jet Out of Bed Dan Halligan

Did I love KJET 1590 AM because it was one of the first commercial alternative radio stations in Seattle and the United States? Did I love KJET 1590 AM because it was the first place I ever heard bands such as REM, the Replacements, Robyn Hitchcock, Soundgarden, the Posies, Green Pajamas and countless other artists who went on to bigger and better things? Maybe. But I think the main reason I loved KJET was because I drove a 1974 Ford Pinto with an AM radio.

KJET’s been gone for more than 20 years now, and it’s never really gotten the credit it deserves for contributing to the fecund music scene (and just generally cool place) that was Seattle in the 1980s. There were certainly other stations on the fringes of that era with higher profiles, such as KZAM and KYYX, but they didn’t have the long (for radio) lifespan of KJET. For a suburban geek punk wannabe like me, KJET was a front-row ticket to the big city “alternative” scene (though nobody used the word “alternative” in those days — “new wave” was more common, though that phrase felt dated by about 1983). KJET’s meteoric career also paralleled my own struggles to come of age and figure out what the hell I was going to do with my own life. Let’s begin at the end (not The End; that comes later).

It was just before 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, 1988 &mdash 21 years ago today. I was at my parents’ house in Kirkland, ironing my three best Nordstrom Oxford shirts and getting ready to stuff them into a suitcase and fly cross-country that night to a new life on the East Coast (or, really, to chase after part of my old life). In addition to plugging in the old Kenmore iron, I also had the tape recorder and radio functions going simultaneously on my boom box (anybody remember those?). I was pressing shirts for the coming week, but I also intended to press into magnetic tape for eternity the dying gasps of my favorite radio station. The sad story had been in the previous day’s newspapers: KJET was going off the air.

It was fitting that I was leaving town the same day that KJET also departed. I was a few days shy of my 20th birthday, and the station had been the soundtrack for much of my teens and especially the past two years of an intense love affair that had recently ended badly. KJET contests and promotions had provided me with free concert tickets and LPs, and their special events had been waypoints on my journey to . . . well, nowhere in particular. Let’s look at some highlights:

Spring 1984: Redmond Value Village Grand Opening

In its heyday, the old V&B grocery store in Redmond had been a classic postwar supermarket, but by the early 1980s it had become kind of a dump. Though it was sad when the V&B closed down for good in 1982, word got out that it was to be replaced by a Value Village thrift store. I personally came late to the idea of buying and wearing used clothes (my European parents looked down on the practice — they’d been forced to wear used American clothing courtesy of the UN after WWII, and were horrified that their son would do so by choice), but my high school pals Ken and Bill had no trouble talking me into going to the grand opening of Value Village, since KJET was involved.

Ken even won the KJET contest arranged at the store by wunderkind program director (and promotions guy, producer, DJ and who knows what else) Jim Keller. Ken was given five minutes to run around the clothing racks and gather and then put on a complete outfit (shoes, pants, shirt, blazer, hat, sunglasses, overcoat) which he got to keep for free. Meanwhile, I bought my first-ever item of used clothing for three bucks: an old US Postal Service cardigan sweater.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Sep 23, 8:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Who can forget the best all night DJ, Auto Pilot? He didn't say much but played a lot of good music, perfect for test preparation. This was just one more way that KJET was ahead of its time, as validated decades later by new Arbitron metrics.

Posted Wed, Sep 23, 11:52 p.m. Inappropriate

And there was also Dr. Ruth on Sunday nights (I think) and Dr. Demento too. Some of the many "flights of the JET."

Posted Thu, Sep 24, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate

normally i'm allergic to nostalgia but just wanted to say it was fun to read about KJET again. i listened to it sometimes in tacoma in the early '80s and again in seattle 1987-88. i was listening 21 years ago when it breathed its last, and left town myself a couple months afterward.
it's hard to believe in the days of podcasts, streaming and downloading that a conduit to new and unusual music like KJET was so precious. JK and the others have a nice legacy -- corporate owners haven't brought any improvement.

e_pook

Posted Thu, Sep 24, 2:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Best KJET memory: Listening to Art of Noise's version of "Money (That's What I Want)" while delivering auto parts for a Crown Hill tire shop in a blue 1970s Chevy LUV pickup circa 1983.

Posted Thu, Sep 24, 5:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for caring enough to write this piece. I have several fond memories of KJET, including the time my band's single got played over the radio as I was sitting in a car full of college girls (someone said, "Hey, isn't that your band?").

Still, the occasional glitches with the automated system were what we all remember best. Late one night, the system got stuck and played "Bob Was A Robot" by Red Dress over and over as I was driving home to Capitol Hill from my job in Lynnwood. Good times.

J.R.

Posted Fri, Sep 25, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate

When I first started reading the piece I thought "OK great, but what about KZAM?" So kudos to the author for showing knowledge and respect for pathfinding local radio history. And thanks for a little nostalgia, too, as KZAM was my radio touchstone in high school, and I don't think I've seen/heard it mentioned in 30 odd years.

QAMan

Posted Mon, Sep 28, 4:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Ironic how SRO managed to own and operate more than one station that would have long term impact on NW media.

When they first purchased KTW AM and FM, (possibly among the very oldest stations in Seattle. KJR claims to be first, as do a few others, but KTW was signed on by the Presbyterian Church and Reverend Matthews. KTW stood for Know The Word.

The Automated FM was so well listened to at that point, playing 8 hour long tapes of pre recorded "beautiful Music" that it accidentally signed itself off the air for 3 days and no one noticed.

As I recall the AM was playing. Around 1964 they went Rock and Roll, but by 1970, I believe the AM was playing Classical at 1250.

But I digress. The interesting radio concept was to be the first ALL NEWS Westinghouse Affiliate, and then added talk radio that was Intelligent. They brought in a list of outside unknowns who later became the core of Seattle media.

Phil Cogan was News Director. Among those on the news talk side: Greg Palmer who authored a core group of radio actors and won a Peabody... which arrived AFTER SRO laid everyone off and changed the format. Wayne Cody did sports. I seem to recall at one point Joni Balter was there, Kevin Kelly, few ex KZAMers, some folks then went on to KOMO, and of course, KZOK.

The FM was a rather fast success taking on KISW at the time KJR's FM, KOL FM, and more... but the AM Newstalk format lasted nine months or so, and then on a very sad day, SRO fired the entire lot.

1250 back then shared time with KWSU (the frequency STILL does). Sunset hit and you could barely hear the station downtown. SRO as I recall simulcast KZOK but behind the scenes was working on a three way frequency swap, which got them the more useful 1590 slot (at one point 1590 was owned by Davis Broadcasting, funded by Orange Juice, and was Seattle's first Oldies Station. A number of ex KUUU folks are still around... )

I cannot recall the Third frequency in the swap was the Old KYAC frequency if I recall correctly. When the dust settled KYAC had 1250, Sterling had 1590… I forget the third part… but once SRO had 1590... along came KJET, but not before trying a few other short lived runs... others out there may have better recall, but I believe there was even a short attempt at Jazz... but not sure.

Posted Mon, Sep 28, 4:18 p.m. Inappropriate

This from Radio Info.com blog a few months back:

http://www.youtube.com/v/oO6ywKTBJQU

A lot of people don't remember this one, but KJET made a TV commercial shortly after it's sign on (on Memorial Day 1982.) It was the only one they ever made. After MANY years of searching, I finally found it on YouTube!.....

Posted Tue, Sep 29, 5:14 a.m. Inappropriate

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Posted Tue, Sep 29, 8:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the memories. KJET really was a great station. I still remember the last day when the kept playing "We're Through Being Cool" by Devo in honor of the new "Cool" format.

sully

Posted Wed, Sep 30, 10:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Great to hear about KJET! My big memory: i worked summers for my grandparents on a golf course they had in north bend. Around dusk I would drive their HUGE 70's era pontiac station wagon out over the course to set sprinklers. It had that strange power suspension and it just FLOATED over the fairways as i drove. With Mt. Si looming above, KJET on the AM radio and my grandmas home cooking in my belly i flew over the grass - unforgettable!

Posted Thu, Oct 1, 12:12 a.m. Inappropriate

hacknflack, the floating synthesizer, and those shades, are priceless. Thanks for posting the video.

Posted Fri, Oct 2, 1:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, Feliks, for a great reminder of the days when Seattle had high-quality and creative commercial radio and TV.

I arrived in town in 1983 driving a Ford Fiesta with an AM radio. I listened to KJET whenever I was behind the wheel and it became the preferred provider of background music during my young adulthood. I always imagined that the station’s studio and offices looked a bit like the set for WKRP, with a cast of misfits who somehow made it all work. And to this day I remember the station IDs. One of my favorites sampled the Stevens and Grdnic classic, “Mr. Wizard and Timmy,”

Mr. Wizard -- Today Timmy, we're going to take an old spatula, an inner tube and some macaroni noodles to make a nuclear reactor.
Timmy – Gee, Mr. Wizard! Aren't nuclear reactors dangerous?
Mr. Wizard -- No, Timmy! But old spatulas are! They can poke your little eyes out!
Followed by sound effects of the jet zooming by and the announcer reading “1600 KJET.”

For a station with a miniscule staff, a small budget and a weak signal, KJET apparently had a huge impact on its listeners. As further evidence of this, check out:
http://theacf.com/kjet/

Posted Wed, Jul 4, 2:57 p.m. Inappropriate

I arrived in Seattle from Iowa after college in Feb 1985, working for the Hormel Co. Fresh out of college and never west of the rockies, the experience was riveting. Working in an elder-established company culture calling on grocery meat managers in the SeaTac area was the setting. Enduring months of stress, getting lost finding stores, carting trunkloads of nearly outdated hot dogs around, adjusting to wet gray weather, being utterly blown away by the nature, beauty and culture scene and listening to Morrissey bellow that Meat Is Murder on KJET will forever be emblazoned upon my memory. Forever live KJET.

philg

Posted Sat, Jul 20, 3:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the great article about what I consider to be the best radio station ever - if only in that it broadened my musical tastes exponentially. I used to deliver newspapers in Port Townsend twice a day 4-7am and 1-4pm and KJET was about the only thing I listened to in my car. I remember many occasions hearing the same 20 minute set of songs, etc. on a loop when Otto would malfunction at 4 in the morning, or the occasional dead silence. Although I remember hearing Bill Reid and Jim Keller (and seeing them introduce concerts in Seattle) the one DJ who really sticks out in my mind was a woman whose name I'm forgetting at the moment (I'm getting old!). Maybe she wasn't as 'cool' as Reid or Keller, in fact I remember her commenting on Depeche Mode's cover of Route "666" as she put it and how 'demonic' those boys were... But she was on the air during my afternoon deliveries so I remember her best and I hope she's doing well.

fauntue

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