Many people remember the rumble of thunder and the voice. “The Storm in the Valley, KSTM, 107, Phoenix-Apache Junction.”
Just as MTV was debuting on cable television, a new radio station was debuting on Valley radio. The Storm, as it was called, hung around for less than six years, soaking its audience in a mix of old music and new, insight and humor, with a lineup that could be the envy of any radio station today.
Doing business out of Apache Junction at 107.1 on the dial, KSTM-FM was the Valley’s last refuge from highly formatted, overly programmed and irritatingly repetitive music. It debuted 20 years ago, on Aug. 5, 1981, with the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows.
It featured Mary McCann, who later worked at KZON-FM (101.5); Andy Olson, now doing weekends on KSLX-FM (100.7); and Dennis McBroom and Lee Powell, who have been heard doing traffic reports on radio lately. Jeff Parets, who works at KJZZ-FM (91.5) and does a program for KSLX called The Acoustic Storm on Sunday mornings, was Program Director, Music Director and disc jockey.
“At the time, corporate rock was pervasive,” Parets says. “There was such a large void for informative and entertaining music programming.”
Variety, thoughtfulness, musical context and balance were the intangible keys to making it work.
The station resembled an FM from the early ’70s, when the Top 40 charts included not just rock and pop music, but also country, jazz, even standards and show tunes. KSTM played such artists as U2, Police, Eurythmics and R.E.M. long before any other station. “For years, we were the only ones playing R.E.M.,” Parets says.
Andy Olson, the KSLX personality who covered nights for KSTM, says the magic of the station was that “the audience was never sure what we were going to play next.” It could be jazz, reggae, the new British rock or Rolling Stones. “People listened, and they stayed listening,” he said.
The station had a weak signal. It couldn’t reach the west side of town for much of its existence. The audience was small. Parets says the station averaged a 2 share, a rough indicator of percentage of the total audience. Such are the hazards of operating on a shoestring and playing not only popular songs but also deep cuts from albums, which many programmers say will drive away listeners.
The signal and the format gave KSTM the feeling of a feisty underdog that respected its audience.
“It was a special audience,” Parets says. “It was not a passive audience.”
The station broadcast for six years before its owners decided they could make more money by making it more like their AM station. On June 14, 1987, KSTM became KVVA-FM, the first Spanish station on FM in Phoenix. KVVA exists to this day.
The last song was The Who’s The Song is Over.
Arizona Republic radio columnist Bud Wilkinson was deluged by letters from outraged listeners; he ran three columns covering them.
“I’m still in shock,” wrote Jan Molina of Scottsdale three weeks later.
“Don’t people have any pride in a quality product?” asked Michelle Frogge of Tempe.
“Once again, the powers that be have silenced the beat of those who march to the beat of a slightly different drummer. We are left with an audio wasteland consisting of the force-fed pabulum of `popular’ music and the self-indulgent sameness of retread oldies,” said Mike and Kathy Jacka of Phoenix.
The change was made quietly on a Sunday evening.
“People were heartbroken,” Parets said.
Olson says, “You’d be amazed how many people call up and hang on to it, to this day.
There were a few attempts to recapture, the feeling, but none, not even full-powered KZON-FM (101.5) in its early days, could recapture lightning in the bottle.
Parets believes it could be done, however.
“If done right, a station could succeed. It depends on finding people (to hire) who believe in the concept. The audience was loyal, and you could sell that loyalty to advertisers.”
Olson thinks it is more likely that such a station might show up on the Internet, but he also believes it could work.
“A station like that becomes your friend.”