The more things change, the more they stay the same.
There’s nothing more creative than the wildly underestimated activity known as “porch-sitting.”
It’s 2023. Seven frayed and tattered, no, really ancient theater chairs squat underneath a sign that reads “Dead Head Parking Only.”
It was here that I met the Kiffmeyer Brothers, Doni and Joe, and it was here that, once upon a time, they would “decompress and debrief” after their high energy Trading Post show (take it away, I don’t want it anymore/does anyone have an old ??? they don’t want anymore?)
They laughed a lot and it was contagious.
There are still porch-sitters. They gaze across the parking area where a space age array of solar panels, all straight lines and angles, looms proudly and sharply where there used be an old Park Service trailer that housed the entire radio station - “leaky and sway backed but it was enough to begin with,” says Christy Williams Dunton, veteran co-founder and currently dee-jay at KZMU.
The station aired for the first time on April 2, 1992, and according to the lore everything had been donated - the land on which the trailer rested, the trailer itself, and hand-me-downs from the AM radio station that expired along with the uranium boom. Town lawyers donated their time to make it legal, volunteers hauled equipment from as far away as Las Vegas and as close to home as the town dump, and the grassroots made it happen.
But it all started five years earlier with Carl Rappe, aka Wednesday AM dee-jay “Uncle Meat.” In 1987 Rappe, who worked along with Dunton at the commercial AM station, told her, “What Moab needs is a radio station not so dependent on the taste of merchants. Something where you can have more creative latitude.”
It was the ‘80s and then it was the ‘90s, and community radio, then widely supported by Federal grants, was proliferating all over the country; licenses were available. “Waddya think?” Rappe reportedly asked and Dunton replied, “Oh my God, you’re right!” The founding Moabites, led by Rappe, convinced the FCC and the City, in fact all the usual suspects, that Moab truly did need a public radio station.
According to Doni Kiffmeyer, early KZMU had the third smallest annual operating budget in the land. The first fund drive raised $5,000. And then in that wonderful year 1994 the station applied to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for a $50,000 grant, and scored, garnering enough moolah every year to keep the lights on. Then, as now, Moab, including a bevy of community-minded merchants, chipped in with donations and underwriting to bolster the burgeoning broadcaster of music and live public affairs shows.
By the year 2000 the station had abandoned the old trailer and built a studio “with a bathroom and everything” which still houses the station today.
Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century and ominous grumblings from the Feds about whether public broadcasting, tv and radio, should indeed receive federal funding. In 2014 “the hammer dropped.” The verdict: a station had to have a budget of at least $300,000 or it was no longer eligible for funding.
Dunton traveled to conferences and meetings, where it literally felt as though the sky was falling, and tried to tell them: “Come on, we’re making it on a third of that!” Their response? Sink or swim.
It could have been bad. But KZMU swam. Today, every on-air dee-jay touts the station as entirely listener-supported. Now, as then, the unvarnished truth.
What else is new? In recent years, the station added a daily local news feature that was a long-time dream and has become a dream come true thanks to the station’s lead reporter Molly Marcello.
There is a slick ever-evolving website - kzmu.org - where you can stream the current show. You can also donate to the station’s April Radiothon or scope out the tee-shirts, socks, and beanies for sale.
Or simply call the dee-jay at 435-259-5968 (435-259-KZMU). To connect with staff, phone the station line at 435-259-8824 (435-259-UTAH).
But first…tune in to live radio - 90.1 or 106.7 on your FM dial or kzmu.org.