7 Questions for KJZY’s retiring Rob Singleton
Rob Singleton, the morning voice of jazz radio station KJZY 93.7FM, has called it a day, retiring in June after 29 years on Sonoma County’s airwaves.
He started his career with the U.S. Air Force and cut his teeth at radio stations in Berkeley, San Jose and San Francisco. He took a job doing news at Santa Rosa’s KZST in 1984 and helped founder Gordon Zlot start a new smooth jazz station 11 years later.
Here Singleton, 66, reflects on music, the radio business and that soothing radio voice.
A cross-country road trip to help my mom celebrate her 90th birthday and then a cruise to Alaska that was a gift from the station. By mid-September I will have nothing to do, which sounds just great.
In the back of my mind, I’m thinking I might do some voice and commercial work.
Plus I’m learning how to sleep in. I had to get up at 4 a.m. to do the morning show in KOME in San Jose, at 3 a.m. when I was at KSFO/KYA in San Francisco, and at 3:30 when I did the morning news at KZST.
At KJZY I pushed it back to 5:30, but last week I tried to sleep until 6 or 6:30 and I couldn’t do it.
Is your voice insured?
Did you always have it, or did you have to develop it?
It developed over the years. I could read out loud really well when I was 8, but one of my former bosses told me to start talking lower. I sounded pretty young and still do. My mentor, Mikel Herrington at KOME in San Jose, said just to relax. I would get excited on the air and my voice would get high.
When I was starting out at KRE in Berkeley , we played a lot of jazz and progressive R&B, and people thought I was black. I grew up in southeast Washington, D.C., so I got into the vernacular and would hip up my language to be in time with the music. I could see people through the window pointing at me and mouthing, “He’s white!”
How did you get started?
I joined the Air Force and started as a Medic, but I wasn’t cut out for dealing with sick people. They were looking for a radio announcer at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, so I did a six-week course and wound up broadcasting, mostly for American Forces Radio and Television in Thailand.
I stayed with a buddy in Berkeley after I got out, and started at the bottom at Berkeley station KRE. I answered phones, wrote commercials and did the church programs on Sunday. It took a year before I was on-air talent.
The company that owned that station sold, but for the four years it took for the sale to go through, we could play whatever we wanted. I got to do a lot of interviews with the top jazz performers of the era. I wasn’t all that into jazz before, but quickly learned that I like it.
I feel a little like Forrest Gump. I just seemed to land at the right place at the right time. There are no start-up radio jobs anymore. You have to be able to step in and do a show but don’t have stations where you can learn how.
What other ways has the industry changed?
DJs were expanding the playlist on FM until the corporate guys took over and changed formats back to the top 40. Radio still doesn’t quite get it. Radio plays the hits, but after a while it gets repetitious. People are hungry for new stuff, but aren’t finding it on radio.
We started with smooth jazz at KJZY in 1995, but that format has been dying for a few years. It’s a strange phenomenon. It gets an older, active, affluent audience, but it can’t get advertisers to understand that. We started tinkering with hybrids. Gordon Zlot is a big Sinatra fan, so we started adding in a Big Band jazzy sound. We also got more pop-ish but cut back after awhile.
We’re still strong on the Internet and get listeners from all around the world. I keep in touch with an Australian listener I hope to visit now that I have time to travel.
What drew you to Sonoma County?
I fell in love with California as soon as I stepped off the plane from the service. I love the culture, the environment, the people. Back east, they’re 30 years behind the times when it comes to relationships. It seems like people out here are a lot nicer, more friendly.
And I was really fortunate to have wound up at KZST. Gordon Zlot loves radio and built his first station when he was 9. When I got here, I knew I was home. I realized that Santa Rosa was a great place to live and raise a family. It was also a great work environment. It wasn’t corporate.
I want to add a big “Thank you” to all the radio listeners, and I wouldn’t want to say goodbye without thanking them. They have helped make my life a real pleasure, and I hope I was able to give them something back as well.
Which albums can’t you live without?
“Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis, “Best of Coltrane,” “Are You Experienced” by Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles’ “White Album.” But it’s really particular songs that do it for me, like Richie Haven’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” and jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Renaissance,” a song I could listen to forever.
I also wouldn’t want to go the rest of my life without ever hearing “Buzzing Fly” and “Strange Feeling” from the Tim Buckley album “Happy Sad.” The British pianist/singer/songwriter Jamie Cullum is a recent favorite. I wouldn’t want to live without his CD, “The Pursuit.”
I like music that makes me happy, music that makes me sad and everything in between, and especially music that makes me move in one way or another.
A great piece of music has that ability to transport me immediately back to when I first fell in love with it, and it can instantly recreate the emotions and feelings that it stirred in me at the time. There’s also a flash of nostalgia about what else was going on in my life. It’s like taking the mind and the emotions back in time to a certain point in life. Music has always done that to me way more than any other art form.
The song that originally exposed me to jazz was one my buddy in the Air Force played for me, John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.” What he does for 11 minutes on his soprano sax is amazing.