In the ’80s, rock lovers in Dallas tuned into KZEW “The Zoo” as they cruised down Central Expressway. Now, more than three decades since that iconic call sign graced the airwaves, a key figure in the history of the Zoo is returning to “extend the continuum” of the radio station.
“The Zoo was my first radio family and I know a ton of the people involved and I’ve kept in touch with them over the last 30 years and it just seemed like a fun thing to do,” George Gimarc told the Observer from his home studio. “I have a completely different nostalgia for this than other people because my nostalgia is working with my first radio family. For other people it’s all wrapped up in the music. The music is not what drives this for me, which is kind of different.”
The station, which will launch here on March 31, (and likely next weekend on the VOKAL Media app) will be a spiritual successor to the Zoo. Former on-air personalities, including former station manager Ira Lipson, John Rody, Beverly Beasley and the Ticket’s Mike Rhyner, among others, will lend their voices to blocks of music indicative of each of the Zoo’s many eras. Classic commercials from the period will also be mixed in “just because it’s fun,” Gimarc said.
Gimarc’s weekly show, “Rock and Roll Alternative,” aired for 14 years on radio stations in Dallas including KNON and the newly reformatted KDGE, a station which Gimarc helped make a major player in the Dallas market. What’s more, Gimarc estimates he’s launched at least half a dozen radio stations on his own.
When, during a meeting, VOKAL Media founder John Ritchie brought up the idea of resurrecting the Zoo, Gimarc responded with little hesitation.
“I just went, ‘Well, you know, why not,’” Gimarc said. “We did not discover a whole bunch of old air checks and we are not airing a whole bunch of tapes of the station from years ago; that’s not what’s happening. I have all the music that the station used to play. I have a bunch of music that didn’t exist, that if the station was around in 1993 they would have played this, if the station was around in 2000 they would have played this.”
The trick to that, Gimarc said, is blending music across generations without sacrificing the cohesive sound of a radio station. Serious discussions about whether or not to include grunge in the station’s rotation have been had and listeners shouldn’t expect to hear New Order on the station. It’s too much of a stretch from what the station represents, and Gimarc said there’s a wide range of records that comfortably fit within the Zoo idiom.
However, Gimarc stressed that this station will be a living, breathing thing that will hopefully end up in a position where it can sustain itself as its own entity, a competitor and love letter to radio and what the industry sounded like 30 years ago, before risk-taking ceased to characterize the medium. “It will become what it needs to become to please the greatest number of people,” Gimarc said.
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And if anyone can please the masses with a radio program, it’s Gimarc. He references Field of Dreams when explaining how he was able to pull together the playlist (which Gimarc estimates to be at around 5,000 records, well above a traditional radio station’s rotation) and the original cast of KZEW characters.
Aside from Gimarc’s decades of experience in the field, he says that today people are far less susceptible to the “tyranny of the date.” No longer does music have to be separated by era on the dial. It’s more about how a song hits one’s ear in the age of iTunes. But despite the advances made in technology and the tastes of consumers, the most exciting change for Gimarc is one he’s not quite sure everyone will be able to pick up on.
“Right now radio stations are really compressed … because the consistency of the sound level is so ridged,” Gimarc says. “This is going to have a lot of breathing room, it’s going to sound more like vinyl. The station is going to end up sounding different and people might not be able to put their finger on it.”
The Zoo will have its formal launch at noon March 31, and Gimarc says he’s got something very special for the station’s first hello in 28 years.