Feature Stories

Denton Gets a New Radio Station, KUZU 92.9 FM, Thanks to Music Scene Vets

Peter Salisbury is finally living out his dream. Ever since the University of North Texas grad and musician moved to Denton in 1992, he's wanted to give the city a radio station that represents the creatives who live, work and play here. He's about to have it, thanks to KUZU 92.9 FM.

The community radio station will have a transmission limited to about three miles, but it's Salisbury's vision for the station to represent all of Denton. “Hopefully a lot of communities and music genres that largely get ignored will now have a platform to express themselves,” he says.

As the station's director, Salisbury is hoping to get the station up and running by this summer with an official date yet to be announced. But he says the story of the station's origins goes back to his involvement in the music community in the 1990s.

After graduating from UNT with a degree in photography, he played in a band called Mandarin and he eventually joined Baptist Generals. During that time, he recalls chatting with friends about what was missing in the city — a radio station that represents not just UNT, but also the creatives who live, work and play in the city.

“The radio station at UNT is really great and I love it,” says Salisbury. “But, I felt like it wasn't representative of this whole town.”

Salisbury knew he wasn't the only one who thought the city needed another radio station, but running a station comes with loads of paperwork he didn't know how to handle and he didn't have the funds to start one, either.

The late '90s were abysmal for radio enthusiasts, when independent radio stations were set back by heavy deregulation. At that point, new laws allowed for companies to own several different stations at a time instead of just one of each media platform, opening the path for massive conglomerates that diminished or completely pushed out independent stations.

Knowing that pirate radio stations in and around Texas tended to get shut down, Salisbury went a different route. He learned about Part 15, a section in the Federal Communications Code that allows for legal radio transmission within .1 watt, or just about a few city blocks.

From there, the idea evolved into Real Waves 1670 AM, a station that began airing in the summer of 2009 and still operates out of an apartment on Denton's square. 
The first song Salisbury played on the station to test the frequency range was “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. Over the years, the station featured a colorful variety of shows, including Tiger Dick Radio, co-hosted by the late Nevada Hill, and Fake Parts, hosted by Sashenka Lopez.

Lopez, who's now vice chair for the KUZU board, is also a musician by trade. She's performed in several acts over the years, including the now-defunct bands Christian Teenage Runaway and Orange Coax. Now she occasionally performs in a solo act called BAKA. She met Salisbury in 2011 when she sat in on a radio show on Real Waves, having just returned from a months-long trip working at a library in Ethiopia. Salisbury offered her and co-host Julie McKendrick (of local act Vulgar Fashion) a spot on the station for a show based on Ethiopian music, which turned into something else.

“I fell in love with the idea of having a radio show and within a month of coming back to the country, I started Fake Parts,” says Lopez. Her first show aired in the summer of 2012 and for three and a half years, she didn't miss a single episode.

Lopez's commitment paid off when she became vice chair of KUZU. Now she's in charge of supporting the operation and organizing the new station.

Other shows on Real Waves — like Colonel Burn's Honky Tonk Hour, and Murderation with Nick Foreman of Dust Congress — became staples for the tiny station. Then, due in part to the Local Community Radio Act in 2010, Salisbury was able to get approval for a Low Power FM station just last year. The act's 2011 passing allowed for the creation of hundreds of low power stations in small communities across the country. 
   While the station is technically run by Real Waves Radio Network, Salisbury had to find a way to collaborate with another nonprofit to operate the license and fulfill the legal requirements. With his local connections, he got in touch with the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival Association to acquire the license. Then, the FCC granted the organization a construction permit for an antenna. In about three years, the license will be officially transferred to the KUZU board.

Salisbury says that there's the potential for author discussions, political commentary and even a kids radio hour. The station is mandated to have eight hours a day of local programming but the ideal plan is to air locally 24 hours a day — and as of now, the board is open to good ideas.

For the time being, Salisbury says, the station is focused on raising much-needed funds for the operation with promotional videos and events. The station launches its Kickstarter campaign April 8 and is holding a benefit show at Harvest House on April 22 with bands to be announced. 

One thing is for sure: Salisbury says the station will make an effort to air what no one else wants to. “We're hoping that this will be a voice for everyone in town,” he says. 
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Pablo Arauz