Kazie Perkins, left, and Myron Jackson of KZGM 88.1 FM share a light moment in the KZ88 studio in Cabool. (File photo)

One of the entries in the FM radio lineup of south-central Missouri is a station that originates in Cabool: 88.1, KZGM.

And although KZ88 has been broadcasting its “community radio” format since April of 2009, it may well be one of the Ozarks’ best-kept secrets.

About half of what listeners hear on KZ88 consists of locally produced programming, while the other half comes from national sources. Music and informative shows share time on the station, but both are presented from an “outside the box” perspective.

Co-founders Kazie Perkins and Myron Jackson describe the format as “information, entertainment and education.”

“We want everybody to stretch their mind,” Perkins said. “But we wanted a friendly tone.”

“No hate,” Jackson said. “No one should be put down for the way they think.”

News and information shows from the Pacifica Network are a primary source of that friendly-toned presentation. Pacifica originated in the 1940s and provides what Jackson calls a progressive approach to radio, but one that requires listeners to sift through less opinion.

KZ88 starts a typical day with music, switches to talk in the afternoon and goes back to entertainment (mainly music) at night. But it’s all designed to provide an alternative to the proliferation of negativity on current talk radio and increasingly promiscuous tone to music radio.

The station’s 12,500-watt signal originates from a state-of-the-art transmitter and tower on high ground off of Highway U northeast of Cabool. It travels in a directional pattern reaching east to Van Buren, north to Rolla, south to Thayer and west to Seymour.

No commercials are heard on KZGM, and there is nobody currently on the payroll there. All three of the listener-supported station’s directors (Perkins, Jackson and Gene Colliflower) as well as all local on-air personalities are strictly volunteer. Operating funds come from a variety of sources; Jackson said donations have “been a little slow” in part due to the economy, but also in part because of a never-ending to-do list.

“We haven’t pushed it,” Jackson said, “but we’re working on getting that area more organized.”

“We have to be devoted to keep going,” Perkins said. “We’re listener supported and non-profit, which means we’ll be in the fundraising mode forever.”

Day one on the air came almost spontaneously when the Federal Communications Commission granted KZGM its testing permit and license on the same day. Usually there would be a gap of up to several months between the testing and licensing.

“We weren’t ready,” Perkins said. “We were putting on everything we could find.”

Community radio stations can be defined as locally owned public stations that try to reflect and support the communities within reach.

Local listeners are not the only ones hearing KZGM’s local programming as most of KZ88’s day is simulcast by 90.7 FM, WAZU in Peoria, Ill.

The unusual situation stems from a relationship between Perkins, Jackson and the founder of WAZU that began when applications for both stations were submitted at the same time in the same place.

That means residents of a small community in Illinois actually hear things like a Saturday show that features retired Texas County judge Brad Ellsworth and guests.

Interestingly, when call-in shows are on, some calls come from Illinois. And when all-request Friday rolls around, several songs are inevitably played for Illinois listeners.

WAZU’s local lineup is on the increase and the station will eventually phase out its Ozark connection.

“But for now we’re helping them out a little,” Jackson said.

Perkins, born and raised in Houston, Texas, had never been in radio before the KZGM project. She came to the Ozarks in 1970 as a disillusioned “back-to-the-lander” tired of the rat race, and ended up working to help protect the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and the Eleven Point Wild and Scenic River.

Perkins eventually met her husband, Willie, a logger and lifelong resident of the area. The couple now live where Willie was born, on land in the Noblett Creek watershed that has been in his family for generations.

Jackson, who in his childhood days spent time living in both St. Louis and Kansas City, does have a history in radio. He got his start at a station in Mountain Grove in 1976, where he received one Sunday’s worth of guidance before returning the following week to find a deserted office and studio.

“I called the general manager at home and he said, ‘I trained you last week, just go ahead and do it'” Jackson said. “I was there for eight hours all by myself trying to remember everything I’d seen the week before.

“But I stumbled through it.”

He studied radio at the University of Missouri and worked at a station there, but eventually left the field for many years. He did some newspaper advertising sales and ran a print shop in the same “rock building by the pizza place” where KZ88 is located.

Five of KZGM’s locally produced programs have been picked up by stations elsewhere in the country. One of the station’s on-air highlights of the past year was a special that coincided with the Vietnam Wall exhibit that was in Cabool during the summer. The emotional show featured a Vietnam veteran interviewing other Vietnam vets and was aired 24-7 for several consecutive days. It is likely to be run again around Veteran’s Day.

Future plans for KZ88 include further expansion of local programming and perhaps a relationship with area schools and media. Simply increasing awareness of the station’s existence is high on the list, too, as well as starting a membership program in hopes that the station can develop a consistent monthly income.

“One thing about community radio is that the people involved tend to be willing to do what it takes to keep it going, Perkins said. “There are lot of hard times off and on and I’m just hoping the people of this community will recognize the value of this because we’re going to need their support.”

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