Friday, February 8, 2013

Time


©2013 by LeeZard

Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes……
Billy Joel, Say Goody-bye to Hollywood

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future……
Steve Miller, Fly Like an Eagle

Time is an illusion…..
Albert Einstein


Courtesy of Sarah Sharbach
There are friends in life and then there are the people you love. These are the friends with whom, even if you don’t see them for years, you can still resume the last conversation in mid-sentence. If we are very lucky we have more than one or two of these friends. I am blessed to count Jim and Jackie Stutzman in that circle. Sadly, Jackie passed away late last month, following a brief, valiant battle with Leukemia.

We of my generation are certainly becoming aware of our mortality but this is not a Boomer’s view on life and death. Nor is this a eulogy, an obituary or even a tribute (although a Jackie tribute could fill several pages); this is a reflection on TIME.

I met Jim Stutzman in mid-1971. I’d just returned from Washington, D.C. to my parents’ home in the New York City borough of Queens after Metromedia Radio News, a nascent network for which I toiled, folded.  I was pounding the New York City pavement, boldly walking into radio stations in search of employment.

One of the first stations I approached was WOR-FM at 1440 Broadway, two blocks south of Times Square. In 1971, commercial FM radio was still a relatively new phenomenon and still lagged behind AM Radio in popularity. ‘OR-FM was one of the early top FM dogs in The Big Apple.

After convincing the reception/gatekeeper to let me wander back to the newsroom, I walked in to find one person poring over some AP wire copy. He looked up and offered a kindly hello.

He was a relatively short friendly man with thinning hair, the beginning of smiley wrinkle lines at the corners of his eyes and a honey toned voice made for radio. This was my first encounter with Jim (Stutz) Stutzman.

After Stutz’s warm welcome – unlike the welcomes I’d received at previous radio station visits that day – I explained my purpose and, holding out my resume, asked if he was the News Director. “No,” said Stutz, “Keeve Berman is News Director and he is gone for the day.”

Nonetheless, Stutz took a quick look at my (still brief) resume and his eyes lit up. “You were at Metromedia,” he exclaimed. “Did you know Mike Dewey?”

“Know him?” I replied. “We’ve been drinking buddies for the last two years.”

“Dewey and I worked together at Armed Forces Radio in Berlin,” said Stutz. With that, he walked into the empty News Director’s office, picked up the phone and quick-dialed a number.

“Hello Keeve,” I heard him say, “a friend of mine just walked into the office looking for a news gig. You need to hire him.” Stutz handed me the phone. After a brief, impromptu telephone interview, Keeve Berman directed me to be in his office the next morning, audition tape in hand. And that was that; I started at WOR-FM the next week. But Stutz and I didn’t really become friends until four years later when the tables were turned.

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I arrived in Seattle, WA in February 1974 as News Director for a brand new station, KZOK-FM (OK102 and a half). Its format was centered on the enormous creative explosion in Pop and Rock music that began in the mid-60s. I was hired to bring a more thoughtful and deeper look at the news and events of the post-Vietnam/Watergate era.

I’d heard through the radio grapevine that Stutz was somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, maybe Portland, OR. When I initially flew to Seattle in January to look over the place and the people for whom I would work, I called back east to our old News Director to find out if he knew Stutz’s exact location. “Yeah,” said Keeve Berman in response to my question, “he’s in some suburb east of Seattle, a place called Bellevue.”

Ironically, I was staying at a Bellevue hotel just eight blocks from Stutz’s home. And, when I made the move to Seattle one month later, it was on Stutz’s living room floor that I slept for the first month. And, it was when I first met Jackie. Our friendship was cemented and Jackie easily joined as if she was there from the beginning.

Unfortunately, by early 1975 it was clear the station’s ownership and upper management just didn’t get it – neither the vibes of its audience or how to run a radio station.

One cold damp March afternoon in1975 management suddenly “pulled the plug” on our sister AM station, KTW, and its news/talk format. At the close of business that fateful day, the company president told a shocked staff meeting, “don’t come to work tomorrow; we are taking the station off the air.” Just like that forty-seven people were thrown out of work in the biggest massacre in Seattle broadcasting history. C’est la radio.
Don't ask!

My studio was down the hall from the staff meeting and I watched my colleagues stagger out in shock and dismay. The good news was I found myself surrounded on the FM side by a core group of incredibly bright, talented and creative people who shared my vision for a radio station with high quality music programming, in-depth, relevant news coverage and a deep involvement with its community.

Over the next few weeks this group met privately to discuss options and possible solutions to what we now viewed as a severely listing FM ship. Finally, Tom Corddry (TC to us), who had earlier programmed KOL-FM, Seattle’s first progressive station, reported he had the solution! Sitting east across Lake Washington in Bellevue, was an FM station, KBES, with a powerful signal but only serving its Eastside audience with a dated Middle of the Road (MOR) format and standard “rip & read” headline news. The station was losing upwards of $30,000 a month.

Corddry approached KBES ownership offering an entire staff ready to pull the struggling operation back into the black. All he asked for was complete creative control and a modest budget for promotion. Despite any real understanding of the format Corddry proposed, the owners took a giant leap of faith and accepted TC’s offer. Desperation breeds strange bedfellows.

Unfortunately, this meant the same fate would befall the much smaller staff at KBES-FM as that of KTW-AM. C’EST la radio.

There was one exception, however. As we looked over the outgoing staff at KEBS, I turned to TC and pointed to one name on the list. “You can’t fire this guy,” I told him. “Not only is he my friend but he has more radio chops up his ass than everybody else we have combined.”

That name was Jim Stutzman.

KZAM 30th Anniversary Reunion
KZAM went on to not only become profitable but to gain legendary status. It was unique for its music, news and community involvement. It was the first station in the Seattle market to put not one, but three women on the air as disc jockeys. It was wildly creative and alive with the energy of the times. Over the years 1975-79, the original staff evolved into a close-knit group of friends and then a loving, supportive family.

Amidst this creative chaos was the calming nature of Jackie Stutzman. If KZAM was Neverland, Jackie was Wendy, the tolerant and patient den mother to the Lost Boys (and Girls). While she rarely, if ever, took part in the antics and shenanigans around her, she was always there with an understanding smile and unquestioning affection.

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When Jim retired a few years ago, he and Jackie moved to the home they built on 10 acres of land they owned on Guemes Island. Guemes is an eight-point-three square mile hat-shaped haven just a five-minute ferry ride from Anacortes, in the northwest corner of Washington State. There are about 300 permanent residents on the island.

When I learned of Jackie’s passing, I immediately called Stutz. After expressing my deepest condolences I asked, “Are you up there by yourself?”

“Yes, I am,” he replied.

“Do you want company? Nobody should be by themselves at a time like this.” The words flew from my mouth before they even registered in my brain. That’s the way it is with family.

There was a short pause and Stutz said, “Yes, I would like some company.”

I arrived at Guemes six hours later, at 6:30PM. When I walked into the house and gave my old friend a hug, he collapsed in my arms, sobbing and repeating over and over, “Oh fuck, oh fuck,” We stood like that for several minutes until Stutz took some deep breaths to regain his composure.

Though we hadn’t seen each other in years, our conversation picked up right where it left off. It was a conversation that continued for three nights (and early mornings) until about 4:30AM each time. Needless to say, we covered an enormous amount of territory – and TIME. More than once we looked at each other and either Jim or I would ask, “When did we get so fucking old?”

Over the course of the weekend the KZAM crew came out of the email woodwork. Message after message arrived and not one included the standard, “My deepest condolences and you are in my prayers.” Each email was not only written beautifully but also contained heartfelt, almost poetic remembrances of Jackie’s quiet grace and love. As I said to each KZAMmer in subsequent phone calls and emails, “despite the passage of TIME, we are family forever.”

Although I’d travelled to Guemes to comfort a friend and brother, the weekend became much more than that. We negotiated our way through catharsis after catharsis like two wayfarers canoeing through the rapids in the river of life. We filled in each other’s personal backstory, talked of our time post-KZAM and, most importantly, shared intimate stories and events that were unspoken for years, if at all. In terms of TIME, we spent less than 36-hours covering the 42-years we’ve known each other. Whether it was the years or the hours, the result was the same; TIME melted. And, despite the tragic circumstances of my reunion with Stutz, it was a magical weekend as we both became even more aware of TIME, its passage and its illusion.