By Bryce Lambeth
When walking down Guadalupe towards the square you’re likely to take note of the KZSM studio along the way. It’s a very eye-catching block. It might be the loudspeakers overhead streaming live local radio out into the streets, the bubble machine parked on the sidewalk next door, or the cast of inanimate characters that have lived behind the large glass windows over the years. Something about KZSM is bound to pique your interest. You will be able to tell that it appears to be something more than a “run of the mill” radio studio pumping out top 40 tracks and commercial advertisements. Stopping by to take a listen and a peek inside (which I encourage you to do sometime) makes its uniqueness clearer than ever. If you dive deeper, you discover a rich local history, a community driven mission, and an indisputably deep passion.
Upon going inside the over 100-year-old building in which KZSM resides charming wood floors creek with every step. As I examined the old but beautifully maintained music equipment alongside walls stacked high with vinyl records it would be easy to assume KZSM had a history just as extensive as the floor underfoot. I certainly assumed that there had been a strong radio presence in San Marcos for a long time, and – I was right in a way -, but in the grand scheme of local radio KZSM is a more recent development.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rob “The Wiz” Roark, one of the volunteers at KZSM and host of the show “Vinyl Confessions” amongst others. Within a few minutes of talking to The Wiz you will pick up on his encyclopaedic and passionate knowledge he has for the community here in San Marcos and its likely to rub off on you as well. Rob detailed the history and mission of KZSM for me and clued me into the storied past of local radio in San Marcos.
One of San Marcos earliest radio presences came in the form of a pirate radio station in the late 90s known as “Kind Radio”. Allegedly, someone obtained a “backpack” (about the size of a small refrigerator) sized transformer from Berkley California and hauled it back to San Marcos. The bootleg transformer was hooked up in a garage on the east side of I-35 and before it began cranking out community driven content. Kind Radio was similar to KZSM in the sense that it allowed anyone from the community to have a show. It was also integral in connecting the community in times of emergency, specifically during the flooding in San Marcos in 1998. Kind radio would book shows and advertise the schedule at local businesses where it could be picked up for free. Unfortunately, the San Marcos pirate radio station was shut down by the FCC in the early 2000s under threat of fines and penalties.
In the mid twenty teens one of the original affiliates of Kind radio began getting some San Martians together for another community project. At the time the old mercantile was being used by TX State students to test video streaming software that was developed at the university. After selling the software to sports broadcasters the refurbished space was used for a short-lived community tv station project. Eventually, the broadcasting station slowly evolved into KZSM as we know it today. Today KZSM uses the space not only as a base of operation but as an example to the community on what can be accomplished when volunteers who care about their community seek to catalogue, connect, and express it.
Written by: Jordan Young