KRTZ 98.7…from Country Sunshine to a Regional Super Station
The story of KRTZ (call letters derived from its city of license, Cortez, Colorado) officially began on October 1, 1981 when Rex K. Jensen entered into a lease agreement with the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, representing the Ute Mountain Indian Agency, leasing a 25-foot by 25-foot tract on Ute Mountain Ute Tribal land. Phelps Dodge Company built the tower on Hermano Peak (affectionately known as the left knee of the Sleeping Ute). In the summer of 1982, KRTZ officially signed on the air for the first time. (You can view photos from the KRTZ tower construction in our History photo album HERE!)
Back then, KRTZ was a country format station and was billed as “Country Sunshine FM 99″. Most people didn’t have digital tuners in those days and on an analog tuner, 98.7 is at or near the 99 position on the dial. The “Country Sunshine” label was derived from a popular song by country legend Dottie West, the chorus of which included the lyric “I was raised on country sunshine.” The station’s official logo depicted an orange setting sun behind a silhouette of the Sleeping Ute Mountain. Country Sunshine FM 99 broadcast from the Johnson Professional Building (formerly a hospital) at 925 South Broadway in Cortez and an alert eye will spot a mural on the northeast face of the building that was the backdrop for the KRTZ logo. Over time, the call letters were removed and the landscape remains on the mural.
“As a kid…I think in fifth grade…I remember taking a field trip to tour the studios on South Broadway. I was absolutely smitten by the whole scene,” current station manager Kelly Turner remembers. “The people working there were giants in my mind. Our guide on the tour was the late Stan Talcott who was their news director and chief engineer, essentially. I remember he wore Buddy Holly style horn-rimmed glasses, was thin and bald…and very nice.”
Kelly also met other radio personalities on the field trip, the people who were the first voices on KRTZ – Bret King, the late Steve Lynn, Harvey Twite, Stan McNeil and “The Ol’ Hoss” Russ Johnston who hosted KRTZ’s morning show. Kelly recalls the teletype machine by which news was delivered as a proto-dot-matrix printer that not only consumed entire stands of trees but also was as loud as the Boeing engine test building.
Through the remainder of the 80s and all of the 90s, KRTZ remained the #1 country radio station in southwestern Colorado. In October, 1985, Rex Jensen sold KRTZ to DeLane Broadcasting, Inc, a South Carolina based organization. Rex focused his attentions on Willcox, Arizona (hometown of Rex Allen and Rex Allen, Jr), a radio market in which he owned a station. Russ Johnston would also move away to work in Willcox, but recorded and hosted a Saturday morning classic country show that continued to air on KRTZ. Also, in the mid-80s, KRTZ experienced a change of address, moving from its South Broadway location to 200 West Main Street (present location of Dry Dock Restaurant). The main on-air studio was in the southwest corner of the building meaning that KRTZ’s on-air personalities enjoyed a picture window view of downtown Cortez. On the northwest corner was the production studio and in between was the newsroom. Popular personalities on KRTZ during this era included Scott Sparks, Johnny Johnson, Steve Rose, Tim Gray, Peter Jakey, Mike Talcott, Bob Hessom, Desiree Kline, Brenda Kaye (now Severson), Deborah Vrtatko (now McHenry) and a little-regarded nobody high school kid with a monotonously insecure voice named Kelly Turner who began working overnights on KRTZ in 1990.
In 1991, it was time for another change of address, as DeLane Broadcasting purchased the AM740 frequency. Traditionally known as KVFC, this frequency was one of the first radio stations to sign on in the Four Corners Region (in 1955). The frequency had been part of the operation of KISZ-FM, a Top 40/AC station, broadcasting from studios at 2402 East Main Street in Cortez. When the owners of KISZ made the decision to move their broadcast studios to Farmington, New Mexico, DeLane Broadcasting bought the property and the AM740 frequency. The building was renovated to its existing layout and KRTZ began broadcasting from a broadcast booth in the dead center of this building. KVFC, which was revived into an oldies format station, had a studio in the room next to KRTZ.
A short time later, KRTZ experienced another change of address, although no actual move was involved. The City of Cortez changed the name of the street upon which the radio station was located. So, with the simple act of replacing a sign, KRTZ’s address went from 2402 East Main to 2402 Hawkins Street. This move was done to alleviate confusion as US160, known as Main Street through a majority of Cortez, became Main Street through the entirety of Cortez. Hawkins Street, which requires a southbound turn off of US160, was named after Mr. Jack Hawkins, a radio pioneer and businessman in southwestern Colorado who owned KVFC-AM when it first signed on the air in 1955.
Popular personalities on KRTZ in the 1990s included Tim Weaver (Webb), Don Kremer, Karrie Franklin, Nihla McCabe, Marc Wondra, Barrett James (Gerdes) and Harvey Twite who returned to the Cortez radio scene as an aggressive news director.
In 1995, it was announced that DeLane Broadcasting intended to sell KRTZ and KVFC to Rocky Mountain Radio Company, LLC, a partnership with headquarters in Avon, Colorado. RMRC owned several other radio stations in Colorado’s mountain towns (Vail, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, Aspen). The partners of RMRC also owned Radio One Networks, LLC, an innovative satellite music format which provided radio programming to stations across the United States. KRTZ became the first station to broadcast Radio One’s country format in 1996.
In 1999, Rocky Mountain Radio Company announced its intentions to sell most of its stations to American General Media, LLC, a partnership with headquarters in Bakersfield, California. The ownership group became known as AGM-Rocky Mountain Broadcasting, LLC. Over the next five years, AGM would sell most of the Colorado mountain stations to NRC Broadcasting but retain ownership of KRTZ and KVFC. AGM would also end up purchasing other heritage stations in the Four Corners region. In Durango, AGM would purchase KPTE-FM (formerly known as KWXA) and KDGO-AM. The purchase of KDGO was a bit of a homecoming, as in the early 1990s, KRTZ and KVFC were sister stations with KDGO (which was owned by DeLane Broadcasting’s sister corporation Rampart Broadcasting). In Farmington, AGM purchased KENN-AM, KRWN-FM (two stations started by the Kendrick Family of Farmington) and KISZ-FM. This represented another homecoming, of sorts, as KISZ and KVFC were once sister stations (and, in fact, simulcast programming for a time). With the creation of this Four Corners regional radio entity, the ownership of the radio stations became known as Winton Road Broadcasting, LLC and part of the AGM family of stations.
After the acquisition of KISZ-FM (known as Kiss Country, after a recent format change), the ownership saw little appeal in having two competing country stations in one group. In 2000, KRTZ changed its format to Adult Contemporary. Billed as “Today’s Hits & Yesterday’s Favorites”, the move would prove a popular one as, in 2007, KRTZ took over as the top-rated AC station in the Four Corners region, playing a progressive mix of the best new music, along with the best of the classics and a smattering of cult classics!
The saga has only begun, though, as KRTZ is going to take radio in the Four Corners Region and beyond into the 21st Century…and beyond!