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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Seattle's KJET AM 1600

On Memorial Day 1982, Seattle woke up to a pretty AWESOME new radio station.

At Midnight, May 30, 1982, KZOK-AM, a '70s pop station called "Solid Gold 16" dropped it's tired format and became KJET 1600. They signed on the air for the very first time with "I Love Rock N' Roll" Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.

And yes, this was on the AM radio band. The one your wingnut, Thanksgiving-wrecking uncle gets off on these days.

Actually, the correct frequency of KJET was 1590 kHz on the AM band and not 1600, but this was back in the days when digital tuning radios were brand new, very rare and VERY expensive. So most radio stations at that time identified with the next closest number on the analog dial - preferably one that was actually visible on an analog tuning radio dial, such as 1600 in KJET's case. For example, a station on 106.9 MHz would call it's frequency "FM 107" or a station on 92.5, just  "92", "92 FM", etc

KJET specialized in a format that was defined as "New Wave" then, the precursor to Alternative. On that day (which I remember well, I was listening and became HOOKED on this station) you heard The Police, Missing Persons, The Go-Gos, The Clash, Thompson Twins, Joan Jett, Soft Cell, Roxy Music, Devo, Joe Jackson, Human League, The Motels, Jules & The Polar Bears and many other acts of the time on KJET in 1982.

They added more different and increasingly diverse acts to their format over time and plenty of local rock and even some of the earliest Seattle grunge. KJET also introduced Seattle to R.E.M., Kate Bush, Bauhaus, Camper Van Beethoven, 54-40, The Cocteau Twins, Lloyd Cole, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Nina Hagen, Robyn Hitchcock, Siouxsie & The Banshees and countless other alternative rock acts.

Photo: 10 Things 'Zine
KJET also aired nightly live concerts, album features, hard to find imports and local independent rock programming. KJET was also a frequent sponsor of many live concerts.

Inages: KJET Seattle Facebook

Airplay on KJET was just as important as L.A's  KROQ and KITS in San Fransisco for many alternative bands.

Yet sadly, KJET was treated like the bratty stepchild of FM Classic Rocker KZOK and KZOK's then-owners really never liked it from the beginning. But there was really nothing else they could do with it. No other broadcaster wanted to buy the station then because of 1590's spotty daytime signal and they knew it would cost more money to flip it in the long run than stay the course.

KJET, for all it's warts and underachieving ratings (the typical KJET listener wasn't in the demographic ballpark of Arbitron anyway) did have quite a number of dedicated listeners and it was very influential (members of Soundgarden. Mudhoney and Pearl Jam were listeners.)

Image: Pinterest
It's nighttime signal also could be picked up in Eastern Washington and as far north as Alaska, where there were no local alternative rock stations in those areas until the '90s, KJET was there in the '80s, if only via a ghosty, uneven skywave and only after dark. In those areas, KJET was a virtual lifeline for fans of alternative rock. One guy in Spokane once told me how he couldn't wait for night to come so he could listen to his favourite music on KJET. In the pre-internet era, you took what you could get.

Image: Crosscut
Surprisingly, KJET was also automated much of the time and DJs recorded their voice tracks on one tape and the music on another. Sometimes the automation would get out of synch and you heard jocks back announcing songs that didn't come up until later in the playlist!

Yes, it was AM, yes it was scrappy. But it was ours.

KJET wasn't Seattle's first alternative rock station. That distinction belongs to KZAM-AM 1540 (yes, AM again) out of Bellevue, which was "The Rock Of The '80s...Broadcasting In Modern Mono" and they lasted from 1979 to 1981 when it flipped to Smooth Jazz as KJZZ.

Image: KZAM MySpace page

But KJET was the only source of alternative rock for most of the '80s in spite of very worthy FM competition from KYYX-FM 96.5 from 1982 until 1984.

KJET outlived them. But not for long.

(Bob Powers epitomized the attitude and look of radio station managers in the late 1980s.)

KJET lasted 6 years and was suddenly dropped in preparation for a sale of KZOK/KJET in September 1988 in favor of a '50s-'60s oldies format called KQUL or "Kool Oldies" in the hopes of gaining bigger ratings and more AM friendly older listeners. It's last song was "We're Through Being Cool" Devo.

The oldies format was a disaster and in spite of the outcry of thousands of Seattle rock fans, KJET was officially dead and KJET's corporate owners were not bringing it back.

It was three cold years before a new alternative rock station called The End 107.7 signed on in 1991.

AM 1590 was later Seattle's affiliate of the hair metal Z-Rock radio network (as KZOK-AM again) in early 1990 after realizing almost NOBODY was listening to the oldies format and returned to breaking in many local (but grunge rock/thrash metal) acts in the daytime hours and regained some small ratings (1.6), though nowhere near as much as KJET had at it's peak (3.7).

Image: Radio Sticker of The Day
At night and on weekends they returned to the Z-Rock network until October 1993 when Z-Rock dropped all their AM affiliates to go FM only and KZOK decided to sell their AM station.

It simulcasted it's Classic Rock FM sister station KZOK-FM for a year until it was finally sold to a corporate religious broadcaster in 1994, where 1590 AM languishes today as KLFE, another amplitude modulating mouthpiece of the lunatic fringe (or the station your wingnut, Thanksgiving-wrecking uncle is listening to these days.)

Today, the KJET call letters reside at an FM pop station in Aberdeen, WA that has no connection with the original Seattle AM station.

But KJET still has a huge fanbase on the web, who have created tribute sites to this little imperfect, but EXTREMELY influential AM radio station.

Here are a few links to KJET's tribute sites:

KJET 1600 Black Box (Online tribute station with original KJET promos and sweepers)
KJET's Facebook Page
Crosscut article on KJET
10 Things 'Zine: KJET
KJET on Twitter


  1. Thank you for the great article--and especially for the Flight '84 ad from The Rocket! I hosted that show and it was kind of the pilot for Made In The States, the American indie show that I hosted until I left KJET for Los Angeles.

    1. Thank you Mike! And I remember you from The Jet! I also remember your old web site for KJET. Do you still have the playlist files? I thought I had them on one of my old hard drives, but I guess it HAD to be the one that got corrupted pretty badly - LOL! If you have them, could you please email them to me waldbillig101(at)gmail.com?

      And again, thank YOU for the memories! Cheers!

  2. Raised on KJET! I am what’s left after you snatch a station like KJET from a kid who hated early 80’s Mainstream Pop! I hated KFOX! Too grown for brown paper Mad Dog 20/20! Came close to offing myself to KBRD! KYYX was too questionable to admit you knew where it was on the dial. You make PUKE stickers out of KUBE’s identity crisis adverts! KISW won the war between KZOK’s psychedelic anal sex in Europe gesture logo, & Seattle’s best Rock. Even with half its soul being wasted on KXRX! KPLZ turned us into closet Madonna/Prince Wannabes, as 99.9 & 102.5 had to pass through 101.5 to get to the rock! Goodbye Seattle Radio forever! Miss those nerdy KJET nights, alone. That’s why it’s called The End!


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