Country radio station KRTY signs off FM and rides into ‘the future’

Local radio stations become part of the fabric of a community, and listeners get to be like extended family members for the hosts. So there was a lot of emotion Friday in the San Jose studio of KRTY, which signed off the air shortly after 9 a.m. — its 95.3 FM frequency taken over by the Educational Media Foundation.

The last song played over the air was Brad Paisley’s “Welcome to the Future,” which was appropriate since this wasn’t the end for KRTY. This is Silicon Valley, after all. After the FM signal was handed over, the broadcast continued streaming on, as morning hosts Gary Scott Thomas and Julie Stevens introduced a pre-recorded interview they did with country star Kenny Chesney.

“It’s not a funeral, it’s a graduation,” said Thomas, who was surprised by a gathering of family and friends outside the station after he finished the show. “We’re getting our certificates and moving to the next level.”

The transition to streaming online was a big topic — along with lots of memories — during a roundtable session on the air that morning with Stevens, Thomas, General Manager Nate Deaton and hosts “Indiana Al” Breiten and Michael Moore. The station has a strong reputation in the country music community — it’s the No. 1 country station in the top 75 markets, Deaton said — and its listener base has grown beyond the Bay Area online.

It’s true that some people may not have access to the internet to keep listening, Thomas acknowledged, “but I don’t have access to a size 28 waist, either.”

The station’s staff is slimming down, but the full host lineup and others staying on board will continue as unpaid volunteers for the next three months to see if listeners follow them. “So many people have come up to us and said they’re so excited that’s what’s next,” Deaton said, “and I do think this is the future of radio.”

KRTY has had a big impact off the air, too, and that will continue with events like its series at Clos La Chance, concerts at Club Rodeo and KRTY Nights at San Jose Giants games. Thomas says he and his fellow hosts enjoy getting to see listeners face-to-face at those events and is glad those will continue even with KRTY off the air. “We have listeners who remember our first day on the air,” Thomas said, “and the nice thing about streaming is that now if they move out of the area, they can still listen to us.”

PRESIDENTIAL AUDIENCE: Back in 1992, Larry Stone co-hosted the first Silicon Valley meet-and-greet for Bill Clinton, who was then Arkansas’ governor and not yet a declared presidential candidate. Famously, Stone missed seeing Texas pitcher Nolan Ryan no-hit the A’s that night but started a friendship with the future president and later assembled a small group of Silicon Valley business leaders to meet him in Cupertino. Clinton ended up with the endorsement of 32 CEOs and business leaders from the valley.

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