Former KOZI Radio owner Jerry Isenhart is sitting on a historical gold mine of recorded interviews featuring people from all walks of life in the Chelan-Manson area and elsewhere in North Central Washington.
Isenhart, a Wenatchee native who bought the radio station in the late 1960s until he sold it to Harriet Bullitt in 1999, was a master of using the radio station to build community during his 30-plus year career. Along with KOZI employees Scott Brundage, Steve Byquist, Ray Dobbs and others, the radio station creatively captured the stories of people in the Chelan Valley and North Central Washington.
Early on as a radio station owner, Isenhart realized that every individual who walked through the door had a valuable story to tell, and so KOZI made a practice of recording as many conversations as possible for broadcast.
The list of interviewees includes a who’s who of notable individuals in the region, including Dan Campbell of Campbell’s Resort, Beebe Hendershott, the long-tiime owner of the Ruby Theater, members of the Wapato family talking about Native American history and culture, to name a few.
Isenhart was kind enough to let me listen to Brundage’s 1981 interview with my father, Wilfred Woods, in which dad talked about the early days of newspapering and his memories of the 1948 Columbia River flood.
Isenhart grew up in Wenatchee, worked at KPQ Radio as a young man and received a communications degree from Washington State University. He later went to work for Wenatchee’s KMEL Radio and in 1969, at the tender age of 24, he signed the papers to purchase KOZI Radio and achieve his dream of owning a station.
There were few listeners at that time and finances were shaky, he recalled. In those early days, he would actually peek in the windows of cars around Chelan to see what radio stations people were tuning in to, and KOZI wasn’t popular.
The forest fires in the early 1970s revealed the hunger people in the community had for local news and, with the radio’s advantage of immediacy, he and his colleagues began a journey of figuring out creative ways to make KOZI the hub of the community.
One of their innovations was developing an hour-long program called Second Cup of Coffee, which included guests and an open line for people in the community to pose questions of those guests. “And the thing was, we were the new kids in town…. so we (could) ask anything,” Isenhart recalled.
This approach gave community members access to elected officials making policy decisions and put KOZI in a position of being a convener in the community with the goal of exploring ideas and opinions in collaboration with listeners. Public officials had the opportunity to explain themselves when community members questioned them.
Isenhart was deeply involved in his adopted community, serving on the school board, city council and as mayor, which is not typical of members of the media.
For his contributions to journalism and the community, Isenhart was inducted in 2019 as a member of WSU’s Hall of Achievement.
How fortunate we are that Isenhart kept the old recordings. I know how much. I appreciated hearing my father’s perspective on freedom of speech from the 1981 interview with Brundage.
Isenhart, who has of late been struggling with health issues that have kept him tethered to an oxygen tank to help him breathe, is using the unwanted gift of being homebound as motivation for making the recordings available permanently. He has been listening to the reel-to-reel tapes, digitizing them and getting basic transcriptions done.
Isenhart is looking for a home for this collection to make it accessible to community members who are looking for historical perspective.
Isenhart worries that he has more interviews to process than he may have time left in his life. Perhaps some organization might be interested in helping out financially to get all of the work done in a timely fashion so that these recordings are not lost.
If you are interested in this project, feel free to contact Isenhart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at email@example.com or (509) 665-1162.