I was one month shy of my seventh birthday in the fall of 1973 when “The Zoo” hit the Dallas airways with its brand new album rock format. It was all rock-and-roll. And not just the hits. The Zoo played B-sides and deep cuts. And for an entire generation of people who grew up in Dallas, people who are today in their 50s, it was THE radio station.
I don’t remember ever NOT listening to The Zoo. I was introduced to Van Halen and Aerosmith by The Zoo. When I got my huge AM-FM stereo and turntable for Christmas right after my 11th birthday, one of the first things I did was slap a Zoo sticker right in the center of the smoky gray dust cover. I had a Zoo sticker on the mirror in my bedroom and on the bedroom window that faced Jennie Lee Lane and greeted every person who entered our cul-de-sac. I put Zoo stickers on my locker at school and on my notebooks. The Zoo was cool. And I was what we all called a Zoo Freak. I listened to LaBella and Rody’s “Morning Zoo” from the moment I woke up every day until we walked out the door for school. And I would beg my dad to tune the car radio from KRLD to The Zoo, which he would do as soon as Brad Sham’s “Cowboys Report” concluded. I fell asleep every night during those years listening to The Zoo.
The elephant trumpet in between songs. The “Rot Your Brain” Zoo posters we got for free at Sound Warehouse. Two-Fer Tuesdays. “Morning? Morning!”
My friend and fellow Zoo Freak Todd Adkins and I cut school twice to attend the “Morning Zoo’s Breakfast Club” at Monopoly’s in North Dallas. We were too young to get into the club legally, so we’d wake up extra early and sneak in at about 5:00 while the roadies were setting up. I still have a couple of “Breakfast Club” buttons here in my office. Somewhere in a box in my attic is a Mike Rhyner (he was the “Morning Zoo’s” sports guy) autographed picture that says “Nice Huey Lewis t-shirt!” in reference to my wardrobe that first day I met him. My old Zoo pin is prominently displayed in a shadow box in my home along with lots of other treasured items from my childhood.
Jon Dillon was the midday personality on The Zoo, part of the original on-air lineup in 1973, working at KZEW until it went off the air in 1989. His was the voice that went in and out of the Fleetwood Mac and Eagles songs I listened to while doing my homework. He was the one who told me how hot it was and it was a “skosh” past 4:00 as I drove home from school. In a day when radio wasn’t nearly as researched and formatted, when DJs themselves — not a corporate play list generated in New York or California — decided what records they would play, Jon Dillon would sometimes talk for several minutes between songs. He gave me the background stories to the lyrics and the bands. He knew the guitar players, he was hanging out with the lead singers. He knew Tom Petty and Randy Bachman and Don Henley and Ted Nugent. Listening to JD introduce a ZZ Top song (“that little ol’ band from Texas, how, how, how!) was a tremendous joy.
The Zoo was the soundtrack for my formative years. From the time I was seven until I graduated college, The Zoo dominated the Dallas airways and I never listened to anything else. My deep love for local radio is directly tied to The Zoo. My deep lament for local radio also connects sadly to The Zoo.
And now it’s back! The Zoo is back!
George Gimarc, another original Zoo jock from ’73, has rounded up Rhyner and Rody, Jon Dillon, Nancy Johnson, Chaz Mixon, and others to resurrect The Zoo in a new on-line format called Vokal. They’re using the original KZEW playlists, they’re playing old station and concert promos and local commercials that Gimarc’s kept in boxes since day one, and it’s great! Just since I’ve been typing this post, they’ve played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising.” I’ve heard The Who, Neil Young, and The Stones. But they’ve also played David Lee Roth’s “Tobacco Road” from his “Eat “Em and Smile” album and Z Z Top doing “Francine” in Spanish! The unexpected B-sides and the delightful deep cuts! The familiar voices and sounds of my youth! I just heard Dillon say, “We’re getting the band back together, don’t tell anybody!”
It may not be for you. They used to say The Zoo’s not for everybody and everybody’s not for The Zoo. But, if you want to listen to Dallas rock radio the way it was when I was a kid, click here. It’s streaming live for free.
Or, just step into my office. It’s my new-old soundtrack.