Spokane's KOOL 107.1 FM is an audio museum of rock's early years

If you tune into local radio station KOOL 107.1 FM for an hour, you'll hear all the typical oldies you might expect — the Beatles, the Stones, golden-era Motown, doo-wop, 1960s girl groups. But mixed in with the old reliables are oddities and novelties you either forgot about or have never heard anywhere else: fad songs, Vietnam protest anthems, garage-rock obscurities, dark story-songs and everything in between.

"When you look at the amount of music that was available in that first 30 years of rock 'n' roll," says KOOL owner Bob Fogal, "there were thousands and thousands of songs heard on the radio and on albums and 45s that people purchased and were playing in their dorm rooms and frat houses. So that's what we're trying to recreate.

"It's almost more like a museum of music, and this is a snapshot of what people were listening to from the mid-'50s to the mid-'80s."

Fogal's voice is also the one you hear most often in the afternoons on KOOL, a font of trivia about the famous and not-so-famous songs you've just heard. Born and raised in Spokane, Fogal has been at the controls of KOOL since 2012, though his obsession with radio began when he was a kid in the 1950s.

click to enlarge Bob Fogal broadcasts from his basement.
Bob Fogal broadcasts from his basement.

"These were the early days of rock 'n' roll — Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, all those guys," Fogal recalls. "I just fell in love with the radio, and fell in love with the music and the disc jockeys. They were bigger than life."

He briefly thought about going into law, he says, but the siren song of rock 'n' roll kept calling.

"I don't have the talent to be a world-class musician or rock star," he remembers thinking, "but I do want to play the music."

Fogal's first gig on the airwaves was at a Seattle station in 1970, making just $1.60 an hour, and he then returned to Spokane as a DJ on KSPO 1230 AM, which was a country station at the time.

"But that's not what I really wanted to do," he says. "I wanted to play rock 'n' roll. I wanted to play the Beatles."

He would eventually get to do that on Spokane's 97 KREM, and he'd continue bouncing around the country DJing on at least 15 different stations. He and his wife were going to settle down in Palm Springs, California, working in real estate and running an AM oldies station on the side, but then he heard about KOOL, a station that had traded hands several times and was back on the market in 2012.

In real estate terms, it was a bit of a fixer-upper: "The equipment and engineering problems were bigger than we thought," Fogal says with a laugh, "which is why nobody else wanted to buy it but me."

He eventually ironed out the issues and now KOOL's signal touches all edges of Spokane County. KOOL originally had an office in the Jefferson building downtown, but now Fogal broadcasts from the comfort of a home studio in his basement.

"The listeners really don't care if you're broadcasting from the penthouse or the basement," Fogal says, "as long as they get the Beatles every hour."

While corporate radio stations typically rotate through a few hundred tracks, KOOL currently has a library of 4,500 songs ("We like to say we're rocketing our way to 5,000," Fogal says), and primarily depends on local advertising and donations through its Oldies Preservation Society, which is devoted to keeping early rock 'n' roll history alive.

Of course, there's a challenge built into the very model of an oldies station: Your demographic skews older, and it's rare that you'll amass younger listeners as the years progress. It's why the catalogs of most so-called oldies stations — including Spokane's 101.1 FM — accrue newer songs while pushing out older ones.

But Fogal says he has been surprised by the age diversity of the KOOL listeners he talks to: Young listeners are attracted to KOOL, he says, because they have the same nostalgia for the music as their parents and grandparents, or because they've stumbled upon vintage artists through some kind of streaming algorithm.

"When I was talking to them, I was trying not to be rude or anything, but I'd say, 'Why the heck do you listen?'" Fogal says. "And their stories were, 'I love going over to my grandma and grandpa's house and they would play all this music. I couldn't find it anywhere else, and then I found your station.'"

And that fan base seems to be growing, Fogal says, and primarily through word of mouth.

"You can tell by the number of phone calls, the number of emails and communication from people that said, 'Somebody told me about your station, and I'm in love with it and I'm telling everybody I know,'" he says. "We're not doing any marketing. You don't see any billboards or anything. It's kind of like this big radio secret." ♦

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About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.