John Burnam of The Big Give SA (and frequent Rivard Report contributor) on air at KRTU. Photo courtesy of KRTU.
John Burnam of The Big Give SA (and frequent Rivard Report contributor) on air at KRTU. Photo courtesy of KRTU.

A flurry of phone calls heard from a sultry saxophone ringtone sees anticipating souls, donning flat-billed caps and dance floor sneakers, rush quickly over in their fresh and dapper t-shirts to answer the call that meets their $1,000 challenge.  It’s Pledge Central during Henry Brun’s Latin Jazz Brunch and their hearts are emblazoned 91.7 KRTU

Henry Brun is but one of countless volunteer disc-jockeys that gratefully share their time and soulful take on jazz music to this listener-supported and campus driven radio station, truly a rare gem on the airwaves in San Antonio for the audience it reaches and the music it plays.  From March 28-April 4 volunteers like Brun are joining dedicated staff at KRTU to lead the Spring Fund Drive, the seven-day “call to action” where leaders of the station celebrate the listening audience while beseeching them to continue believing in the timeless power of jazz radio.

“The one thing that makes me come back every Sunday after 10 and a half years,” Brun said, reflecting on the incipient days of the station’s jazz concept, “is the opportunity to provide a type of culture that nobody else offers here in SA.”

A Grammy award-winning percussionist and leader of Henry Brun and the Latin Playerz, Brun exudes the vivifying spirit of jazz latino para San Antonio, the music that he has been a major progenitor of in the Alamo City.  “All we are doing is providing a piece of culture, something native to the environment here,” Brun said. “When I play in the community, I remind the audience that they can get this 17 hours a day on KRTU.”

Henry Brun. Courtesy photo.
Henry Brun. Courtesy photo.

Brun is here at KRTU on the campus of Trinity University for the listening audience during this year’s fund drive, to acknowledge listeners and to keep them coming back. “If you can’t give, call a few friends and let them know what we are doing here,” Brun said.  “Share that love and it will keep us programming at the level we are at.”

Kory Cook, Music Director at KRTU 91.7FM, bobs his shaggy hairdo in the booth, Thelonius Monk lays down a live cut from the 40s, and together they bring the music to the people in the 2000s.  One foot in this world as the other is hittin’ the cymbal on a drum set at the Savoy, Kory embodies the hip swing rat tat tat that is where it’s at, where it was and where it will be with jazz music.

 An honest appeal to the soul side of the street, Cook makes it his duty and commitment to provide only the best in jazz music to the listening audience.  “Of all the cities that I’ve partnered with over the years, San Antonio to me has been one of the most genuine and dedicated groups to the listeners and to the music community,” Cook said.  “It is so important to me to see this music grow.”

Cook appreciates jazz on a visceral level, the injection of energy that keeps us up and alive and allows us to understand who we are.  “We pride ourselves on variety, so you get a much more cross-cultural appreciation, a wider base of knowledge than other stations,” Cook said. “We are all-inclusive and we do strive to educate on all levels.”

Cook plays a vital role not only in the booth, but outside the station as well.  “We partner with SAMA, McNay, Witte, Art Pace, and played a role in booking music for the reopening of Travis Park,” Cook said, speaking to the newly renovated park in downtown San Antonio that plays host to KRTU’s Jazz’ SAlive every fall.  “Jazz is open to everybody, from Laura Calo’s eight-year-old niece to 85-year-old Jack Dewied.  Everybody contributes.”

The KRTU Spring Fund Drive team. Photo courtesy of KRTU.
The KRTU Spring Fund Drive team. Photo courtesy of KRTU.

Ever bustling and hair ever bouncing, Laura Calo hustles across Studio B on the fourth floor of Trinity University’s Laurie Auditorium, orchestrating the big band for the big show.  Nobody sees the rehearsal space quite like Laura, having a keen eye for where the notes are supposed to fall, an instinctual connection to the swing that keeps it all together.

While in her first year as development director at the station, Calo has been involved with the station as a host for the Swing Shift and Be-Bop and Beyond on Sunday mornings for more than four years.  “I don’t think people understand the heart and soul it takes to run the station,” Calo said.  “I’ve really learned to appreciate the staff’s heart and vision for making the station great.”

Calo is energized by the potential for each member of the staff to bring something unique to the table. “We are always trying to implement new ideas while building upon what’s been done previously,” Calo said. “Each member of the team comes from a different part of the community and their ideas come out at staff meetings.”

The 91.7 KRTU phones (and volunteers) are ready and waiting to accept donations from veteran listeners and newcomers. Photo courtesy of KRTU.
The 91.7 KRTU phones (and volunteers) are ready and waiting to accept donations from veteran listeners and newcomers. Photo courtesy of KRTU.

A goal for Calo at this year’s fund drive is to create a more interactive and hospitable atmosphere surrounding the event. KRTU receives 60 percent of its operating budget from listeners, and the station wants to recognize their role in making the station great.  “This station belongs to the community and we have invited the community to be guests at the station, to volunteer.  Members are coming out this week to share why they love KRTU,” Calo said.

Watching in his periphery as “Miss Laura” takes his granddaughters around for a tour of the station, Tyrone Butcher catches the gleam in his eye and rides it for awhile.  He holds on proudly to his official KRTU t-shirt for this season. Gershwin inspired, it reads, “Jazz is a lot like life-it is better when it’s improvised.”  No doubt Tyrone will be living this motto and wearing this shirt for some time to come, a member of the station since 2002 and he’s never looked back. 

 For Butcher the station doesn’t just give us happiness in the present, it takes us back and gives the listener a greater experience, a blast from the past.  “For me it’s been historical, I’ve gotten more insight into the music I’ve dug for so many years,” Butcher said.  “It’s been a joy to listen to the station and the knowledge I have now is thanks to the station.”

What amazes this avid jazz fan so much is the diversification of the music that KRTU offers, especially on the weekends.  “Raquel Ruiz, the originator of Cafezhino do Brazil, got me hooked on the station,” Butcher said.  “And then there’s the exotic music of Melanie and Katchie.  Wow, far out. Fantastic!”

Brimming with excitement, Butcher praised the work of jazz singer Joan Carroll, bluesman Mark Stewart, and Michael Thomas with the early morning tunes.

“And then there’s Mr. Aaron Prado bringing class and sophistication, JJ still playing the James Brown soul,” Butcher said. “I’ve raised my granddaughters Lily Blue and Bluesy Rose on jazz for this is the jazz way!”

The youngest of the cats aside from Lily Blue and Bluesy Rose, Trinity University junior Ben Whitehead is more recently connected to the jazz way, at least with the station.  “I get a common unity vibe when I’m in the booth,” Whitehead said.  “The energy is that, ‘We’re here and we’re here to share with you.’”

Organization for the final stretch of KRTU's Spring Fund Drive. Photo courtesy of KRTU.
Organization for the final stretch of KRTU’s Spring Fund Drive. Photo courtesy of KRTU.

Whitehead, like many station listeners and members, lives and breathes the jazz scene, getting his fill as a member of the Trinity University Jazz Ensemble on the drums and swingin’ it out at Sam’s Burger Joint on Mondays. “It’s important for students and people my age to recognize that SA has a very lively and strong jazz scene, a lot of talented musicians,” Whitehead said, “KRTU helps to build bridges with the Indie Overnight program and community events like Skyline Swing.”

Whitehead loves the scene here because the musicians are very personable; they connect with the crowd in a great way.  “There’s definitely a friendly nature to the music scene here,” Whitehead said.

Finding the pulse of it all and harnessing in on the crux of the message, Calo drives it all home.  “The fund drive is really a time for us to celebrate the listeners, what they have done for us,” Calo said. “We’ll be having an event on the 26th of April to acknowledge donors, socialize, and have them pick up gifts.”

As Calo believes this Fund Drive isn’t the same as years past, she anticipates a brand new feeling at this event as well.  Local musicians will be in attendance, as well as the actual volunteer hosts of the specialty shows, the face to the voice.   “As a host it means a lot more to go out into the community and meet the people who are listening,” Calo said. “At KRTU, we are who is listening.”

If you’d like to get on board and support this locally driven, commercial free, student-run radio station, please feel free to call Pledge Central at 210-999-8917 until Friday, April 4th at 7 p.m.  You can sign up for membership starting at $60 a year at now and receive your very own 91.7 KRTU t-shirt, just like the one Tyrone Butcher wears proudly as we speak.  Check out all the happenings on the jazz scene on KRTU’s website at and click on the “Jazz Calendar.” 

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Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.