KCOH, which proudly calls itself Texas's first black radio station, has completed a sometimes-bumpy migration over to FM HD radio after over six decades on the other side of the dial. The station has been broadcasting locally since 1953, first on 1430 AM and then on 1230 AM.
The move to FM follows the sale of the station to Ben Hall, the Houston attorney who ran for mayor last year. Hall had been hosting his own show, the Ben Hall Legal Hour, when the station announced it was experiencing financial trouble in late 2014. During the transition to FM, KCOH went online-only for several months; in the shuffle, beloved longtime hosts like Wash Allen, Michael Harris and Don Samuel left KCOH, and the future of the historic station was uncertain.
“When they left, there was a time we thought the station wouldn’t make it,” said Jerri Beasley, who hosts the station's morning show and was promoted to station manager by Hall last year. “When [Ben Hall] brought me in, I said that we need to run it on more than just personality, we need to run it on legacy. It’s the oldest station around, and it still has life in it.”
Though it may have lost Allen, Harris and Samuel during the switch, KCOH retained longtime Sports Rap host Ralph Cooper and added new talent and DJ slots, including a “Creole Country Soul” hour on the weekends that plays country and zydeco, another first for the station.
The move to FM HD, which allows the station a wider broadcasting range and therefore a wider listener base, was not initially met with the enthusiasm the staff had expected. A lot of that had to do, Beasley says, with their longtime elderly listeners not quite understanding how to access their favorite programs.
“A lot of our older listeners didn’t understand what HD radio was; they wanted to know, ‘Why do we have to change?’” Beasley says. “It took a lot of explaining. We taught them how to access the channel and we showed them how to download the mobile app. We asked them to come down to the station and bring their phones, which caused its own problems, with people bringing up their old Jitterbug phones,” Beasley chuckles.
Beasley says the station bought HD radios for some elderly listeners and taught others how to access the station’s website, which live-streams the DJs as they’re on air. After months of door-knocking and otherwise getting the word out, Beasley says the station is stronger than ever.
“We are the station that gives the community a voice. There aren’t very many stations anymore that let the listeners call in and talk to actual DJs and say what they want to say, to state their case,” Beasley says. “We want people to know they have not lost their voice. As a matter of fact, it’s been enhanced, and they can hear it clearer than ever.”