Return to Nicholas Johnson Main Web Page

Birthday Greetings to Z102.9

Nicholas Johnson

Schulte and Swann

KZIA-FM "Z102.9"
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

October 7, 2004

NOTE: Eliot Keller and Rob Norton got their broadcast license and first signed on the air in October 1974 -- and therefore were in a celebratory mood 30 years later. Scott Schulte, one of their on-air hosts, invited Nicholas Johnson to contribute to the festivities with this interview.

Scott Schulte [SS]: Let me bring somebody else in who has a little bit of an understanding of both Iowa City and Washington, D.C. I have a special guest here: Nicholas Johnson, who was the head of the FCC, a Commissioner, when you got your license to get into radio in 1974. This was the man who gave you that license. He now lives in Iowa City. He teaches at the law school. His father was Wendell Johnson.

Nick, good morning

Nicholas Johnson [NJ]: Good morning, Scott, and how are you, and happy birthday to Elliot and Rob. The amazing thing is not that the station has lasted for 30 years but that the two of them are only 40 years old.  They were 10 when they came in.  And I thought that the least that FCC Chairman Powell could do would be to do this honor here this morning, but heís so busy seeing if he can figure out a way to go after Howard Stern on the satellite, that he said he just couldnít do it this morning, so I am going to have to fill in as an old, defrocked FCC Commissioner.

[SS]:  Well, thank you so much for doing that.  What are your recollections from back in that day?  Radio was a different frontier back then.

[NJ]:  Well, yes it was.  Back in that time, there was a station, WEDM or something like that, and I think it was in Fairfax, Virginia, and all the commissioners used to listen to that all the time.  And then there was a guy there who left and went somewhere out west, so I figured I'd come out here and see if I could track him down.

Rob Norton [RN]:  Tell the story about our house.

[NJ]:  When I first met Rob at the station here in Iowa City I asked him where he was from and he said Washington.

I said, "Oh, really? Where did you live?"

He protested a little bit and said, "Why do you care about that?"

I said, "Just curious; just making conversation."

He said, "Well, we lived in Bethesda."

And I said, "Whereabouts in Bethesda?

He said, "Whatís this all about? Why do you care about where I lived?"

And I said, "Well, Iím just curious,"

"We lived on Pollard Road," he said.

And I said, "What address on Pollard Road?"

At this point he was getting really exasperated. I donít know if he thought I was prying into his private business or whatever. But he finally gave me the street address and said, "Now are you happy?"

And I said, "Yeah. And would you like to know why that is relevant? It's because we lived in that very same house, too."

Thatís a small world.

But the one thing that we really tried to get when I was on the commission was more local ownership and diversity in programming.

One of the top things on our list was Jello thumb wrestling.  Weíve had a lot of difficulty with Clear Channel and these outfits that come in and want to buy stations -- 1000 of them at a time -- to find somebody who will do a proper job of presenting Jello thumbwrestling to their local radio audience. Itís really been a tough fight.

Elliot Keller [EK]:  You know what, that is, honestly, thatís the best part of this business.

[NJ]: What, the Jello?

[EK[: No, but at this point when you go to 2004, the local ownership angle, the fact that you are still able to do radio the ways you guys want us to.

[NJ]:  I think there may be two other local owners in the country still.

[SS]:  Yes, it seems that way.  So, Nick, thank you so much for making the day very special and calling in.  Probably a piece of paper you never should have signed 30 years ago.

[RN]: Commissioner, thanks for the license.

[NJ]:  Every once in awhile you make a mistake. And as you guys know, there is now a 30 year limit.  I guess itís 30 and out.  I want to thank you for the good years of service you guys put in.  I just hope that the next owner of this station will do as good of a job as you did.

Just kidding.

[SS]:  Thanks, Nick.

[NJ]:  All right.  Happy Birthday. Bye, bye.

[SS]:  Good bye

There you have it, gentlemen. That's not bad. Greetings from a commissioner.

You look at the FCC now and they are a bunch of stuffed shirts.  But he was great.  He was very young looking. You can tell he's still very young sounding.