UI alum jazzes up Eastern Iowa radio

BY KATIE HEINE | JULY 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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One swift clearing of his throat, and Bob Stewart transforms.

After meticulously flicking a few switches and plopping a pair of headphones atop his snow-white hair, he grasps a microphone above his head and pulls it near his bearded mouth.

A soft jazz melody bounces of the walls of the small booth — chock-full with a seemingly endless supply of jazz CDs — as Stewart rattles off the song’s title, artist, and some background information about the track with ease.

The 52-year-old is the program and musical director for 88.3 KCCK FM, a radio station operated by Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. It is Iowa’s only full-time jazz radio station.

And Stewart, a University of Iowa alum, was recently awarded Small Market Program Director of the Year for his fourth time by JazzWeek, a national radio airplay chart that provides a weekly report of the top 50 jazz songs played on U.S. and Canadian radio stations.

“People respect the fact that this is what we do,” Stewart said.

One of the reasons he said he thought he was awarded programmer of the year — and why KCCK was awarded Small Market Station of the Year for two years — is because the station plays a variety of jazz music.

Instead of sticking to one particular jazz style, KCCK plays an array of music that includes all elements of jazz and appeals to audiences of all ages.

“We do something different than the mainstream,” Stewart said.

As program director, he is responsible for all of the on-air DJs. And as musical director, he chooses what music will be played on the 24-hour station.

Stacks of CDs are piled on top of his desk, and while the titles change, the pile’s size remains pretty permanent. He has the task of sorting through them all and picking a handful to make it into the weekly lineup.

“He has such a good sense of what is up and coming,” said Lisa Baum, the KCCK development director. “He innately knows what will be a winner.”

Stewart said he’d always known he wanted to be in broadcast, and he’s loved jazz since he was in junior high. So when he had the opportunity to combine his two passions in 1999, taking the job at KCCK was a no-brainer.

And Dennis Green helped Stewart achieve the best of both worlds.

Green, the KCCK general manager, has known Stewart since they met during their first year at the UI. The two men were a few of the key members who revived KRUI after it took several years of being off-air in the early 1970s. So when the position was open at KCCK, Green got Stewart on the phone immediately.

“He has this unique combination of knowledge and warmth,” Green said.

Green said he frequently hears feedback from KCCK listeners who say they feel like they know Stewart because of his likable personality, which is “the ultimate compliment.”

And Stewart’s charisma has become the model for other on-air personalities to strive for.

“He’s like the alpha male of on-air lineup,” said Green. “Everyone takes cues from how Bob does his shift.”

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