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Jazz 88’s Joe Kocherhans Bids Farewell to a Long and Illustrious Career

by Wayne RikerSeptember, 2022

Joe Kocherhans in the Jazz88 studio.

“Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Ah, but it’s true. Longtime KSDS Music Director Joe Kocherhans is riding off into the sunset to a well-deserved retirement after a 41-year career at his hometown public radio station.

KSDS General Manager Ken Poston was quick to respond to the news, heaping praise on Kocherhans in tandem with a special dedication announcement. “I enjoyed working with Joe immensely. He has the finest work ethic of anyone I’ve ever known, always on-time and very meticulous with everything that he did. In the process, Joe was responsible for building our music library, where we literally get dozens of new releases each week. Joe would listen to each and every one in choosing tracks for airplay. On his last day we announced that we are naming the library after him, so from this point on it’s the Joe Kocherhans Music Library.”

The roots of Kocherhans’ radio career commenced during the fall semester of 1971 at Mesa College as he reflected back on his broadcasting journey in a recent social media post. “I had always loved music and radio, and was always told I had the voice for it even though I hadn’t yet made the choice to pursue it as a career,” he said. “I was taking music classes along with a history of broadcasting class. I had some wonderful teachers who helped pave the way. Elizabeth Hamilton was my music teacher; she would later become a friend and actually performed at my wedding ceremony…she taught me that one doesn’t have to be a musician to understand and appreciate good music,” he surmised.

Another major influence was speech teacher Pat Olafson, who was teaching a course in oral interpretation. “The class was designed to develop the skill of reading and reciting out loud with the goal of expressing word meanings without being melodramatic,” Kocherhans stated. I had always been kind of a mumbler with a monotone, but that class broke me out of my shell.” Another teacher, Lorraine Jenkins, taught the broadcasting history class. As fate would have it, the class took a field trip to City College in downtown San Diego to observe the radio station in action. “I felt a sense of instant connection,” Kocherhans said, “seeing the studios and watching students scurrying around and working on projects.” Inspired by what he witnessed, he filed transfer papers the next day. Kocherhans started at City College in the spring of 1972. His first class was with the late Fred Lewis, a local radio icon heard through the years on station KGB and as the public address announcer at the San Diego Sports Arena. “Some people found him tough to get along with, Kocherhans stated, “but he and I hit it off… he was very helpful about instilling knowledge of phrasing and microphone technique. Also there at the time was Station Manager Hope Shaw, who took a liking to me as well,” he continued. “She was great because she insisted on doing things correctly, particularly in writing copy that fit 20 or 30 or 60 seconds… I learned a great deal about how to economize words to convey the message.”

The program director at that time was Rich Upton. “He was great,” Kocherhans explains, “talking about the music, working out schedules, and insisting on the flow of programming.” During one of Lewis’ classes, they were shown a booth and a board and to Kocherhans’ excitement, he was subsequently sitting at the board and on the air.

A fellow student from those early days with Kocherhans was Doug Coffland, who was also instrumental in the development of the jazz format. “It was a typical station when we started at KSDS,” Coffland stated. “Joe and the rest of us radio and TV students had to do the three hours of music, be it rock, classical, and jazz, or presenting news interviews or public service shows. KFSD, the classical radio station at that time in 1973, programmed jazz from 6am until noon with host Jeff Rue during the week.” Coffland continued, “Dan Crowley, another fellow student and I were big jazz fans who listened to KFSD jazz almost every morning.” This led them to pitching the idea of changing KSDS to an all-jazz format. “Hope Shaw, the station manager was consulted,” Coffland recalled, “and she agreed; fortunately Joe was part of that transition.”

So, In the spring of 1973 Kocherhans learned that KSDS was successfully switching to an all-jazz format. “From the first day I did a shift during that time, I fell in love with the music and the idea of presenting jazz on the radio. Simultaneously I was taking a class about the business aspect of radio, and hence learned what a terrible business it is,” he concluded. At that juncture he decided not to pursue a radio career. However, that notion wouldn’t last for long.

In the summer of 1981 Kocherhans re-enrolled at City College with a renewed sense of optimism. “I was basically just doing the afternoon news at the time and was starting to do some air shifts,” he stated. “There was a notice on the bulletin board that the local all classical station, KFSD, was looking for a full-time announcer. I really didn’t think about it at the time, but Mary Sorrentino, who had worked there, told me that if I loved classical music so much, I should give it a try.” he continued. “I took the audition, which was reading a list of names of all the types of nationalities involved in that music.” Having been an astute listener of that genre for many years, he knew many of the correct pronunciations and hence got the job.

While there, he worked with another major influence, Dan Erwine, an announcer he had always admired. “He would teach us about being a professional and honing our announcing style to being sophisticated enough to present the format without being pretentious,” Kocherhans remembered. “I would later work as program director for two years,” he continued, “and I got to broadcast live remotes for the symphony and Summer Pops… I truly cherish those memories.”

In the summer of 1987, longtime friend and fellow KSDS host, Barry Farrar, helped to get Kocherhans back to doing air shifts. He took every air shift available and was eventually hired as an employee on December 1, 1987. “There were many adventures in working there for those first seven years,” he explained. “I worked weekday overnights, and when they quit that, I worked weekends in addition to the air shifts… I’ve never been so tired in my life. Eventually things settled down and I was able to get hired full time.” Kocherhans’ main job in those days, in addition to being on the air, was to add new music to the library, which helped him to learn more about jazz extensively and the artists who perform it. This began his tenure as music director. “Currently we have about 20,000 CDs, most of which I’ve added,” he said. “That meant I got to preview new music, which was a wonderful experience of discovery and discretion as well, since much of the music was not all jazz.”

Joe and Eileen on their wedding day, March 17, 1996.

The decade of the 1990s became a turning point in Kocherhans’ status at KSDS as well as in his personal life. Longtime Program Director Tony Sisti retired in August of 1998, leaving a door open for Kocherhans to move up. “I learned a lot from him, which was a good thing. During that time period I now became program director, music director, production manager, and promotions director, which also included booking Jazz Live concerts and eventually taking over the day shift, which involved doing my “Morning Drive” show. The best thing that happened to me personally,” he continued, “was in the first few days of working full time, there was a student who kept trying to stay around after hours, always sitting in my chair when I would come into work. Eventually I asked her out, which eventually led to marriage. Eileen Martin Kocherhans, I owe much of my happiness to KSDS, because that’s where I met you.”

During his many shifts at KSDS Kocherhans often reflected back on the impact his parents had in his life’s journey. His father, a San Diego native, joined the Air Force after high school. He met Kocherhans’ mother when his father was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force base in Rapid City, South Dakota. “My mother was born on the Rosebud Reservation in Mission, South Dakota,” Kocherhans explained, “but her family later relocated to Rapid City. I was born on the air force base. When I was three months old we moved back to San Diego. Eventually my parents moved back to Rapid City when my Dad retired in 1992, although I have been back there many times since…I love the Black Hills and making what connection I can with my Native-American roots…I have a strong spiritual connection with my birthplace in South Dakota,” he concluded. “I have had some very rough going in my life, but my parents never gave up on me. Joe and Darlene Kocherhans, I owe you an eternal debt of gratitude, I literally and figuratively would not be here without them,” he emphasized. Another family member was his younger brother Steve, who passed away in 1999. He was an established saxophonist playing an assortment of jazz and theater gigs around town. “In the way that brothers do, we were always trying to turn each other on to new music,” Kocherhans reminisced. “He exposed me to a lot of artists that have since become my favorites. I can’t listen to anything new and wonderful without wishing he could hear it.”

Kocherhans with jazz bassist Bob Magnusson and KSDS DJ Claudia Russell.

Kocherhans gained much respect and admiration during his tenure at KSDS, well documented by a plethora of fellow cohorts in the broadcast business. Chad Fox, who will be taking over the reins as music director, stated succinctly: “I’ve worked with Joe for the last 14 years. He’s been a great asset to the station, always reliable and there when you needed him. The years that I worked with Joe helped me to have a better understanding of the day-to-day duties of being a music director, so taking over the music director position won’t really be a challenge…the challenge will be taking over Joe’s morning show, which will now be called “Good Morning Jazz” and meeting the expectations that his listeners had. We will all definitely miss seeing Joe around the office everyday. I wish him nothing but the best and hope he enjoys a well-deserved retirement,” he concluded.

“He will be sorely missed.” added Michael Rovatsos, production manager at KSDS. “He embodied such ease and class in his broadcasts and was the consummate professional.” And from the aforementioned fellow student, Doug Coffland: “Joe was a pro from the start and excelled from the get-go. I consider him a star and am proud that he got his start as one of the originals on KSDS, and so I congratulate him on the long years of service to the San Diego music community.”

And from Barry Farrar, former longtime KSDS radio host for 42 years: “A true radio pro he is. I was learning from Joe early on. He has been a true friend and an invaluable asset in my radio career, always supportive of my ideas and plans for my shows. Joe will be missed for sure…… I Love JK.”

“When I think of Jazz88, the first person to pop into my head is Joe,” said former broadcast partner, Perette Gordon. “He was definitely the heart and soul and very distinctive voice of the station. We did an early morning show together for a few years and it was the greatest pleasure. He brought the knowledge and I provided the sass. I learned so much from him about the radio business and about jazz.” And from KSDS radio host, Chris Springer: “Joe played a major part in my career at Jazz88.”

Joe Kocherhans on his last day at KSDS Jazz88.3.

“It was always a pleasure to follow his show all these years,” said Gary Beck, whose own show followed Kocherhans’ “Morning Drive” spot. “We always communicated well in providing a smooth transition between our shows…I’ll miss our conversations, especially about baseball.” Ida Garcia, host of “Rug Cutters Swing” on KSDS, says: “Although it’s copasetic news about Joe’s retirement, it’’s such a bring down that San Diego won’t be able to give a listen to his eclectic sound selection and knowledge of the cats he played on the radio…keep swingin’ Joe!”

“When Joe was program director some years ago,” added former KSDS host, Ric Nicastro, “he gave me the opportunity to work on the air at KSDS after a more than 30-year hiatus from working in radio…I will forever be grateful for that and for the opportunity of working with him.” Longtime KSDS radio host Miff Mole says: “I have been at Jazz 88 for many decades. Joe has always been there. His absence will be like a side of the building is gone…it’s probably the truest thing I’ve ever said.”

“Joe was really a GREAT teacher,” added KSDS blues host J Otis Williams. “He spread his knowledge of broadcasting to me along with his spin on the art form, which helped me tremendously…I have NOTHING but respect for his professionalism…and just being a DAMN GOOD JOE.”

The best way to encapsulate a long and successful career is to have Kocherhans’ own words bring down the curtain with his recent emotions expressed in anticipation of his final day on the job: “So, tomorrow I will wrap it up. I am leaving the station in a much better place than when I started, for which I feel a small sense of accomplishment. I will play many favorites, and who knows what else. I have been beyond lucky to spend more than half my life at a station where I can program my own music and, eventually, leave on my own terms. I have never taken that for granted.”

You will be missed, Joe! From all of us at the San Diego Troubadour.

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