Public radio station KJZZ in Phoenix wanted to start a project related to food but hadn’t landed on quite the right concept.
Station leaders considered a music cafe but thought it wouldn’t grab enough attention. Eventually conversations turned to a food truck, and the example of StoryCorps inspired expanding the concept to a mobile production unit.
“I’ve seen production trucks, and I’ve certainly seen food trucks, but I’ve never seen them put together in one custom vehicle,” said Lou Stanley, KJZZ’s director of strategic initiatives.
The resulting custom vehicle, Soundbite, is expected to hit metropolitan Phoenix in mid-December.
The 40-foot truck resembles a freightliner, with 28 feet of it outfitted for a studio and kitchen. The back third of the truck will host the food component, while the rest will serve as a studio for broadcasting live events and gathering content. The studio will be doubly soundproofed to operate in isolation from the kitchen.
“But wait, there’s more,” Jim Paluzzi, v.p., division of public service, said with excitement. “There’s a big window that allows people to look inside to the studio when the folding stage comes down.”
“There will be a folding stage on the sound truck, where we can then bring in performers, classical groups, jazz bands, whatever,” Paluzzi said. “So it becomes a total entertainment venue as well.”
Soundbite is a $475,000 investment, supported by private donations, that may climb to $500,000. Outfitting the studio is the biggest expense, according to the station.
KJZZ expects to make $40,000 a year in earned revenue after expenses on use of the truck and that the truck will break even on the initial investment in about 10 years. The revenue will go to KJZZ’s supporting charity, Friends of Public Radio Arizona, which will contribute the funds to KJZZ, its partner classical station KBAQ and related services.
Soundbite will carry the brands of KJZZ, KBAQ and Spot 127, KJZZ’s youth media center.
“It’s an integrated part of our thinking now,” Paluzzi said.
How KJZZ arrived at Soundbite
Soundbite has been two years in the making. Staff and board members needed time to buy into the vision, according to station leadership. But organizers said the biggest challenge was finding a restaurant partner.
Stanley pitched the idea to several local entrepreneurs. He recalls that when he finally arranged a call with one, he was told, “Dude, I wish you a lot of luck. I think it’s crazy.”
Eventually an architect suggested that Stanley contact Brad and Kat Moore, owners of Short Leash Hot Dogs, a popular pet-themed food-truck business. Kat Moore also manages a company that organizes food trucks for special events such as conferences and concert venues. The couple will bring their Short Leash Hot Dogs menu, featuring dogs wrapped in naan and covered in unexpected toppings.
The Moores said Soundbite is allowing them to try something different. “It’s such an unusual vehicle,” Kat Moore said.
For KJZZ, Soundbite is a vehicle for community engagement. The station can use the truck to cover live news, provide extended coverage of major stories and program events to invite community input and involve a live audience. In cooler weather, the truck can host outdoor events and lunchtime concerts. KJZZ will also take its daily newsmagazine The Show on the road.
“If you’re going to be a community resource, you have to be visible, and you can’t just be holed up in your studio expecting people to find you on the radio,” said Jon Hoban, chief content officer.
Hoban wants to see KJZZ eventually use the truck for planning and covering events outside of Phoenix, where demographics and challenges are different. “It will be a way for us to be statewide and not just think about it as just metro Phoenix, although that’s how we’ll get our feet wet,” Hoban said.