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Tucson Historic Sports Venues and Artifacts: The KZAZ Station helped grow the legend of Fred Snowden

The Tucson Association of Realtors occupies 2445 N. Tucson BLVD. This was the KZAZ studio. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

The University of Arizona hired Fred Snowden 50 years ago and my brother Javier is putting together an informative list of the top ten games from the Snowden era so let’s take a closer look at television station KZAZ, a forgotten entity that ultimately served as Snowden’s partner in reaching thousands of fans in Southern Arizona.

Gene Adelstein was the Public Information Officer for the City of Tucson from 1968 to 1970 and this experience, along with important networking, gave him an upper hand in the local television market when KZAZ successfully overcame opposition from KVOA, KGUN and KOLD to open a license in the Tucson area to go along with the original Nogales office located on 214 N. Grand Ave.

The Tucson office opened up at 2445 N. Tucson Blvd. and that spot is now a local Historic Venue that can never be replaced. That location was once one of the original five Safeway Supermarkets in Tucson when the company acquired a permit to build at that location in 1956.  

The Tucson office started operations on January 21, 1967 with 30 employees and Nogales station manager Bernie Perlin hoped the new station would be able to carry some high school sports and Arizona basketball and football coverage. The station signed on at 3 p.m. everyday. Perlin had no idea how prophetic he was.

Danny Thomas, along with Monty Hall, were principal owners of KZAZ and Thomas attended the opening of the station that March with Mayor Lew Davis welcoming him to the Old Pueblo that March.

Adelstein became the general manager in January of 1970 and he quickly landed Phoenix Suns games and Phoenix Roadrunner games to KZAZ. The FCC formally assigned KZAZ to Tucson from Nogales in January of 1972 and Adelstein moved operations to the Tucson office in 1973 over the objection of the three network affiliates. Adelstein was now free to grow the station and he did.

Making Perlin’s dream a reality. Adelstein showed high school football games and he landed a plum by getting the right to Arizona games for only $16,000 in 1973 so it paid to know the right people like Arizona president John Schaefer and athletic director Dave Strack. By 1978, the station paid $211,000 over the objection of KGUN.

KZAZ grew from 16,000 viewers to over 80,000 every time Snowden’s basketball team and Jim Young’s football team came on. Adelstein and Erick Steffens did the basketball telecast and John Scott Ulm and Ron Gardin did football with Harry West taking football in 1974.

The station voices were seen as “homers” by some but Snowden’s legacy grew tremendously with the coverage and did athletes such as Bob Elliott, Eric Money, Coniel Norman, T-Bell, Bruce Hill….

“I was very pleased with their telecasts,” Snowden told former Arizona Daily Star editor Chuck Kramer in 1973.  “In professional sports you have to be impartial, but in college you’re talking about the ‘old college spirit’ and I think the coverage this year was excellent.”

Adelstein jumped on the opportunity to telecast Arizona games from McKale Center in 1973 when the networks cringed at the idea.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Perlin and Adelstein are both in the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame. Perlin hosted what was the first-ever “sports reporters” show and he was once the “Voice of the Wildcats.”

Steffens is retired in Alabama.

By 1979, Arizona football coach Tony Mason moved his coaches show to KGUN, John C. Scott (Ulm) retired from the news, Arizona did not honor the option KZAZ had with the athletic department, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled only cities with Major League teams could broadcast games.

Adelstein and 280 investors bought KZAZ in 1977 for $1.8 million and he sold it for $13.6 million (KMSB) in 1984. He died of a heart attack on March 1, 1986.

Uncle Bob, Hank Lominac, Jim Click, Kalil Bottling Co., Arizona athletics. And on and on. The local networks didn’t know what hit them.

Snowden resigned in 1982 and he passed away on Jan. 17, 1994.

G&G Refrigeration moved into the building at 2445 N. Tucson Blvd. in 1994 for $400,000. It was later home to RS Engineering and the Tucson Association of Realtors purchased the 14,200-square-foot building in 2005 for $1.6 million. The 2,960-square-foot room most know from “Uncle Bob” is a training room.

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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee and he earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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