TEXARKANA, Texas — If you think of jazz on local radio, it may just be on KTXK, the public radio station that spins jazz as a strong element in its programming.
And for that, you can thank Frank Miller, the deejay who oversees two Saturday programs that largely reach back to traditional jazz: "Adventures in Jazz" (starting at noon) and "Big Band Bash" (10 p.m.).
Now retired, Miller has worked with KTXK for decades, and he took over the Saturday afternoon jazz show after the passing of Jerry Atkins, a Texarkana institution for all things jazz for many, many years.
It all started with Miller calling in a request for the Atkins show, then named "The Enjoyment of Jazz."
Miller called him up, requesting a saxophone player.
"When I moved to Texarkana, I didn't know anybody and I was listening to the radio, and I stumbled upon this jazz show here in town," Miller recalled.
Atkins and he struck up a friendship, and then Atkins asked station manager Steve Mitchell if Miller could do a Sunday afternoon show with jazz, too. That lasted for a little while, but sometimes Miller came around to lend technical expertise. Eventually, Miller took over the other show when Atkins fell ill.
After Atkins' passing in 2010, Miller continued and then modified the show name at Mitchell's urging. He's adapted to the times, too, with an automation system coming aboard in the decade or so he's hosted his own program.
"So I'm able to prerecord the show. It's three hours and I break it up into half-hour segments. It's great because I can correct any mistakes that I've made, and I can go research things and have a theme to the show," Miller said about "Adventures in Jazz."
One appealing aspect of that afternoon program is the plentiful knowledge Miller shares, and themes play right into that, for example with jazz musicians' birthdays for the month. When jazz heroes pass on, segments and entire shows will be dedicated to them.
"Especially this year because of COVID, there's been lots of elder statesmen jazz musicians who've passed away, so I've done tributes to them on the show," Miller said. Ellis Marsalis, father to Wynton and Branford Marsalis, is just one jazz great who died at the hands of COVID-19.
As to his own taste, Miller is all about traditional jazz.
"When I was in high school, my dad had some jazz records, and so he had a Benny Goodman record, and I liked it because I played the clarinet in school," Miller said. Attending college up North — he's originally from Ohio — gave him a chance to research others.
"I like mainstream, straight-ahead jazz. I like Latin jazz and some smooth jazz," Miller said. But he's not a fan of "way-out free jazz." He favors a melody and harmony.
Jazz may not own the cultural spotlight it once did, but Miller reaches a steady stream of listeners. He also plays saxophone for the Texarkana Jazz Orchestra in addition to music at his church.
"I do hear from people, and since I'm a musician I'll be out playing somewhere and people will come up and say how much they enjoy the band and say, 'I listen to your show,'" he said.
Miller's turned his "Big Band Bash" into a podcast, available at iTunes and other services. "I get a kick out of watching how many people download the show, so that's always fun. When I first started 'Big Band Bash' as a podcast, I would get maybe 3,000 downloads a month," Miller said. "Now I'm up to like 17,000."
He compares jazz to boxing when he thinks about what he enjoys and does not enjoy. In boxing, you have the ropes and rules, which he believes are necessary.
"And in jazz you have a format and you have harmony and you have melody. Avant-garde jazz is like taking the ropes away and you can just do anything" Miller said.
As a saxophonist, he loves Stan Getz and Paul Desmond (who played for the Dave Brubeck Quartet), plus John Coltrane to a certain degree. Put Sonny Rollins up there, too, along with Dexter Gordon. "Those guys, they're my heroes," Miller said.
Miller appreciates that Mitchell gave him the chance to play jazz at the station.
"He pretty much leaves me alone," he said.
As he puts it, Mitchell and Texarkana College have put up with him for 35 years, and he's grateful for the support and freedom.
When he was working, Miller would teach students private lessons until they graduated.
"I've had some very talented students," the deejay said.
And in his radio work, Miller wants to share that love for jazz.
"I just hope to present enjoyable, listenable jazz to the people in the Texarkana area. Here at KTXK, we're able to get up into Hope and down into Mount Pleasant. I don't know if there's any other jazz stations around the area. I try to present new stuff that's coming up and some of the old favorites that people like," Miller said. "I just want to continue presenting the best in jazz and hope they enjoy it."
(For more information, contact Frank Miller at [email protected]xk.org.)