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"He was a character": KCBX co-founder Steve Burrell dies at 80

KCBX co-founders Steve Burrell (rear) and Steve Urbani at the original KCBX studios. Burrell died earlier this month at the age of 80.
KCBX co-founders Steve Burrell (rear) and Steve Urbani at the original KCBX studios. Burrell died earlier this month at the age of 80.

A very important person in KCBX's history died earlier this month. Steve Burrell, who helped found KCBX about 50 years ago, died on August 11 after a sudden illness. He was 80 years old.

Burrell was born in Santa Barbara. After moving around during his childhood, his family eventually made their way back to California.

He went to college at the University of San Francisco, served in the Air Force and got a job in sales at a chemical company. But it wasn’t for him, so he took broadcasting classes at Foothill College in San Jose.

That’s where he met Steve Urbani.

“One night we were sitting in the studios and just talking and [it was] kinda like, 'Well, what do you wanna do?' We were both grownups, basically adults, and [I] was like, 'Well, I really want to own a radio station.' And he felt the same way.”

Urbani said after that, he and Burrell eventually found two available frequencies: one commercial and one public.

They drew a line on a piece of paper, "[and] listed the pros and cons of commercial radio versus a public broadcaster," Urbani said. "We both decided that doing the programming was way more important than selling advertising and making money, basically.”

But they did need money to start the station. After a lot of ambition, hope and some bake sales, KCBX was born — incorporated as a nonprofit in 1973 and on the air in 1975.

Urbani took over programming and Burrell became the station’s first General Manager. Because Burrell loved the blues, he also hosted the weekly music show “Stormy Monday Blues” at the station.

Urbani said partnerships are always tough, but somehow they got along — even if it took some compromise.

“He was a character, and he liked to drink gin and tonics. I hate gin and tonics, but when I was with him, we drank gin and tonics," Urbani joked.

According to Burrell's obituary, that's how he would like his friends to celebrate him: with a gin and tonic or another beverage, because life is too short.

Burrell is survived by his wife of 52 years and two sons.

You can read the entire obituary here.

Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an Associate Producer on the TahoeLand podcast.