Interview with KZAP Logo Designer Bill Styler

by Alex Cosper

Conducted July 19, 2015 on Facebook

Alex: Ladies & gentlemen, today I'm with Bill Styler, who designed KZAP's famous cat logo in 1973. He also did other graphic art for the station until he moved out of state and got into the sign painting business. Now retired in Idaho, Bill now concentrates on fine arts. He also builds guitars. Bill, thank you for joining me today.

Bill: Hi Alex. Great to be here, a real honor for me.

Alex: Bill, it's a rainy day here in drought-stricken San Diego .. How's the weather in Northern Idaho today?

Bill: Hot, very hot, dry, and a bit on the unpleasant side. Hoping for rain, none in the forecast for a few more days, at least.

Alex: Perhaps you can paint a picture and it will come to life like your KZAP cat. I have to tell you that's the best radio logo image I've ever seen.

Bill: Wow, thanks, Alex. I sure do have a soft spot in my heart for Tubby.

Alex: Tubby - nice name. I've always loved cats. So before we talk about how you came up with Tubby, tell us about your art background that led to designing KZAP's logo.

Bill: Sounds like a plan. I have a BA in fine arts from UC Davis. I've painted, drawn, and sculpted since I was about four years old.

Alex: Awesome background. Obviously you love art.

Bill: Yes, I do love art. I started doing my first real commercial work in the late '60s when I was asked to paint a cartoon and lettering on a friend's van.

Alex: Of course, KZAP at that time was all about bringing the art community together.

Bill: Indeed.

Alex: So how were you approached by KZAP to take on the logo project?

Bill: My late brother, Gordo, was a DJ at the station and he told me that they might have an art gig for me, so I went in and talked to Don Early in late 1973, which started the process.

Alex: Some people say the cat was inspired by the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Womderland .. Any truth to that?

Bill: The Cheshire cat was talked about at the time and there were several people giving input. I don't really have any idea who among them came up with the cat, and it may have been another artist. All I had to go on was verbal suggestions, which I think was intended to keep me from being influenced, other than the Cheshire cat images.

Alex: So to be clear, you had plenty of input from the KZAP staff, but you are the original designer of that original cat logo.

Bill: Yes, I designed that version myself. My own inspiration truly came from my brother's orange tabby, Tubby.

Alex: Great story. So, how would you describe the emotional expression of the cat on the primary logo?

Bill: Oh, that is Tubby's personality. He was a passive-aggressive, irreverent, irascible cat that could melt your heart, or send my brother into a raging fit of anger. But, he was the coolest cat around. That look on his face is what I imagined him to have after he got back at my brother after Gordo scolded him for some innocuous mischief in the house. The day after he got scolded, Gordo came home from work and found that Tubby had left him a malodorous "gift" in one of this dress shoes in the closet. Passive-aggressive.

Alex: Bill, I know you left California before new owners took over KZAP in 1979, but I'm curious how many logos in this picture are yours .. The later cat seemed to appear around 1979 with the new owners.

Bill: Just one, the window decal. The other artwork I did for them was for two print media campaigns which spanned 1974 and into mid-1975. They were single frame cartoons for newspaper ads and huge bus banners on the Sac metro line.

Alex: In other words, this is your cat, whereas the others may have been loosely based on your design ...

Bill: This is my cat, and I'd say that is an accurate assessment of the subsequent work. I know they were happy with Tubby, so they kept the theme going with other artists.

Alex: And I understand you've given the new permission to bring back your cat for its logo and for T shirts.

Bill: Yes, and I'm very pleased that K-ZAP radio has returned. It sounds great. I really like the "The cat's back" artwork. The artist nailed it. They have not told me (I'll probably get an instant message after this) who is working with them, but all I've seen looks great.

Alex: I love the new KZAP as well. It brings back the spirit of freeform and unpredictable radio. What are your memories of KZAP as a music station?

Bill: Oh, those are truly magical memories. So much was happening in the world and right in Sacramento that was affecting us as young adults, and the music was expressive and vibrant. I remember hearing KZAP on radios and over speakers in businesses in the area. It was our Muzak.

Alex: You spent lots of time at the KZAP studios partly because your brother Gordo was on the air, plus you did all kinds of graphic art for them, right?

Bill: I would hang out during some of his shows, and would also be in the studio for many of the DJs' shows because I had the advertising cartoons to do. That all took place in a relatively short time span, about two years total.

Alex: Does that mean you did cartoons of the jox for the newspapers and other media?

Bill: Yes. Copies of some of those pieces are in my William Harrison Styler commercial art album here on Facebook.

Alex: So, you left Sacramento to pursue graphic arts in other states. Tell us about what motivated you to move on to that work.

Bill: My motivation was being married to a woman who had enough of Sacramento and took off to Montana on a visit to my cousins, and either I followed, or became single again. I packed up my truck and moved in June of 1976 to the Bitterroot Valley, where I learned sign painting from a local master of the art.

Alex: Tell us about how you later ran your own sign business in Washington state.

Bill: I continued to do graphics and sign work in Western Washington into the early '90s. I left that business and have not done much commercial work since. Running a sign business became a rather tiresome way of using my talent, and what I liked to do more than sign work was murals, pinstriping, and artwork on vehicles.

Alex: I know that fine arts is your passion these days, which we will discuss. First let's talk about how you build guitars ... obviously you've built many and so has your friend Roger Hamilton on his own.

Bill: I started working on guitars in 1963 when I disassembled my brother's Harmony Archtone acoustic guitar. He had no idea I had done that, and I "reassembled it" into another form in 1964. It became an electric semi-hollow guitar with two pickups and two cutaways. Far cry from its roots. I built electric guitars until 1993 when I met Roger - he brought a banjo to me to repair and I told him he would repair it with my assistance. He started building great acoustic guitars (he plays really well!) and I began at the same time.

Alex: Is your fascination with guitars associated with being a musician or do you love making guitars more for its artistic look?

Bill: I was beginning to play at the time. One thing led to another. I love the form, especially electric guitars.

Alex: And do you study the science and mathematics of how a guitar is engineered to get a certain sound or are you more concerned about the look?

Bill: I'm working on more acoustic guitars and really the sound is what drives most of us who mess around making sawdust. Blending the sound with the form is a challenge and a real hoot! Unless you start pulling your hair out over some goober.

Alex: Yes, there is something about an acoustic guitar that represents freedom .. maybe it's that it's portable and doesn't require electricity, which makes it a more organic sounding instrument.

Bill: Yes, a big "plus" in my book.

Alex: Now let's talk about your interest in fine arts. That was your degree in college, so I imagine you've studied it a lot by now.

Bill: I do study it, and am drawn to the work of thousands (no kidding) of artists around the world.

Alex: You yourself are a painter as well, so is your art on display anywhere?

Bill: Not at the moment, in a gallery setting. I am working on pieces which I'll be taking to a new gallery in Priest River, soon, hoping to get back into that type of outlet for my work. I suppose I should count Web displays, too. I have some on Fine Art America (

Alex: Now please answer this question about the meaning of art. Do you believe art can be anything or are there certain parameters that define meaningful art as opposed to more abstract designs that can literally mean anything?

Bill: I have thought about that, over the years. At times it is difficult for me to see some things as "art" per se. But I'm quite open to how vastly different people express themselves and, though I may not embrace some forms as something I want to spend time viewing, hearing, touching, art surely must be the same as beauty - in the eye (or other sense) of the beholder. Preferences being what they are, who am I to judge what is, or is not, art?

Alex: The reason I ask about the meaning of art is your KZAP cat logo seems to have long lasting meaning for people. The cat literally communicates through its expression. Not that many logos end up being that memorable but this cat seems to have more than 9 lives. Why do you suppose this cat has such longevity?

Bill: Eyes, ears, nose, smiling mouth - evoke personality, which evokes a feeling that there is something there besides the colors and shapes. I was putting emotion, feeling, and actual experience into that simple drawing. I am pleased that those attributes were conveyed. That may be what artists are after - conveyance of what is inside them to those who see their art.

Alex: One name I'd like to bring up is Roger Shepherd. Was he one of the KZAP people who gave you input? Did he ever show you a sketch of his idea for the cat?

Bill: No, actually, Roger and I never worked together, which I regret. There were some things going on behind the scene at the time which were unknown to me, and I did not have all the information about the work with others. In fact, I was shown Roger's work by my brother, but none of it was KZAP-related until after I drew the cat. I had been an admirer of his posters and album covers, which I feel is among the best work of any cover/poster artist. I have some posters which he created. I inherited them from my brother and am very happy they survived.

Alex: I understand you reclaimed the rights to the KZAP cat in 1997. Explain what this means in terms of who can and can't use your cat image.

Bill: I published the artwork and renewed the copyright. As for others using, it simply means that without my permission, the use of it is unauthorized. If someone builds a lucrative business of using the artwork for profit, that could be something worth my time and money pursuing, legally. I have, however given permission to two non-profit groups and a handful of individuals who were courteous enough to ask. I don't have any plans to do anything commercial with Tubby, but I do make new versions for my own amusement. I have contacted one online seller about selling unauthorized mugs, shirts, and other items, but I suspect nobody is making a killing with my artwork.

Alex: Bill, I'm curious how much or your work is digital and how much is hand-crafted. Certainly Tubby the KZAP cat was long before the era of digital art. Was he a painting or drawn?

Bill: He was a pencil sketch, which was then created as a full-color ink drawing with acrylic paint. The next iteration was a hand-drawn ink color separation set. The separation set was used by the printer for film positives. I have done two digital versions of Tubby in the last few years.

Alex: I'm curious if you have any advice for young people who want a career in the crowded but lucrative world of graphic arts.

Bill: Ah, my advice is to go after it with a vengeance, don't copy anyone, develop your look/style, promote yourself, and network with others to get your work seen. If it is commercial work, get it in as many types of public view venues as possible. Meet others who are in the game. Don't be discouraged.

Alex: Bill, this has been an enjoyable conversation about your various unique talents in art. What are your closing thoughts?

Bill: I've enjoyed this conversation, Alex. Closing thoughts - not much comes to mind, other than carry on - don't worry, be happy, always do your best. Also, can you ever have too many guitars, really? Thank you for the opportunity, Alex.

Alex: I would love a room full of hand-crafted guitars. Thanks again, Bill. Long live Tubby the KZAP cat.

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