“We want to produce our own stories and our own music. We will be an exporter of culture from Hot Springs, not a net importer.”
By Rebekah Hall | Photography by Lori Sparkman Photography | Shot on location at SQZBX Brewery & Pizza Joint
Cheryl Roorda and her husband Zac Smith discovered Hot Springs during a musical tour in 2003 and were immediately attracted to the Spa City’s “great thrift stores, the beautiful terrain, the water, and the real estate,” Cheryl remembers. Cheryl was pregnant with their daughter, and the couple was planning to find the perfect place to call home for their family. Hot Springs was, and still is, the perfect place.
Cheryl and Zac are renowned as the polka music duo Itinerant Locals; the couple has played together for nearly two decades. Their love for music has inspired transformations throughout downtown historic Hot Springs. As the proud co-founders of 102.5, KUHS-FM – the only solar-powered radio station in the state of Arkansas – and owners of SQZBX Brewery & Pizza Joint – established in a beautiful and meticulously restored historic building on Ouachita Avenue – Cheryl and Zac continue to enrich the arts community.
In 2007, the couple purchased the former home of Davis Piano Repair as an ideal location for their radio station – and subsequently their beer + pizza – vision. The history of the building along with the collection of old musical instruments resonated with them. “The building was in terrible shape, but I really had fallen in love with it and I just knew we should do this,” Cheryl explains. It was a labor of love – painting + installing the floors, ceiling and walls themselves. They earned a historic preservation award for their efforts.
The radio station project took shape in 2013, when Zac filed for a low-power station license. Low-power FM stations (LPFM) operate at a low electrical power and serve a smaller service area than “full power” stations in the same region. “What that means to me is that we are able to cover our town,” Zac explains. “We want to produce our own stories and our own music. We will be an exporter of culture from Hot Springs, not a net importer.”
In partnership with Low Key Arts, a community arts nonprofit organization in Hot Springs, fundraising for the necessary equipment for the station commenced promptly. Making the station sustainable through solar energy was a priority and one that the community embraced. “It became a really great rallying cry,” Zac reflects. “People really identified with the solar aspect and that we were trying to tread lightly and save money, and not convert coal into music, but convert photons into music.”
KUHS went live in 2015. Zac and Cheryl continued improvements to the building – converting the adjoining space into SQZBX, their accordionthemed microbrewery and pizzeria. Zac brews all the beer, available exclusively at SQZBX. Along with their dedicated staff, all the bread and pizza dough is made in-house using a recipe that dates back decades to Zac’s summertime job in a Jersey-style pizzeria.
For Cheryl and Zac, SQZBX is a reflection of their love of quirky music, the simplicity of good food + drinks and their dedication to the Hot Springs community. “I think Hot Springs has a real tendency for nostalgia and there is a great rich history here, but I’d also like it to be interesting today all on its own,” Cheryl emphasizes. “Let’s be innovative and let’s be original. Let’s do the ‘now’ thing.”
And as to when the couple will be taking the stage again? They suggest you stay tuned. “We were always the band we wanted to see and we really put on a great show,” Zac says. “It was one of the great pleasures of my life to play music with Cheryl Roorda, and I feel certain that we will bring that spirit back to our own restaurant.”