Monday, September 20, 2010

"..Outlawed in a world of science which previously honored me as a genius..."

An old friend, Joe Palladino, wrote me a while back telling me that he was putting together a film about the history of radio station KTYD and would I be involved.  Like a smart ass, I joked "seriously, is KTYD still around?" and made derogatory comments about voice tracks created in Bakersfield and endless ads for shooters on another Eagles classic rock weekend.  As I have said here before, for me, KTYD died in 1985.

Joe's letter created mixed feelings in yours truly.  Anyone who has read previous recollections about Space Pirate Radio can easily detect a love/hate relationship with the station.  Let me try to explain some of the smoke and mirrors here.  I really love radio.  I mean, I really love radio.  The magic of it.  All its possibilities.  The problem is that not everyone in radio shares this enthusiasm.  So when I found myself involved with freeform station KTYD in 1973, I assumed we were all free radicals, doing it for the passion, the love of music and trying to make a change.  I wasn't expecting so many of those long-haired, dope smoking individuals to be harboring a desire to turn into balding, 50-year-old businessmen so early.  Some of them were already bald, but they had that Ben Franklin look.  So you still thought they were cool.  But back to KTYD.  There's been much written about the station and I'm amazed at how wrong a lot of it has been.  There was a KTYD reunion a number of years back, held at Fess Parker's thing (in 1974, we would have wanted to burn the place to the ground--not assess its property value).  Many old faces gathered together.  Sadly for me, the gathering of the tribes bordered on the pathetic.  Instead of a reunion of kindred spirits and creative anarchists, it had the air of a sodden sales convention for the Scooter Store.  Ironically at this party, I was the designated driver.  Besides the horror of seeing the room filled up with sales lemmings of the new KTYD (those who had signed a pact with Clear Channel), the greatest disappointment was the fact that no one remembered anything of substance or importance.  There was a lot of talk about drugs and who had or hadn't been with the female music director. But basically, the revelation of then and when in the here and now was completely absent.

The old cliche is that if you remember the '60s, you didn't live them.  And the same could be said for the '70s.  I lived them and pretty hard.  But I recall them quite vividly, more often fondly, rather than with horror.  Of course, the Virgo in me (theme--"thanks folks for all the cards and letters") retains being an archivist, so that might help.  So I've kept the pertinent information.  As is, the basic facts about KTYD should be that it began in September of 1973 and that the program director, Larry Johnson from San Jose, turned an old county & western/oldies, Dick Clark owned, canned radio station into a living, breathing, freeform rock broadcaster.  24 hours, pretty much all live.  So Klassic KTYD 37 years ago (oh, me organs) pretty much revolves around who Larry Johnson hired to the station.  Besides Larry, the main headliners were music director, Laurie Cobb, and disc jockeys Ray Briare, Mark Ward, Bill Zimmer, and Jim Trapp.  It is at this part of the story, kids, where Larry brings on David and Tiny Ossman of the Firesign Theatre to do their stoney, retro nostalgia show, Easy Street.  And, has been noted in a previous remembrance, yours truly is in the entourage. 

The story so far.  As you remember last time, I enter the 8th floor studios of KTYD, high atop the 'Hotel' Granada Theatre building.  I get a weird feeling that something's going to happen here.  And I am quite sober.  As mentioned earlier, Larry Johnson, friendly and outgoing, is a big fan of the Firesign Theatre.  So anyone who is a friend, is probably somewhat annointed.  Up until this point, even with my previous background in radio, I assumed that the concept of Space Pirate Radio was so obvious, that someone else would probably do it ahead of me.  But they hadn't.  And especially not on commercial radio.  So, struck by a bolt of energy from Zeus, this son of Hermes decides I will pitch the concept to Mr. Johnson over lunch.  I explain the idea for the show and what I wish to do and he agrees.  Without an audition tape, resume, or sound sample, an on the air premiere is scheduled for Saturday night/Sunday morning, January 27, 1974. 

Now before "founding" members Edward Bear and Dave Heffner have even been heard on the station.  Not to try to pick nits here, but so often people who came on years later are listed as the original KTYD.  I don't even claim to be original because I wasn't there in September of '73.  I was there in November of '73.  In my mind, so-called "founding" members of KTYD are pretty much all together in the first year.  The ball is rolling.  The feeling is there.  The spirit is happening.  People are picking up on what's going on.  Disc jockeys around the state and country are hearing the buzz and want to be a part of it. As long as Larry Johnson is the program director, later people coming onboard are still a part of the momentum of the station, but the fundamentals have already been established. 

This is not to discredit those who came later.  On the contrary, the station fleshed out even more and became for the community the idealistic, multi-formated, (dare I say it) utopian radio station that the corporate blood suckers would do their best to disassemble.  I mean, freeform, man.  This means that at one time we had complete freedom.  We didn't make much money; in fact, we were quite poor.  But we felt rich in knowing that everything we did was based on what we believed in.  The music we played, we loved.  We weren't told by some wanker market consultant from Florida that the song we were playing had tested well in Sarasota...we played what we liked and what the audience connected with.  So to wrap up this KTYD thing, the original station was a collection of eclectic souls with many tastes, many talents, and many flaws.  But we did it 'cause we loved it and you knew that sometime, somewhere on that station, what you particularly liked, whatever style of music (from blues, jazz, hard rock, folk, country, classical, avant-garde, whatever), you knew that someone on that station was playing it 'cause they dug it and you dug it.  And that's why you tuned in.  For a while, you could tell there were no strings on the voices that were talking to you.  No puppets.  So we are back to my love/hate relationship with radio.  I love it for what it was and what it could be.  I hate it for what it became and what it is.  In a way, this continues my original concept for Space Pirate Radio.  Although a part of KTYD, I felt apart from KTYD.  Space Pirate Radio was always a sputnik.  A satellite revolving in orbit around home base.  Beaming a message down, hoping to reach a few.  In orbit, necessary...but separate.