Monday, January 24, 2011

"Because all you of Earth are idiots!"

When Saturday night January 26, 1974 became Sunday morning January 27th, something unusual happened to American commercial radio.  At midnight, the pop rock world of Elton John and Fleetwood Mac faded out and a sci-fi rock soundtrack to a rave on Altair IV began.  Yours truly introduced the excursion with words something to the effect saying, "You are now going to hear the weirdest music you have ever heard in your life."  And the sounds of Hawkwind's "Earth Calling" from the album Space Ritual took over the airwaves of KTYD 99.9 Santa Barbara.  It was a test flight, but Pandora was definitely out of the box.  I knew I was in the deep end, but my crazed enthusiasm to share with the world the exciting new sounds from Europe as well as the eccentric audio delights from my own twisted background made me unaware of the lack of a safety net. 

It was a trip, man.  But the show was just formulating.  In those six hours on that magical Sunday morning, a lot of music was shared, old and new.  I was ecstatic to be the first to play the new Amon Duul II album Viva La Trance, not heard on commercial radio.  The album was due for release on the upcoming Tuesday and it was my first joy of delving through the just arrived promo stack at the station.  We knew, as fans of this little known German band, that the album was coming out and I hoped and prayed that I would find this album in the stack of newly arrived LPs under the music director's desk.  Before starting the show, I scavenged through the treasure trove of vinyl and came upon two copies of the holy grail.  Ah, folks, it was great to be young and feel the charge of playing "Apocalyptic Bore" and "Mozambique."  Monitors full volume, blasting Chris Karrer's space guitar out of the window on the eighth floor of the Granada Theatre building.  It was my tiny fist raised to heaven, banishing the airwaves in the city of the red tiles, exorcising the demon spirit of soft rock, homeboy Mike Love and the "where are my royalties?" current state of commercial rock music.  It was, for me, audio revolution.  There was Something In The Air and we utopians felt it came in the form of progressive music.

In those six hours, I tried to give an example of every musical taste I was into.  Hard rock.  Deep space.  Old and new.  Old songs that sounded new.  The Beatles.  "Astronomy Domine" by Pink Floyd.  Lounge music.  Attempts at comedy.  And trying to break down the cliche of Top 40 radio.  Changing the fourth wall of theatre in the arena of sound.

And like the music I played, the show progressed or evolved as well.  On early shows, I would back announce the titles of record and artist.  By the summer of '74, I would completely abandon the interruption of the mix of sounds by the traditional DJ.  I wanted the program to be a sonic experience.  And although I knew the information regarding work and performer is important to the listener, I felt that the show as an experience should be uninterrupted.  Or that musical themes and experimentation could develop without the old school "and now a word from our sponsor" type of format.  It was obvious that I intended to make the show as uncommercial as one could be on a commercial radio station.  Now there's a challenge, folks.  For the casual listener, this could be frustrating.  But for most of the audience who used the show for their own personal purposes or loved to tape the program, the complete experience was far superior.  Personally, I felt the least comfortable being myself at the beginning of the show, but I would generally give out the information as to what was to be played and other pertinent bits.  The genuine pleasure for me was when I could let my real personalities come out in the various guises throughout the show.  As I had discovered in theatre, it is perhaps easier to place an opinion wrapped in comedy than to blatantly hit you over the head with it.  I prefer a laugh over a scream and find it subversive.  Most bullies don't have a sense of humour.  And you can slip it past them like a truck in the night. 

My intentions were never to screw with the listener.  I felt that if you were tuned in, you were a friend.  And even though I did some extremely over the top things on the air, I never intended to become like the asshole shock jock-types that would later dominate the world of corporate radio.  I didn't force someone to drink too much on an early morning, drive-time show and drown and die just to get a free t-shirt.  That's not what I intended radio to be.  You had freewill.  You could tune in or out, if you liked.  As I said, if you listened and stayed, you were a friend and you were hip as to who the real enemies were.  That was the plan. 

And of course, the whole thing binding it all together was the discovery of new music.  It was meant to be a trip.  Scenic, illuminating and hopefully...with comfortable seating.