Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ph.D. Dissertation on "Beaker Street"

I have been asked if I would be willing to post at least parts of my doctoral dissertation on "Beaker Street" to this blog. You must understand that academic writing is usually quite boring, and my writing is no exception. Nevertheless, here is the preface to my project. Please note that this work is copyrighted.

Richard Robinson (rickradio@charter.net)

Copyright by
RICHARD CYRIL ROBINSON, 2009
All Rights Reserved

KAAY’S ‘BEAKER STREET’ 1966-1977
LATE NIGHTS OF UNDERGROUND RADIO PROGRAMMING,
FROM LITTLE ROCK TO THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE,
ON THE AIRWAVES OF THE NIGHTTIME VOICE OF ARKANSAS

PREFACE

When KTHS became KAAY in 1962 (Labor Day weekend), I was about to turn 10 years of age later that month. I grew up listening to this station. My only sibling, a brother, was 9 years older, so he was a devoted listener to the only Top 40 station in Arkansas. We lived a mere thirty miles away in Conway, Arkansas, so the station was always on in our bedroom.

Beaker Street began in late 1966. At the time, I was 14. My brother was finishing his undergraduate degree at Arkansas State Teacher’s College (now the University of Central Arkansas), and was preparing to enter the United States Army. He began listening to Beaker Street, as did I. The program was mysterious and different. In fact, it was sometimes downright weird – and I loved it. Clyde Clifford was playing on Beaker Street what we couldn’t hear during the daytime on KAAY, or any other station, for that matter.

I entered public school during the fifth grade, having been a private school student for four years on the campus of one of the local colleges, where my mother worked as the secretary to the registrar. The Conway Public Schools were not integrated until I entered the 7th grade. That was a new experience for me; having attended only segregated schools previously.

There were a lot of issues and historical events that occurred during my teenage years. The Vietnam Conflict was prominent in my mind, especially when I was a senior in high school (1970). The assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. all occurred in 1968. Those events, coupled with the deaths of two classmates and two teachers at my schools made me wonder about many things, probably not uncommon for a teenage boy during those years. What was it all about? What was important? What is the right thing? How far should I push the envelope socially? What kind of music do I want to listen to?

The majority of my peers enjoyed Top 40 music, and KAAY was the only station to listen to, with the exception of the local AM radio station, KCON (AM 1230,where I would later work as an announcer and advertising sale representative). Most of us were in love with the “Mighty Ten-Ninety,” and our radios were always on that station, for the most part. But when Beaker Street came on, I was astounded. Clyde Clifford was playing the music I loved, but never before had I heard it on a radio station. It was on my stereo at home. In order to listen to what was called underground music, the only outlet was a home high fidelity or stereo, 8-track, and even cassettes. Now, on the dominant station in our state, underground radio was hatched, and a lot of us, including me, loved it. Clyde Clifford was our messenger for the youth who were questioning everything conventional in our world.

As for Clifford, he in effect created a niche for himself. Basically, he was a nerd or geek, who fell in love with radio and electronics, and found a place to satisfy both loves. He was not much of a risk-taker, and his work was not a leap of faith. He was a longhaired kid, who got to do what he loved doing on the radio. In one sense, he became another person, as so often happens with radio announcers. The persona of Clyde Clifford was his creation, and he still enjoys being this personality.
This was a time of rebellion and protest, and not just that of young teenagers questioning authority. The country was becoming divided, and there were several factors that contributed to the disagreements over a war, civil rights, and established institutions. Beaker Street fueled those feelings, and gave many of us a voice of agreement, from a person we couldn’t see. But that person, who was part of a popular mass media culture we had grown up with, played the music we wanted to hear, and what our parents and other adults wished we wouldn’t listen to on the radio. It was our radio program, our music, our time, and we became devoted to it.

Beaker Street was also an escape from the everyday world. We listened to popular music that never got airplay on daytime radio. The music spoke to many young people in my generation, including myself. I knew it was popular, but in retrospect, I had no idea that it was as popular as it became.

This radio program touched many people, in many places. Based in a conservative state, the music was part protest, part folk, part hard driving rock and even classical at times. There was nothing else like it. Beaker Street existed in a time of social turmoil, and became a part of the pop culture of the 1960s and 1970s. When the program began, the state of Arkansas has elected its first Republican governor since reconstruction. It was a sign that the people in this state were hungry for something different than the regular status quo. Thanks to a powerful radio signal, the influence of the music and the Beaker Street program traveled far beyond the confines of this small, rural state. About this same time, Sam Walton was about to begin expanding his chain of retail stores, that would go on to become the largest retailer in the country, and whose influence would also extend far beyond the borders of Arkansas.

Over 40 years later, in retrospect, it is amazing to me how popular it still is. Many of the old disc jockeys of that era have either died or retired. Yet Clyde Clifford is still going, although only one night a week. But his influence affected me and thousands of young people all over the Western Hemisphere. The program, the host, the music and the influence still lives on, in both my head and my heart.

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