Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Greg Fadick And FM


" Bud,

Long-winded post warning here! Feel free to edit as needed, or trash the whole freaking thing.
Mr. Montgomery, a/k/a The Great Guru Of The Wires And Knobs is correct. David B. and I were with KLAZ before the transmitter was. I’ll add to my earlier short post, and Mr. Treadway can fill in all the blanks I leave. Remember, this was the 70’s and I still see a lot of it through a haze.


Lin Broadcasting did own the original Construction Permit for an FM station in Little Rock on 98.5. In fact, if one could get their hands on an SRDS from 1971 or early 1972, there’s an entry for KAAY-FM on 98.5 with a notation that the station is still in the construction permit stage.
From what I know, the idea for the original KLAZ came from Danny Garner, owner of Carrousel Attractions, Little Rock’s big concert promoter. The concerts Danny booked into Little Rock were mostly artists only heard on Beaker Street. Take the Mountain/Ted Nugent spot you have on the blog for example. KAAY played the single version of Mississippi Queen, but the rest of Mountain’s work and all of Ted Nugent’s was only heard on Beaker. Danny figured if people would fork over their hard earned cash to hear this music in concert, they’d listen to it on the radio for free.

Danny founded a company, Tower Communications, then hooked up with Joe Dickey, the sales manager or KAAY, to become GM of the new station with Danny providing the financial backing (and backstage passes to all his concerts for the airstaff...a perk I still miss). Joe immediately tapped KAAY afternoon personality Michael J. McCormick (Barry Wood) as program director. Barry went after two of KAAY’s brightest, David B. and Phil North. David happily came on board, but Phil, while wanting to make a move, had his sights set on much bigger markets, leaving just a few months later for WDRQ in Detroit. My opportunity came when I picked up the phone to find David B. on the other end, uttering the immortal words, "Hey kid, ya wanna job?" If memory serves, the original airstaff was Ken Dennis, Bob Harrison, Rick Barrington, Tommy Alford, Barry, David B. and myself. Hope I didn’t leave anyone out. Needless to say, Pat Walsh wasn’t too happy about losing some of his best people to "that hippie station" which he predicted wouldn’t last six months.

The problem was, FM penetration (the number of FM receivers actually in existence) in Little Rock was something like 3 or 4% of the total available audience, and almost all of those receivers were home stereo systems. Remember, in 1972, an FM radio wasn’t even an option on most cars. Little Rock’s FM stations at that time included KRAA (later KEZQ), playing an interesting combination of very light easy listening and classical, and KARN-FM, playing an automated Drake-Chenault format, Solid Gold Rock And Roll. FM penetration in cars was so nonexistent that right after signing on, KLAZ’s first "promotion" was offering listeners a discount at certain retailers on FM converters...a little modulator you could install in a few minutes that gave you FM through your factory AM radio. Mono, of course, but FM just the same. I’ve attached a pic of the exact one we were hawking just for fun. I am proud to say that just a couple of years after KLAZ signed on, FM penetration in Little Rock was up over 80%. We can’t take all the credit for that, but we helped.

KLAZ signed on July 7, 1972 at 8 PM. I had the honor of being the first person running the board. I say running the board, because the first night was all on tape. We had recorded it weeks earlier at Barry Wood’s apartment, with a mic perched on top of a basket of Barry’s dirty laundry sitting on his dining room table (we had no mic stand) then mixed and mastered it at a little studio downtown by the Flaming Arrow Bar and Grill, as our production room was, at the time, empty. I guess we all figured we’d be too excited and nervous to actually do radio that first night, plus there was a great, drunken party going on in the building that no one wanted to miss.

We all wanted Clyde Clifford on board from the beginning, but that just wasn’t in the cards. Clyde did join us within the year, which sent Pat Walsh’s blood pressure up another few more notches. The moment Clyde announced his resignation from KAAY, Joe received warnings that in no way could the names Clyde Clifford or Beaker Street be used on KLAZ, and even the Beaker background sounds, even though they were on a commercially available album, were off limits. Clyde came on KLAZ as "J. P. Clyde", explaining that the J.P. stood for "Just Plain". We did tweak KAAY’s nose a bit by having Clyde open his show for the first few months with Jimi Hendrix’s If 6 Was 9, the intro of which was being used as the Beaker Street theme at that time. After those first months, the J. P. was dropped, and he became just Clyde, or Uncle Clyde as we called him, because he was one of the very few adults in the building.

KLAZ was the first "underground" FM in that part of the country, the closest being the legendary WMC in Memphis. The format was simple. The back wall of the control room was covered with floor to ceiling shelves, stuffed with albums. The rotation was, grab something, and play it. Talking over music, except the very last part of a fade-out, was a capital offense. Production elements, jingles, promos and such were banned. Playing the edited single version of a song would get you skinned. The only other loose rule was, if KAAY added a song we’d been playing from an album to their rotation, we didn’t stop playing it, but we avoided it if possible. We played everything from what are now rock classics, to bluegrass, to the obscure and really strange. Sunday nights even featured a show called Jazz Is A Four-Letter Word...four hours of traditional to contemporary jazz.

Mr. Montgomery flatters us when he says we were successful from the beginning. We did have every college frat house on board from the first night, and over time, we did build a substantial audience. However, while we didn’t go under in 6 months as predicted, the underground KLAZ was never a financial success. Even with a very talented sales force, too many advertisers were concerned about having their commercials on "that hippie station" that played "music to light your bong by". Our typical commercial set was a Carrousel Attractions concert spot, another for The Village Fox (a head shop) and one starring Ole Discount Jack from Discount Records hawking the new albums on sale. So, in early 1976, Danny Garner sold KLAZ to Ron Curtis from Chicago, who dumped the underground music and installed a straight-ahead CHR format. Interestingly, the program director Ron hired to make this switch was Ken Dennis, a member of the original KLAZ airstaff who had left shortly after we signed on. The CHR version of KLAZ, known as Z98, dominated the Little Rock market for several years, with talent like Ray Lincoln, Craig O’Neill, Tom Sleeker and others.

In a very strange move, and Ron Curtis was sometimes known for strange moves, he allowed morning personality Craig O’Neill to defect to KKYK (formerly KARN-FM) which started a downward slide the station never recovered from. The only bright spot was during the early 80’s when the station made somewhat of a resurgence with a semi-urban contemporary format. I was back for that version of Z98 starting in 1981, and stayed after Ron passed away in 1985 and the station was sold to Dick Oppenheimer and became KZOU, Zoo98. Of course, it’s now KURB, an A/C station.

So there’s the basic history as I remember it, and again, Mr. Treadway can add a bunch, I’m sure. On another note, there are enough stories about the original KLAZ to fill a whole blog by themselves, and most of them are pretty darn funny. Here’s one I’ll share with you that David B. might remember and Dave M. should enjoy:

Money was always in short supply at the original KLAZ, and a lot of the studios were held together with chewing gum, string, hope and prayer. David B. and I were in the production room one day, bemoaning the fact that we had no reverb unit, and were forced to use tape echo, a poor substitute. That’s when we realized that the first-generation Tascam Model 10 console we had in production was a recording studio board, not a radio board, and included send and receive channels. (BTW, we didn’t have this board because it was good, we had it because it was cheap...about $1700 retail at the time, if I remember correctly). We figured if we could come up with some sort of echo chamber to hook up to those sends and receives, we’d be in business. Then, it hit us that right next to the production room was the men’s john, which was about 4 feet by 4 feet square with a 12 foot ceiling, and almost completely covered with shiny, white ceramic tile. Perfect echo! So we got with our brilliant, but just-a-bit-left-of-normal engineer, Terry Beverly, who came in one weekend, mounted a mic on the ceiling of the bathroom to feed the receive channel, then parked an amp and rather large speaker behind the john itself, fed by the send channel. The delay between the floor speaker and ceiling mic gave us beautiful, natural sounding reverb. However, to make this thing work, the send channel had to be cranked up to an SPL close to that of a 747 on takeoff. David B. and I weren’t bothered by that fact, until a day or two later when we used the "reverb system" for the first time during normal business hours, not knowing our GM, Joe Dickey, was currently parked on the can enjoying his newspaper and morning glory, totally unaware of what was on the floor behind him or what was about to happen. To make the story short, our "reverb system" was dismantled within the hour, and David B. and I swore that the new dent in the ceiling sheetrock was where Joe’s head hit when that sucker fired up. I also think this event gave an entirely new definition to the phrase, "s&$t storm".

Cheers,

Greg"

Thank you, Greg! I had a converter that I obtained from Western Auto that had an 8-track player in it. That was a hot receiver, too and was Quadraphonic Stereo, which played on the tapes, but was standard stereo on FM. Sadly, someone broke into my auto, kicked it out from underneath the dash (leaving LOTS of plastic all over the place) and took my tapes, about 300 of them. I was able to find another one, but never replaced all of my tapes.

Thanks for the info, Greg! And below, see Dave M.'s reply:

"Hey Greg!! A shout-out from Dave M!!

You've done the history so much better than I ever could. I forgot about Barry moving over to KLAZ. You're right on about the FM receiver penetration at that time - I had a little converter box in my car so I could listen to FM on the roll. It was cr*p but it was FM.

I was off on my great far-east adventure when all this came down, so I only learned about it when I came home in '73. It was a done deal. I remember coming back to a new air staff but still in the old 7th Street studio. Bob Spears (aka Bob Robbins) had replaced Barry Wood (aka Mike McCormick). Later on, Bob would leave KAAY for a new country music station, KSSN-FM, which eventually moved to the top of the ratings in Little Rock.

Your narrative certainly brings back a lot of memories for me - I had completely forgotten about the SRDS listing of KAAY-FM.

Stay well, be great!

Dave M//"

Thanks, guys...good stuff, great memories!

4 comments:

  1. It was Great Stuff! Sure Change my way of thinking about Radio and the direction I wanted to go! If the Walls could talk inside the Studio...My,my,my...:-)

    Jeff Rains..."Woody, you had to be the most Creative Boss I had and Dale...thank you for making the Call to get me on the Blood Shift!

    Oooooh those where the Days...Radio at it's Best!

    JaBeaux on myspace
    KAFM and KVNF

    Electric Rooster Entertainment
    P.O.Box 4325
    Grand Junction, Colorado 81502

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  2. KLAZ was an interesting radio station to build. As noted, KAAY held the original Construction Permit the Lakewood House in North Little Rock. As I recall, LIN did not believe in FM at the time.

    Danny Garner obtained the CP and hired KAAY Sales Manager Joe Dickey. Dickey's first move was to buy a used 350 foot tower, which was all that the tower erector would guarantee, and modify the KLAZ CP to lower the antenna height.

    Dickey's second move was to lease the Durwood Road studio that did not have a microwave shot to Shinall Mountain. It fell to me to discover this little fact. Dickey could not decide whether to move the studios or install a microwave relay or a tower at Durwood and dithered around for several months before Dan Garner stepped in.

    Dickey's third move was to accept a bid from Collins-Rockwell that did not include any studio equipment, so all of the studio costs were a complete surprise to Dan Garner.

    Meanwhile Dickey had also hired a staff of disk jockeys, including Barry Wood, Ken Dennis, and David Treadway, who had nothing to do and were constantly in the way. Before long, Dan Garner was out of funds and had to step in to make a decision.

    Dan decided to erect a 100-foot tower behind the studio. It is incredible to believe today, but this tower was erected without building permits or FAA approval.

    Dickey had already bought Spotmaster cart machines, Marti microwaves, and Revox tape recorders before I arrived, and I was faced with cobbling a studio together without a budget. I built a console using state-of-the art amplifiers and machined the front panel out of a solid sheet of aluminum. I also managed to cram a round control room cabinet into the room that had been built for a completely different studio. The KLAZ studio went together in a real hurry.

    By the time that the microwave tower was erected and the studio location finalized, KLAZ was far behind schedule. However, and despite Mr. Fadick's comments about baling wire, the air sound was exceptional and I was quite proud of it.

    Danny Garner was (and presumably still is) an exceptional fellow - smart, decisive, and he was in touch with the 1973 Little Rock audience. Once Joe Dickey realized that much of the KLAZ audience was completely stoned, he lost interest but still held Garner to his contract. Dan should have tried to run KLAZ by himself.

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  3. I was in college during the startup and heyday of KLAZ. When I first tuned it in, I was completely blown away by what I was hearing and the obvious fun the DJ's were having. What great memories I have of listening to album cuts of great music and hearing songs that I would never have heard otherwise. I still remember a great sequence of songs that one DJ loved to play that just transported me away whenever he rolled them. I'd stop what I was doing, kill the lights, close my eyes and just let the music roll over me.

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  4. Hi, This is J. J. West, I worked KLAZ in 1977 for a few months before moving to KAAY. An easy move for me since I grew up in New Orleans listening to the Mighty 1090 on the skywave at night. For years, I dreamed of working those 50,000 watts at night, so given the opportunity I took it.

    KLAZ was located in a small retail strip when I worked there for Ron Curtis. I was fortunate to make friends with the very talented Ed Hopkins who is now a very successful voice actor here in Los Angeles. Ed and I would go on to work together again at KWEN95, another Ron Curtis Top 40 FM station in Tulsa in 1978. KLAZ may have been the #1 rated Top 40 station is Little Rock at the time, but my heart was always with KAAY.
    Very happy to come across this blog and am curious to know how KLAZ came to its end. My email is frankieagogo@yahoo.com

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