Since there have been several postings lately on "Beaker Street," I thought I would post the final chapter of my doctoral dissertation. A reminder to readers that the entire dissertation is available online through Pro Quest (try Google "Scholar," in the advance search section. Click on Google Scholar, and type in KAAY's Beaker Street). You can preview the first 24 pages for free, but if you want the entire work, there is a charge for downloading it. The charge varies, depending upon the desired format. Please bear in mind that the posted chapter from the dissertation below is copyrighted, so any reproduction, or unauthorized use without my permission is strictly prohibited.
As a caution to anyone who might read this - historians, including media historians, sometimes don't get it completely right. This is especially true of oral history, where you are depending upon the memories of persons during that period. So if you were at KAAY or listening to "Beaker Street" during this period, your memory or recollections may not agree with certain facts or details presented. You could be correct (or more correct) or it could mean that both of you might not recollect the event(s) perfectly. As one interviewee once said, "If you're the last person alive, you can pretty well tell the story however you want it to be."
“It was a great time to be in radio; it was a great time to be in Little Rock.”
Summary Of Findings
Why did the management of radio station KAAY in Little Rock, Arkansas decide to adopt an
underground music format for the late night-early morning broadcast hours? The management at KAAY had a dilemma with this portion of their broadcast clock. They were looking for a way to fill up the late night-early morning hours of airtime on the station, with programming that might generate an audience. While several options were considered, it was the efforts of the program director for the station that pushed the idea to management.
The general manager of the station at that time was Ralph A. “Pat” Walsh, who was known for being a promoter and willing to try new things, especially if the costs and risks were not too substantial. The initial idea did not excite the manager, partially because no one in Little Rock was aware of stations playing this type of underground musical programming, at least not in the central portion of the United States. The idea took some selling by Matt White (Sonny Martin). His argument was that the record companies were sending him music that he couldn’t play on a Top 40 radio station, which is what KAAY was primarily.
According to Matt White, Walsh was considering several options, and was leaning toward religious programming, because it was so profitable (Lindsay, 2008). In a Mexican restaurant in Little Rock, White cornered Walsh, who had consumed several drinks by then, and persuaded him to agree to try the program for 30 minutes, initially. Once the feedback from the listening audience was positive, and appeared to be growing in popularity and numbers, the management had to leave it on, because they didn’t have any other programming that would be as successful. Beaker Street did well enough that the management of KAAY elected to keep the program on, even expanding the time on the air to 3 hours a day, 6 nights a week.
There were several challenges to overcome in creating the program. In the case of KAAY, the Federal Communications Commission had a rule that 50,000-watt clear-channel radio stations could not be left unattended at the transmitter site between midnight and 6:00 a.m. each day. If the air talent were going to broadcast from the studios in downtown Little Rock, then the operation would require two employees because the transmitter could not be left unattended. The obvious solution was to hire someone who could serve in both roles, as both a disc jockey and transmitter engineer. This they found in Dale Seidenschwarz.
While the dual role worked in theory, in the beginning it did not appear to be practical. The noisy cooling fans from the 50,000-watt AM transmitter made it all but impossible for the disc jockey to speak without the noise overriding his voice, and making the presentation distracting, both for the announcer and the listening audience. A production engineer came up with a solution—having a loop of audiotape with music and sound effects play continually behind the announcer’s voice, eliminating the noise and the problem. This turned out to be part of the appeal of the Beaker Street program.
What began as an attempt to mask the transmitter noise became part of the mystique, as the eerie music and sound effects became as much a part of the show as anything else. A musical band, called The Beaker Brothers Band, in honor of the radio program, offers a website that listeners can visit on the World Wide Web, gather information about the band, and listen to the Beaker Street background music (www.beakerbrothers.com).
A more minor problem was the name of the engineer, who was going to be the host of the program. For obvious reasons, his real name, Dale Seidenschwarz, was not a good name for a disc jockey. As was customary at KAAY in those days, general manager Pat Walsh gave Seidenschwarz the air name “Clyde Clifford,” named after the comptroller of the parent company that owned KAAY and other radio stations.
Interestingly enough, management did not heavily promote the show. One suggestion was that management didn’t particularly want Beaker Street to do that well. Another was that they just really didn’t know what to do with it, or how to promote it effectively. Still another opinion was that for this time period, management really didn’t care to push the show, because it was primarily a Top 40 station.
There were some efforts, including a poster, some tee-shirts and on-air promotional announcements. But it appears that the success of Beaker Street occurred primarily because of word of mouth, both inside and outside of Arkansas. Despite the fact that KAAY became known for its aggressive and creative promotions for other programs, the Beaker Street program did benefit greatly from the expertise within the radio station that created it.
It was a mixture of album cuts, not Top 40 music, which was the primary format of KAAY during this time. Most of the songs played were referred to as underground, acid rock, album cuts, hippie music, and drug culture and protest music. Today, those same selections would be called classic rock music. The Vietnam conflict was in progress during the years of Beaker Street, and the music that was played reflected the social unrest of the times.
The responsibility of selecting the music to be aired began with the program director of the station. He then forwarded music submitted to the radio station to Clyde Clifford for consideration and it was Clifford who made the decisions about what songs were going to be aired. Once the listeners began to call in and request songs, Clifford played those requests in the nightly program. He was allowed virtually complete freedom to program his own music, which was completely different from his Top 40 colleagues during the daytime. That format was entirely Top 40, and was tightly controlled by the station program director. Beaker Street was completely different in this way.
In regard to the selections that were popular and often played on Beaker Street, a partial playlist has already been detailed in the study, but among the most popular songs were “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” (Iron Butterfly), “Cindi’s Cryin’” (Deep Water Reunion), “Alice’s Restaurant” and “The Motorcycle Song” (Arlo Guthrie), “DOA” (Bloodrock), and “Lord, Have Mercy On My Soul” (Black Oak Arkansas). Some of these were played virtually every night during the Beaker Street program, and at no other point during the broadcast day at KAAY.
Several advertising sponsors were identified as a result of the research. From within the confines of the state of Arkansas, numerous head shops purchased advertising, as their products were a natural fit for the underground radio program. These included The Little Barn and record shops. Beaker Street also garnered advertisers from outside Arkansas, including a drive-in theatre chain in Iowa, concert promotions in Illinois and Missouri (as well as Arkansas), Floyd’s Record Shop in Louisiana, and others. Advertising sales were not heavy, but businesses that appealed to the young demographic that listened to the underground programming wanted to reach that audience, and they couldn’t do that at any other time. In addition, because KAAY charged an in-state rate for advertisers, national advertising accounts would get airplay on Beaker Street. These included Coca-Cola, Pepsi, G. Heilman Brewing Company (Heilman’s Old Style Beer) and Commonwealth Theatres.
It was difficult to measure a late night radio program in the 1960s and 1970s in a market the size of Little Rock, Arkansas. Clear-channel coverage via skywave allowed the powerhouse 50,000-watt Arkansas radio station to beam its signal all across the central portion of the Western Hemisphere. During this time period, audience measurement firms, like Arbitron and The Pulse only conducted audience measurement surveys until midnight. Beaker Street began airing at 11:00 p.m., so the station management was unable to get accurate ratings from the services for the Beaker Street program. There were reports that the station did get a small rating in the Chicago market, and did extremely well in such states as Iowa, where according to one source, it was the number 1 radio station in the Des Moines, Iowa, market during the overnight hours (Graham, 2004). Letters from listeners indicated that the signal from KAAY was received regularly and with good strength through their radios, whether in automobiles, homes or in businesses.
The most noticeable form of audience measurement for KAAY was from the listeners, and included mail and telephone calls. Most of the telephone calls came while Beaker Street was on the air. The most volume of any response the program enjoyed was from mail. Beaker Street and Clyde Clifford reportedly received bags and bags of mail every week. In the beginning, Clifford attempted to respond to the fans, but gave up, because there wasn’t time to do so. According to one source, the program received “tons of mail” every week (Steel, 2008). This was confirmed from several sources, as well as station promotional materials.
Interestingly enough, the sales staff did not specifically push Beaker Street in their sales calls. It was on the rate card, and if a client specifically asked for a rate or an advertising schedule, they would sell it. Otherwise, it didn’t get much emphasis.
According to Clyde Clifford, there were numerous inquiries for advertising, but the sales department didn’t follow up on the leads. Clifford thinks it was because the management really didn’t care if the program was successful or not, and simply didn’t push the program preferring to instead put sales emphasis on other products, such as agriculture reports, daytime ad slots, or sporting events.
Beaker Street was profitable in one sense because it was relatively inexpensive to produce. The fixed costs of operating the station had to be paid regardless, including utilities and salaries. The station was on the air anyway, and had to air some type of programming. The fact that Clyde Clifford did double duty as both a disc jockey and a transmitter engineer helped considerably, given the Federal Communications Commission requirement. In 1967, the salary for Dale Seidenschwarz, or Clyde Clifford as he was known on Beaker Street, was $102.90 per week, for a nightly expense to the station of $17.15. It didn’t take too many radio spots to cover the overhead of the station. Was it a huge profit center? No, not really. Was it a moneymaker? Certainly. But it didn’t have to be. KAAY had already become the most popular and profitable station in Arkansas, and did it very quickly, as documented by the company profit and loss statements filed with the Federal Communications Commission.
The management of KAAY didn’t expect it to be a huge profit center program, because other than religious shows, no other type of programming made much money during this particular time slot. But the station was on the air, so they had to program something. Beaker Street began as an experiment, a way to satisfy the record companies and fill in the late night and early morning hours with a different type of music. This was not as it is today, when a station has a format that airs all day, every day. With a split format, the station had a myriad of program material. They could generally do what they wanted to, as long as it was legal and didn’t create negative publicity for the station. Beaker Street enjoyed a good 12-year run on KAAY.
Lots of reasons were given in regard to the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of Beaker Street. The station was sold to another company, and the general manager, Pat Walsh, left to own and manage radio stations elsewhere. Despite the fact that Clifford did not feel much support from management for his program, once Walsh was gone, the new management didn’t seem to want to have much to do with the program. Several managers came through with Multimedia, Inc., the new owners, and once they moved to newer studios in Little Rock, they canceled the show.
Another factor was that the Federal Communications Commission abandoned its rule that transmitters at 50,000-watt clear-channel radio stations could not be unattended during the overnight hours. It was perfectly legal to hire a disc jockey to work from the studio, and have an engineer on call. The nighttime engineer position was no longer necessary, and disc jockey salaries were much less. The new studios for KAAY did not have turntables in them, and the underground music they were playing was on records at the time. Compact discs were not prevalent in radio stations at that point in time. So Beaker Street was taken off the air, despite the fact that it still had fans. However, the mail volume had dropped, and other stations in the Little Rock market, including FM stations, were beginning to play underground music (now called album-oriented rock, or AOR), so there was competition. Listeners could hear the same type of music during the day, and no longer had to stay up late for the music they wished to hear.
The beginning of the end for Beaker Street also had a lot to do with the departure of Clyde Clifford. Once he left in 1974, despite efforts by the station to find another Clyde Clifford, they never could. Fans reportedly still liked the music, but their friend of the night was gone. Ultimately, Beaker Street was gone as well.
The answer to this question concerning the political climate in Arkansas during the period of Beaker Street is interesting. Despite the fact that the Beaker Street program featured protest and underground music, it was being broadcast from a state that was Southern, rural, and largely conservative. While there was some anti-Vietnam conflict sentiment, particularly on college campuses, most of the people in Arkansas during this time seemed to support the war efforts. While largely Democratic, Arkansas voters had, and still have, an independent streak about them. Voters in the state loved longtime Governor Orval E. Faubus, a Democrat who was a key player in the Little Rock Central High School integration crisis, even to the point where the governor was compared to such segregationists as Strom Thurmond, a United States Senator from North Carolina; Lester Maddox, Governor of Georgia; and George Wallace, Governor of Alabama and a former presidential candidate. Arkansas gave its electoral votes to Wallace in the 1968 United States Presidential election. However, United States Senator J. William Fulbright was a very liberal politician who served as the senior senator for Arkansas during this time.
As Clyde Clifford himself said, Arkansas was probably the last place in the world where you would expect to hear underground radio programming during this period. It was a time of social unrest in the United States. Most of the Arkansas citizens were conservative, and wouldn’t approve of the types of music that Clyde Clifford played on Beaker Street. But there was that element, some would say underground, that was liberal and embraced the program. While Arkansas provided a good audience for the program, it was outside the borders of the state where Beaker Street really enjoyed wild success with its underground approach to radio.
Despite the fact that the state where Beaker Street originated from was a largely conservative state and region of the United States, criticism, either formal or informal, about the program from civic, political or religious leaders was not discovered in the study. In fact, little was said about it, apparently. If anything, the feedback from telephone calls, cards, letters and listener comments was positive. According to the sources in the study, if there had been much in the way of complaints about the music or the program, Pat Walsh as the general manager of the station would have acted to take it off the air. Most sources indicated that negative feedback about Beaker Street would have dictated that the program be removed from the air, and that Walsh would have attempted to air programming that was less controversial.
But there were no complaints, to any large degree. This included such potential critics as politicians, religious leaders, and conservative listeners. If they objected, they didn’t say much.
Eddie Graham said that it was probably because the people who were most likely to have objected were probably asleep, and never heard the program much, if at all. If the station ever received any negative mail or other communication, no one can remember it. While several sources thought that there might have been some, no one could recall it. One source, Bob Steel, said that some people didn’t like the businesses that advertised on Beaker Street, particularly the beer and head shop commercials. But there were apparently no real objections to the programming, or the program.
One concern that kept coming to mind during the research for the study was, “If Beaker Street was so popular, and still is, why hasn’t it been studied before?” It’s a valid question. This dissertation has attempted to tell a story that has been largely untold previously, the story of a popular radio program, from a socially significant time in the United States of America. Radio scholars have written about the era of underground radio during the 1960s, but KAAY and/or Beaker Street has not been studied. Thanks to access to the World Wide Web, thousands of people are committing their thoughts to blog sites and have established web sites about it. In addition, individuals are saving, archiving and putting portions of Beaker Street programs from the 1960s and 1970s up on the World Wide Web, so that people can hear the original Beaker Street programs (or portions of them) and save those audio files for personal use.
So why was Beaker Street so successful? It was a combination of things. One factor was that the signal of KAAY put the program into several countries. For many listeners, there was a certain mystique about hearing a station from far away, even from a place like the state of Arkansas.
An interesting point is that this period during the 1960s and 1970s was a strong time for the medium of radio. But this radio program was not born out of necessity. KAAY was making money, and had a good profit margin. In fact, it was one of the top radio stations in the LIN Broadcasting Company. So why did the management do it? Bobbie Walsh thought that her husband may have found out that this type of music was at least being considered for airplay on other stations, and when presented with an opportunity to create Beaker Street, decided to attempt it. The fact that it became so successful was a surprise to management. But like most good managers, when the program became popular, it became a separate, distinct part of the KAAY mystique, and attracted an audience during a time slot when not many people listened to the radio.
Another reason was that the music that Clyde Clifford offered for consumption was music that was popular, but was not being played by KAAY or many other stations. In the central portion of the United States, and in other countries, if you wanted to hear what one source called “the hippie weird stuff,” then KAAY was really the only choice you had for underground radio. Add in the fact that the disc jockey was unlike any Top 40 announcer at the time, throw in some sound effects and eerie music, and you have a program that offers something that the others didn’t, and at a time where there wasn’t much going on in radio. While nighttime radio has always enjoyed an audience, the numbers are usually small. In the case of Beaker Street, on the nighttime signal of “The Nighttime Voice of Arkansas”, the program was able to reach audiences that only a few other stations could reach. As Clyde Clifford himself would say, “It was all about the music.”
While it was not possible to ascertain if Beaker Street was actually the first underground radio program in the United States, as KAAY claimed in a poster, one should be able to claim that it was certainly among the first stations in the country, certainly in the Midwestern part of the country, to provide this kind of late-night programming to its audiences.
Other stations in other areas of the country have been mentioned in books and other scholarly studies. It is notable that in spite of these studies, Beaker Street did not receive attention. The purpose of this study was, in part, to tell the story of Beaker Street, in order to detail the contributions (in relation to the period of time in history) of a Southern-based AM radio station in the state of Arkansas.
Suggestions For Future Studies
Several possibilities exist that could warrant research for other studies. KAAY has a rich history, and information is readily available about several aspects of the station. One of the children of Pat Walsh, a former salesperson, sales manager and general manager of the station, is reportedly exploring the possibility of producing a documentary of the station’s history and involvement with the Arkansas Razorback football team.
If you confine efforts to KAAY, a comprehensive survey of former and present listeners might be of interest, and would be potentially significant, for it would compare listeners of the same radio program in two different eras. Further studies about KAAY’s other unique programs also would be interesting, including the promotions they performed, as well as the station’s large and aggressive news and farm market departments.
KAAY had an original program, a weekly parody titled “Ear on Arkansas.” This was a take-off on a television public affairs program on a Little Rock, Arkansas, affiliate of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) KTHV Channel 11. The television show was called “Eye on Arkansas.”
Another possibility would be to investigate other underground radio programs, perhaps those that originated from other stations in other states or areas of the country. It would be interesting to find out which stations, if any, programmed this type of music at any point during the day, late night or otherwise. Other details, in order to compare a new study to this study, would be pertinent as well. For example, did any other program, if there was one, compare to Beaker Street? When did the program begin and end? What were the circumstances surrounding the program’s creation and ultimate demise?
Yet another potential research topic would be a study of the LIN Broadcasting Corporation, parent company and owner of several radio stations, including KAAY. Based upon a preliminary review of material, a study of this type, on this particular company has not yet been undertaken. The LIN Broadcasting Corporation is still in business and operating in the media business.
Previous studies have detailed the use of KAAY’s frequency and signal to broadcast Voice of America propaganda to the people of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis (Robinson, 2004). Additional studies might delve into this area of United States and broadcast history, to determine what was actually said to the people of Cuba by the American government for the period in question, some 3 ½ weeks. Further research to examine any further use of commercial radio stations to beam governmental propaganda might provide more insight into possible media manipulation by government agencies. Examinations of other countries and their propaganda efforts with broadcast radio stations might provide interesting comparisons and contrasts.
Other studies could include a history of KOKY, an AM black station in Little Rock, Arkansas, that programmed primarily for black listeners, and dealt with racial issues during the 1960s. Known as “The Black Spot on Your Radio Dial,” KOKY was a leader in providing what later came to be known as “urban” radio to the African-American population in central Arkansas during roughly the same time frame as KAAY was enjoying the number 1 slot for radio stations in Arkansas.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the radio industry thrived as a whole on several levels, in terms of programming, promotions and personalities. Top 40 stations ruled the airwaves much of the time. In the state of Arkansas, Beaker Street brought the concept and music of underground radio to the people of that state, as well as much of the Western Hemisphere.
This came at a time when few radio stations were airing this type of musical programming. Was it the right program, with the right host, at the right time? Did Sonny Martin, the program director of the station, along with Clyde Clifford, the host of Beaker Street, foresee the coming trend? Was it astute programming and management that was willing to be a trendsetter in radio? Were they just lucky? Or was it a combination?
Beaker Street was certainly a novel approach for radio in Arkansas in the 1960s. In fact, it was what started as simply a means to fill a late nighttime slot, and then turned into a large success for radio station KAAY. It helped secure the station’s place in American broadcast history. Like many AM radio stations from that era, it is still on the air, but as Clyde Clifford said, “It went to God,” meaning that it is now a religious station, with all-religious programming, beamed to the same areas that Beaker Street did, beginning in 1966.
Radio scholar Michael C. Keith (2007) wrote a fine work, titled Voices in the Purple Haze, about underground radio during the 1960s. Neither KAAY nor Beaker Street is mentioned in the book. Additionally, Keith (2001) authored a book titled Sounds in the Dark, which is a story of all-night radio in the United States. The only mention of KAAY in the book is in a chart of clear channel facilities in the United States, includes KAAY, its frequency and format, which Keith lists as religious. It is significant to note that Keith, considered by many to be the premier radio scholar in the United States, never mentioned the station or the program Beaker Street in his works on the subjects of all-night radio, and the comprehensive historical study of underground radio programs and stations in the 1960s and 1970s.
KAAY helped introduce underground radio music and programming to the central portion of the United States and beyond. Its story has now been told. The program Beaker Street deserves its rightful place in the era of pioneer underground radio stations of the United States. And although it has been on several other radio stations—all FM—since its original cancellation in 1977, it is unique in that it is still beaming nights of underground radio programming, which is being provided from Little Rock to the Western Hemisphere, on the airwaves and also via the World Wide Web.
A decade later after the 1977 cancellation of the program, Clyde Clifford and Beaker Street returned to the airwaves on Sunday nights from 7 p.m. until midnight first on KZLR (KZ-95) and later on Magic 105.1 FM KMJX. During that time the show was also streamed live via the World Wide Web. When the format changed on KMJX in February 2008 Beaker Street the last show was broadcast on that station on February 17. Beaker Street moved to a new (and current) home at The Point 94.1 FM on Sunday March 9, 2008, continuing to occupy the 7:00 p.m. to midnight time slot on Sunday evenings. Ironically, the studio of The Point 94.1 FM is located in the same building (2400 Cottondale Lane in Little Rock, Arkansas) where Clyde Clifford broadcast the last hours of rock music programming on KAAY 23 years earlier.
Despite the different homes for Beaker Street, perhaps appropriately, it never left Little Rock.
And what about the music format in general? As for the underground music format, it migrated from a handful of AM radio stations to the FM band during the 1970s, when Beaker Street was in its heyday. Underground music became more popularly known as album oriented rock and later modern rock or classic rock. In some cases, it is simply called rock or active rock (Keith, 2007). According to Keith, the format continues to do well in the 18-to-34 year-old demographic group, particularly for the males. But it does not do well in attracting female listeners. Graham commented, “The classic rock format usually spikes ratings for a radio station pretty well, at least in the beginning. But it really is a niche format, with limited audience appeal. The demographic is pretty good for sales though” (Graham, 2008).
Consider this: In November 1966, eerie music and strange sound effects filled the airwaves of KAAY, AM 1090 in Little Rock. Over these program elements, a slow deep voice says slowly, “Music of Iron Butterfly. It’s 12:01 and I’m Clyde Clifford, and this is KAAY, Little Rock, with Beaker Street until 2:00 a.m. this morning, Beaker Theatre at 2:00.” This was the voice and sounds of underground radio in its infancy, from Little Rock, Arkansas and beyond.
Today, Beaker Street is still alive and faring well. The program still airs one night a week and still airs some of the same music today that aired during the 1960s and 1970s, with some newer music of the same caliber mixed in with it. While updated to some degree, it still airs from Little Rock, and features the same background music and sound effects, as well as the original host, Clyde Clifford (Appendix Z).
In this context, it is still serving its listeners, some old and some new, as the underground nighttime voice of Arkansas. Most likely, there are listeners out there who hope it will never be silenced.
As for my point of view, things have changed. I no longer live in Arkansas. As a resident of the state of Tennessee and a university teacher, the subject of KAAY has become a focus of my academic research. It amazes me that now people all over the world can now listen to Beaker Street. It amazes me even more that it still has an apparent strong following, thanks to the World Wide Web. When I hear Clyde Clifford over the live stream on Sunday nights over KKPT in Little Rock, both his voice and the music he plays takes me back. Back to the days when a red-haired, freckle-faced teenage boy in Arkansas used to lie in bed at night, with a flat pillow speaker in bed, listening to Beaker Street through the pillow. It was different, unique, exciting, and yes, even strange at times. In a way, it still is.
Eddie Graham told me that he thought the program was a fluke, that KAAY just got lucky with it. If so, that fluke initially lasted for 12 years, and over a 10-year hiatus, has now been on one Little Rock station or another for 22 years. In any media market, that is a phenomenal run. Obviously, something about Beaker Street is still appealing to listeners. A survey of both former and current listeners might reveal some interesting reasons why it is still so popular.
For now, Beaker Street and its host continue to give Arkansas and indeed the world a version of undergound music, which was born in 1966. The legacy of this program is one that will live on, currently over the terrestrial airwaves, via the World Wide Web, and forever in the hearts and minds of faithful fans, who remember and still hunger for Beaker Street as a part of their lives.