Sunday, May 7, 2017
FM Rock: August 1967
This is where my FM Rock series begins proper. On August 6, 1967, KMPX-FM in San Francisco switched their format to 24 hour freeform programming based on album cuts of rock, folk, blues and other genres, eschewing the playlist system of the top 40 format and giving the disc jockeys freedom to do what they wanted. They read poems, spoke to the listener in a very personal manner and used album tracks to weave together a listening experience that had meaning and purpose. This was revolutionary! You would not hear station jingles or time/temperature announcements. The cheesy AM pop approach was considered taboo. Tom Donahue deserves the lion's share of credit for kicking this into motion. The Doors' first album had been released in January and one night he was listening to the album and wondered why it wasn't getting exposure on radio. He ended up at KMPX in April, doing the 8pm to midnight shift, and gradually infused his new LP focused approach into the station's programming. By August it was completely realized with on-air personalities like Dusty Street and Howard Hesseman (who, a decade later, would become an actor famously known for portraying DJ Johnny Fever on the television show "WKRP In Cincinnati" in a case of art imitating real life). The engineering staff running the boards was all female. It was a smashing success and the approach was soon picked up by the Los Angeles area sister station KPPC-FM. The selections I've chosen for this initial mix may not all have been brand new in August of '67, but I believe these classic tracks serve as the bedrock foundation of underground rock radio.
The Doors and Jefferson Airplane albums (released respectively in January and February of 1967) are the clear impetus of the underground rock phenomenon and this was only emboldened by the ground broken by The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album with its segued tracks and intention to be listened to as a whole work. I believe it was this which inspired disc jockeys to start blending tracks together, creating juxtapositions between songs that would possibly blow the listeners minds. That is also my goal in this series. My intention is to put myself in the shoes of an underground rock DJ and weave together a narrative out of the disparate tracks - have one song lead naturally to the other, or sometimes juxtapose them wildly to create a sense of an unbalanced trip. Either way, if they succeed or not, I hope that when this series is completed, it will provide a good bit of musicology of how we got from Sgt. Pepper to the place where rock radio is today, hearing the progression of styles from month to month making it, perhaps, easier to pinpoint who the real rock music mavericks were as well as seeing who was influenced by what. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane are head of the class at this point in time.
Many obscurities will pop into these mixes, sometimes in great quantity. Most of this mix is made of of songs that remain recognized classics, but also in this inaugural mix, a stand out obscurity is Jake Holmes' "Dazed And Confused" which is clearly the (to be kind) inspiration for Led Zeppelin's 1969 song of the same title.