Something To Give Thanks For

KSML-FM studio courtesy Gail Ashford

Well, there are so many things we can give thanks for when we really think about it. For all its faults, life is pretty fine and, as is so often said, it’s better than the alternative – although none of us living can be certain that’s true.

BUT, I am especially thankful to be realizing a year-long project and seeing it finally come to fruition. So, let me tell you a little story.

When I was a young man, I got a radio gig. The year was 1969, the station was KRNW-FM, a little 5-watt operation in a funky studio on the second floor of an old building in downtown Boulder, Colorado. And it was a blast! It was really a blast!

We played whatever we wanted to play. There was no playlist. We’d bring records from home and play the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Sons of Champlin with Charlie Pride, Gerry Mulligan, Flatt & Scruggs, Screaming’ Jay Hawkins, Miles Davis, Ben E, King, a little doo-wop, and maybe even a Brandenburg Concerto. A big jumble of music and it all fit together. It worked and it was very cool.

Word started to get around and people started coming by the studio. They’d bring their own records and say, “Wow! Have you heard this?” Or, “Let’s play these two songs together – it’ll be awesome.” And it was.

Musicians came by, too. They weren’t getting any airplay on Top 40 radio, so they wanted to talk about what they were doing and play a few tunes on the air. We were the place they could say what they had the say and play what they had to play.

It was like a party 24/7 and week after week it kept getting better. There was this sense of great fun, pure joy, discovery, and community. It was wonderful and a community really did grow up around that little station for the eight years or so that it lasted..

The same thing was happening all across America. Freeform Radio was being born. Coming up from the Underground and into the light. Finding a place on the airwaves. And lots of people were listening.

credit: Dianne Stromberg

In 1971, though, a lot of the original Boulder staff moved on to KFML AM&FM in Denver. A bigger market, better equipment, a higher level of professionalism, but the same sense of fun, joy, discovery, and community.

And now all kinds of celebrities started coming by. Joe Walsh and Steven Stills used to hang out when they were in town. Charlie Daniels slept on the couch because he couldn’t afford a room when he was on tour. Lots of musicians came by, and other folks, too, film directors like Peter Bogdonavich and Stanley Kramer to tout their flics, comics like Steve Martin, George Carlin, Cheech & Chong.

Everybody wanted to be there because we all had the sense that something incredible was happening. We were creating the Classic Era of Rock Music and all of us, the musicians, the deejays, the audience, were a part of it. It never happened before and it hasn’t happened since. When it did, it was pure magic.

For the past year, we’ve been building Radical Radio: FREEFORM Radio Archive. The intent is to collect, preserve, and promote freeform radio; to honor the people who made it happen; and to offer that sense of discovery to anyone who loves music. Find it HERE in a day or two.

There are many hours of radio shows exactly as they were played in the early Seventies; 15 livecast concerts performed by major artists in the studio and broadcast live to the station’s audience; and, three dozen video interviews with the people who were there when it all was happening. We wanted them to tell the story of what it was, how they did it, and why it mattered. And there’s a lot more to come.

credit: Hank Schmidt

Radical Radio: FREEFORM Radio Archive will launch late on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday at worst. It’s located HERE and is housed on a website that has portals to all that great material. The music has been reengineered from reel-to-reel tapes into state of the art digital files and it is simply terrific. 

If you were there when it was happening, you know what we’re talking about and we think you’ll love this rebroadcast. If it’s new to you, we can offer you this portal to the same sense of discovery we had back then.

We hope you will explore the site, take a moment to step out of today’s frenetic place and enter a place where the music matters more than anything and there’s a lot here to be had. 

If you like what you see and hear, please join us in supporting this effort. It is a project of Center for the New Northwest, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, so your donation is fully tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. You can help us make the Archive a living document of Freeform Radio and the Classic Era of Rock Music it helped to create.

It was an unique and valuable part of broadcasting history, a last gasp of freedom on the airwaves, a time when artistry took precedent over commerce in that brief moment before huge media corporations bought up every commercial station in the country and turned them into advertising mills minting money for their owners. 

Let’s keep alive the evidence of how much better radio can be when the public airwaves are used creatively and artistically for the public benefit. Thanks for your consideration.

 

 

 

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  1. I do so wish I knew how to access this promising program – I was one who was around at this time. I visited KRNW often!

  2. I’m very excited about this. I loved and lived by the music then and probably always will. At the same time you were putting music on the radio I was helping to put live concerts together. It was a match that was totally cosmic. You thought I was going to say made in heaven, and it was. We were bringing the music from the musicians to the people and everyone was happy and digging it.

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