By: Thom Trunnell, April/May 2002

The first free-form on KFML-FM happened in the Spring of 1968, I believe. Brian Kreizenbeck, AKA Super Warthog, talked Joe McGoey into letting him hold forth from midnight to six am. Brian set it up so that he was brokering that time slot, as I recall. Brian paid Joe so much and sold the time to sponsors he rounded up. Or, agreed to a split of some sort of revenues coming from said sponsors. I'm not sure. It'd be nice to ask Brian. But, I don't know where he is. Whatever the deal, it didn't last very long. The Warthog played a Denver Police Department recruitment public service spot and put a rather irreverent laugh track behind it and McGoey told him to hit the road.

The road at the time was Fillmore Street at 3rd Avenue in the somewhat fashionable Cherry Creek North area. Come to think of it, Brian's adventure there may have happened before Joe bought the stations. There was an AM, too, but it was only on during daylight hours. At any rate, Brian gets credit for doing it first in Denver.

Soon thereafter, a guy named Max Floyd started KLZ-FM. I don't know much about it, but I think it was a full-time, more or less wide open free-form format. But, it soon started tightening up playlists and getting corporate. It'd be good to ask Max Floyd about it, but I don't know where he is either.

Then, there was KMYR-FM. Ed Hepp, AKA Ed Mitchell, hired a guy called the Iron Helmet or something like that (He wore capes, was weird and soon gone), Bill Ashford, Steve Burke and me. KMYR went full time free-form in January '69. Ed sort of freaked out and I was named program director. I hired Randy Morrison and that was the crew, more or less. Craig Bowers was originally co-owner with an engineer named Art Robertson. They sold the station to Doubleday broadcasting sometime before we all got there. Craig continued as general manager, Art as chief engineer. There was a sales manager named Herb Neu. A guy from L.A., Don Bridges, came along later. KMYR didn't last long, either, a little under nine months. Doubleday decided we were more trouble than we were worth and fired us all, from Craig on down, in September. They replaced us with a format called Pizazz '69, which subsequently devolved into KHOW-FM.

Meanwhile, in Boulder, a tiny little FM, KRNW, was struggling, with a cast of dedicated characters, into broadcast annals at 97.3 megahertz. It later became known as KBCO, quite another saga.

After KMYR died, Craig Bowers managed to get Herb Neu, Randy Morrison, Steve Burke, Don Bridges and me hired at WLS-FM in Chicago. Bill Ashford didn't want to go to Chicago. He didn't like Craig. Or, he didn't like the idea of working for ABC. He went to Boulder. KRNW.

Steve Thoreson went to Bob Wilkerson, the owner of KRNW in Boulder, and got him to agree to let him start a free-form format. Steve hired Bill Ashford in January of 1970. Bob wanted a woman on the air to give cooking recipes and household hints. Bill brought in Sandy Phelps who never gave any recipes or hints. Butch Grayer, Jim Pagliasotti, Scott Coen and Junior Cabus all did shows there. Bill left KRNW to work with Thom in San Francisco and shortly after that Buffalo Chip came from San Francisco to be on the air in Boulder.

When KFML started in 1971 in Denver eventually everybody who had been at KRNW all went to KFML. Steve Thoreson did leave not too long after that, however.

In September of '69, Doubleday broadcasting pulled the plug on KMYR-FM
And, a bunch of us went to Chicago to have a go at WLS-FM. Also another story.

In Chicago, as at KMYR, Herb Neu and I worked together pretty closely. He
was sales manager and I was the smart-assed hippy who thought he could
make better commercials than the big, zillion-dollar ad agencies could. After
waging that frustrating campaign for a year, Herb got hired by National
Science Network to manage their Los Angeles station, KPPC-FM. They hired
me to be PD at their San Francisco property, KMPX-FM. National Science
Network, being a rather classic example of corporate enlightenment of the
time, soon rid themselves of both of us. Herb worked for a time at the
ABC station in LA. I hung around in San Farancisco more or less earnestly
trying to figure out what to do next. Other things happened, but to get
on with the KFML story, Herb started talking to Joe McGoey in the Spring of
'71. Joe had recently sold Duffy's Soft Drinks and bought KFML-FM & AM.
He didn't know what to do with his radio stations and was trying to decide
Who to turn to. Herb and I won him over. We told him we'd work cheap, then
split the profits with him later. Still have hook marks in my cheeks from
that one. But, we went on the air.

Sandy Phelps, Bill Asfhord, Brian Kreizenbeck, Jerry Mills, Buffalo and I
comprised the full-time air staff. I think Don Bridges was there at
first. As was Reno Nevada. But, they left for one reason or another. Our first
news guy was Dan Yurman. He also left. Jim Clancy did the news for most
of the two-year and a couple of months the original crew held forth.

Herb was sales manager. His staff included Scotty Coen, Howie Markham,
Don Zucker, Ron Katz and probably some others I 've forgotten.

David Shepardson was our promotions man. He and Brian Kreizenbeck
launched a spectacular series of live concerts broadcast from Summit Studios.

There were many other people on KFML. The improv theatre troupe called
High Street, Budge Threlkeld, Bodie Allen, Bob Hayes, Kirby , and Clancey
created their own soundtracks for the Monday Night movie on a
local TV station. High Street may be the best-remembered program on
KFML. They had a huge following.

There was also John Dunning with his great Old-Time-Radio series. Harry
Tuft hosted his Roots Of American Music show. Chuck E. Weiss (he who was
allegedly in love in the Rickie Lee Jones song) did a fine show on the
roots of rock n' roll. Bill Szymczyk, producer of The Eagles, The J. Geils
Band and many great early jazz artists on ABC Impulse did wonderful free-form
shows. He and his partner, Larry Ray, had Tumbleweed Records at 13th &
Gilpin. Larry did some air work at KFML, too. Jim Pagliasotti, Jr.
Cabus, Butch Grayer, Michael Muirhead, Michael (...what was his last name?
The one with the pretty long hair.) & Steve Thoreson were all there, too.

Nothing stays the same. KFML didn't, either. The first stage kind of
fell apart (There was quite a bit of acclaim, but not much money. After
awhile, it gets tough to buy many groceries with acclaim) in the Summer of '73.

Don Zucker, the only original staffer left, made a new deal with Joe and
brought in a whole new crew, Craig Applequist, Jay Cooper, Scotty James,
Rolf Gunnar and a new sales staff.

In 1974, Joe sold the FM to Jefferson Pilot. It's now KYGO-FM, a big-time
country station.

The AM carried forth for a few more years, owners, managers, air & sales
staffs until sometime in February of 1978, when it all went away.

If you were there any time back then, thanks for listening. It was great
fun, wasn't it?

History of KRNW by Jim Pagliasotti

Free form radio came into being in Boulder, Colorado via a chance meeting that Steve Thoreson had with Robert Neal Wilkenson, a rather bizarre character who lived with some dozen or so cats in a nice home near Baseline in the old part of town that he had inherited from his parents. Bob, who was literally and figuratively cockeyed, had created a 5 watt radio station, KRNW, in a closet at home and acquired a license to broadcast. For years thereafter, he was beaming classical music from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. from a funky studio on Pearl Street downtown. Steve, whom I got to know because he was dating my former wife, met Crazy Bob and somehow convinced him to make the remaining hours of the evening available to additional broadcast.

Steve called me one night in 1969 (?) or thereabouts, when I was the rock 'n' roll writer for The Denver Post and said, "Blah, blah, blah and will you alternate shows with me every night from 9:00 p.m to 2:00 in the morning?" Having nothing better to do during those hours than party, chase women, do drugs and drink, and maybe catch a little sleep, I immediately agreed and off we went into that strange, emerging realm of free form radio.

"Headhunter and the Electric Cowboy" was the name of our show, me the former and Steve the latter, and we had a helluva time. We brought our own records from home and played whatever came into our heads. Because I was a music reviewer, I had a large collection of records and we finally convinced Bob to buy them so the radio station could have a library. I sold him 1000 albums for 50 cents apiece, which was the only money I ever got out of my work at KRNW, and as far as I know, Steve never got a dime. We did it for fun.

In addition to our complete ignorance of anything having to do with radio, we were hampered by a few technological challenges, as well. First of all, the station only had one turntable, which wasn't much of a problem when your programming consisted of 30 minute Brahms concertos, but when you're trying to blend Strange Days into Purple Haze, it was a bitch. So, to do segways, we would rip the record off the table as soon as the song was finished, slam down the next album and try our best to drop the needle into the appropriate groove. It was funky, but nobody cared. Free form radio was suddenly alive and well in Boulder, at least for a few hours every evening.

Another problem was that KRNW broadcast in monaural, which even in those long ago days, was more than a bit dated. We tried to convince Bob that stereo was the way to go, but he as a radio engineer of legendary proportions in his own, off-kilter mind, advised us that he knew for a fact there was no such thing as stereo broadcast and that was that.

So, Steve and I just kept playing the music, blasting Sly and Zappa, the Who and the Stones and all that other great stuff across the byways of very hip Boulder in straight ahead monaural. It was very funky, but everybody loved it. People would drop by the studio, hour after hour, with food and drink and drugs and comely bodies for us to indulge in, and we played on.

We did manage to get another turntable, once we agreed to pay for it ourselves, and Bob reluctantly wired it for us, so at last we could segway the music smoothly. But, with all the love that we had for the music, with all the support the community gave us, it was hard with a head full of hashish and a belly full of wine to hear the songs go out over the airways in mono.

One night, a rare one when I was alone at the mike and the music was playing, I fiddled around with the studio switches and one, when I flipped it from left to right, suddenly produced a broadcast in stereo! The place had been wired that way all along, but Bob in his obstinacy and dictatorial grip on his little piece of the public airways, had preferred to broadcast music his way. Have I mentioned that along with his pye-eyed persona, he also could hear in only one ear?

The nights rolled along, the audience grew, and before long a group of deejays who actually knew what they were doing were added to the station. Sandy Phelps and Bill Ashford, Brian Kreizenbeck and Buffalo Chip, his brother Reno Nevada and a couple of other folks joined the station, and we began broadcasting around the clock. Free form radio 21 hours a day, and the good old classical show from 6-9 p.m. A few sponsors pumped a little money into the station, and a couple of local pot dealers supplemented the cash flow. Colorado's first free form radio station was up and running.

It was real and it rocked, and there came a time when you could walk down any street in Boulder, as slow or as fast as you wanted, and you'd never miss a beat of the song on KRNW, because it blared from nearly every doorway and window from one side of town to the other. Van Morrison told us to "turn it up a little bit higher so you'll know radio."
And we did.


Jim Pagliasotti September 2002



The Denver Post

Friday, November 3, 1972

Rock ‘n’ Roll “A Triumph of Idealism” by Jim Pagliasotti

The emergence of KFML-AM and FM as a major influence in the Denver area radio market is a triumph of idealism over pragmatism and tradition.

Radio, like television and the printed media, is a commercial proposition.  Radio stations are in business to make money.  Traditionally, that has meant pursuing the largest possible audience — “Giving the people what they want,” which has become a rationalization for blandness, sameness and generally — the quest for the average man.

In this age of mass-media influence, the depth and scope of the media is limited to that which is deemed suitable to the mean.  Television was born and raised by such standards; the results are painfully obvious.

ONLY 2 INNOVATIONS

But radio, too, has languished in the mean muddle for at least the two decades I have listened.  There have been but two programming innovations in that time.  The first was Top-40 radio, the thundering arrival of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  So thoroughly does it dominate the entertainment world today, it now seems as pervasively mediocre as the Tin Pan Alley hit parade which preceded it.

The second innovation in radio programming is the free-form format.  Because it aims to educate the listener as well as entertain him and because it seeks the listener’s trust as well as his ear, free-form radio is potentially the greatest advance the media has made for the last 25 years.

Conceptually and technically free-form radio is a departure from programming tradition.  No longer does one man, the program director, dictate the sound of the station.  Rather, each disc jockey is free to play whatever music he chooses in whatever sequence his ideas suggest.

Such freedom allows great variety in the stations sound and it encourages imaginative sets from the air personnel.  The D.J. can create and develop ideas through the music, using the whole range of the stations library to elaborate musical vignettes for the audience.

CONSTANT BLARE

Technically, the grouping of commercial messages in two-to-four-minute blocks, usually about a half-hour apart, tends to emphasize the sponsor’s message more than does the Top-40 approach, where music and commercials blend together in a constant blare of noise.  The listener is more receptive to the messages which come after the music, rather than during it.

The versatility, the freedom of free-form radio permits the D.J. to express himself (as apposed to expressing a rigid station sound).  It encourages the listener to express himself through the music as well.  Because he can glimpse portraits of the D.J.’s ideas, the listener can relate to him as something more than a slick voice barking out a steady flow of hype.  A one-to-one relationship between announcer and listener is established and there is little room for condescension or dishonesty.

Ideally, free-form radio is an education for everyone involved.  And it’s working right here in Denver.

 

 

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