Ken Lerch remembers KCPR, 1968-1969
I've been asked to write down remembrances from the early days of the KCPR.
I wish I had more information about how the station actually started but I was just a 3rd year, long-haired architecture student in 1968 who found a notice that a bunch of engineers were going to start a little campus radio station and were looking for people who knew something about music to be DJs. I went over to the journalism building and confirmed the story and was told that I would have to go to San Francisco, study and pass a test to get a federal 3rd class license before I could go on the air, all of which I did. So this isn't so much a description of how it all started as much as a portrait of the times.
I don't ever remember having one group meeting, ever being told what to play, never offered any direction or criticism for anything I ever did on the air. I never saw a faculty advisor. I knew nothing about how a radio station worked. I was shown how to turn the key on to power the station, how to use the turntables, how to read the dials, and left alone after my first show. There were no names for the programs; nobody had any wacky on-air names. I don't think I ever announced any campus activities. They were looking for somebody to fill the 10:00 pm slot for a couple of hours to come on after a rock & roll slot to play blues and R&B before they went on with a jazz program. The guys who started the station were your very straight engineer types, short-sleeved shirts, pocket protectors, right out of central casting. They knew how to build the transmitter and all the mechanics of setting up the station, and they could get through all the bureaucracy and they were smart enough to know that they didn't know anything about popular music.
The space was just two rooms, a transmitting station and a studio on the other side of the glass that only had a table, two chairs and mike in it, nothing else. The Studio didn't even have any shelving because the station owned nothing, no records, no books, nothing. There wasn't even anything on the walls except our license. The only furniture in the place was 3-4 metal chairs. I keep hearing about the infamous couch. We didn't have a couch. All programs depended on whatever records the DJs themselves owned so every DJ walked in every night with a stack of albums under their arms.
It was 1968, the height of the music scene in both LA and San Francisco. We had brought Ike & Tina Turner and Janis Joplin on campus for music. We were hitchhiking to Santa Barbara to see the Mothers of Invention, and spending every few weekends at the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco listing to all the music and bringing back the latest albums bought at Tower Records. I had grown up in the San Francisco area listening to Elvis and the early rockers in the 50s, was there for the British invasion in '64 and was around when Dylan went electric in '65. My sister attended the Beatles last concert at the Cow Palace. I hitchhiked to Monterey for the Pop Festival in '67 but couldn't get a ticket in. I was at the infamous Big Sur Folk Festivals in '66 & 67 listening to David Crosby & Stephen Stills singing ballads before they met Graham Nash and formed CSN, and heard a new folk singer there who had just driven down from Canada with some friends in a VW bus to sing with friends, Joni Mitchell.
So, by the time I saw the notice to be a DJ at KCPR I had grown up listening to Tom Donahue at KMPX in San Francisco, the first "alternative," free-form, album-oriented rock station. And I was determined to be just as hip and laid back, which meant that I was going to say as little as possible, lower and slow my voice and just play music, the longer the cuts the better. I remember one one-hour stretch where I played just two 30 minute cuts, or maybe two separate sides of two albums, separated with me only saying "KCPR" at the half hour mark. My roommate said it was my best show.
I would usually segue from the earlier rock session with hard, loud cuts that had a blues tilt to it, maybe a Charlie Musselwhite, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, mix in some English Bluesbreaker stuff before I would start to move over to Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf. Over the course of the night, I would gradually move to older blues stuff, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Ma Rainey, Reverend Gary Davis, sprinkling in some white revival stuff like Spider John Koerner and John Hammond, before turning it over to the jazz guys. Needless to say, during those days, only guys worked there, no girls.
There were others at the station that did more folkie type of things. They knew even less about radio than I did. We all had absolute freedom since there was no such thing as a music director, or if there was, I wasn't aware of it. The folkies brought their friends into the studio and sat around the mike and played guitars. I was usually always alone late at night. I once got intensely hungry, likely from having earlier ingested something that made me hungry and said on the air that whoever was the first to bring me a pepperoni pizza, I would let them stay with me in the studio for the rest of the program. Two nice guys from the dorm showed up about 40 minutes later.
I was there from the beginning, somewhere around the Fall of 1968 and went to the end of the term in 1969 when I left town to work and head off to Italy for a year. It was a great few months.