What is Freeform Radio?
FREEFORM radio made possible the classic era of rock music. Some called it Underground radio, but FREEFORM was a better name. Radio without walls. No restriction to one or another genre. Freedom to play what you wanted from the entire catalogue of recorded music. It wasn’t Top 40 anymore.
Without FREEFORM radio, that period of absolutely staggering creativity in rock music might never have happened. A lot fewer people would have known about it and had the pleasure of being there when it happened. FREEFORM radio changed the music business and let the counterculture dominate popular culture for years to come.
We are preserving the story of FREEFORM radio told by the people who made it happen. This is an archive of live shows, interviews with the people who were there, and writings about the era. FREEFORM: How Radical Radio Made the Classic Era of Rock Music. It’s broadcasting history in honor of those people and their colleagues.
Let Me Tell You a Story
Here's where the magic lives: livecasts from the studio, unheard since the original moments of play on air. Full Freeform Radio shows from stations around the nation. All digitally remastered and ready to be played for as many hours as the soundtrack of your life requires.
How did Freeform Radio come to be? It's the people - the DJs, engineers, producers, station managers, the people who were wild about music, and about the community they created by sharing it. These are the stories of a few who were there, with so much more to be found on the page, The Players. Also check out The Interviews on Vimeo for more in-depth recollections of this magical time.
Boulder, Colorado, 1965. I'm nine years old.It was the best curbside find of my short life; a table top AM radio and some torn speakers. I could salvage the speaker magnets to pull iron filings out of the dirt but what if the radio actually worked? I hid this loot under my bed for surely there were parental prohibitions on such valuables. After bedtime, I plugged in my radio. The faint orange radio-tube glow flowed out of the broken top of the radio and cut through my darkness like a fuzzy spotlight. Then the quiet static of my new radio successfully amplified the universe's background radiation. As I've done countless times ever since, I slowly, almost imperceptibly, moved the dial on my primitive radio telescope to find new forms of the good life on earth in my now rapidly expanding universe. KOA, KLZ, KVOD, and finally KIMN 950 in Denver. Every station had an adult talking to me, not as a miner of iron filings, but as peer exploring adult places, things, and music far beyond the limits of my elementary school. From that first night and continuing today, radio remains a portal into humanity without the geographic limits of face-to-face interactions. I put my little hand inside that radio to attach my homemade antenna that I would move to find the distant clear-channel stations of KOMA (Omaha), KMOX (St. Louis), and WLS (Chicago). I was profoundly moved but I kept my growing relationship with these distant voices secret, secret, secret so nobody could take this magic from me. To this day, I hide my radio image from my listeners because the radio magic I experienced always required secret invisible mechanisms. I wasn't a TV kid because TV took my attention and left me with worthless baubles. “Fakey!” I would shout at the screen. Denver only had three major television stations and a local independent with tacky home-made programs like professional wrestling and monster movies but the new FM radios had doubled the number of AM stations and each new station had more breadth and depth than all the four TV channels combined. Radio talked to me while I went about my life. TV talked at me and demanded all my attention. Then radio took a big leap and fully distinguished itself when I found the “free form” stations of KRNW (Boulder) and (KFML) Denver. Later I would be flabbergasted that free form station KCFR (University of Denver) was actually trying and succeeding to be non-commercial. (KRNW and KCFR were inadvertently non-commercial. They were involuntary patrons of the arts.) These three free form stations audaciously declared all other stations as; “narrow, boring, and hopelessly square.” Oh such great new gifts from the radio gods now! Free form stations swore an allegiance to audio artistry and breaking the fourth wall by encouraging listeners to have a conversation with the radio. Not the horrible phone in shows but an (imaginary) dialog. I now carried a notebook to write down the unusual musicians and songs I heard. I started guessing what song a show host would play. I tried to figure out how they were thinking about radio and music. And yes, I talked to the radio too. I wanted to see if I was right so I became, “that kid who always calls.” My imaginary conversation with the radio was becoming real, “Was that … on drums?” “I noticed you played Tommy Bolin after Jimi Hendrix. Did you do this on purpose?” It was my first experience with art that found me instead of being thrust upon me by others. “My art” slowly emboldened me to explore myself on the creator side. It might take months of calls but after they recognized my voice, my real agenda would pounce, “Can I come down and watch you work your show. I promise I won't bother you.” Off I would go on my bike to bother them with every question about every thought in their head and every move they made. But it didn't bother them, they liked someone inquiring about all the nuance and thought they mastered to carefully craft every moment of their show. I got my FCC license when I turned 16 but I wouldn't operate a board much less create an audition tape until someone pitied me enough to actually train me. August 1977, Elvis died and all the world's mourners and commercial radio stations figuratively jumped into his grave to writhe on top of his coffin and (now that he couldn't object) maybe rub some of his glory onto themselves. Four months later, my favorite musician, Rahsaan Roland Kirk died and Thee Harrell at KCFR does a three hour tribute to Kirk. I was soon befriending Thee Harrell over the phone and (now) driving the 40 miles to KCFR where I declared I was going to get on the air and do an all night Rahsaan Roland Kirk show just like Thee. My first lesson from him: Thee:“Do you know what FM stands for?” Me:“Frequency modulation as opposed to amplitude modulation. In frequency modulation the....” Thee:“No kid... It means “Fucking Magic” and if you don't create it during every second of your show then you're betraying the music, me, and every reason you've worked to get here.” 1978 KUNC (Greeley) was the high power radio station that hated the college students it was chartered to train. After trying my usual phone stunts and begging for their training, Thee helped me make an audition tape and KUNC took me seriously. Since no student or KUNC staff wanted to give up their Saturday night, management hired me to change the six sets of reel-to-reel tapes, give six station ids, measure the tower output and lights every hour. The desperate-to-not-work-Saturday-nights-staff was amazed I showed up every week. With this bargaining power, I was allowed to play jazz after midnight (after the university administration and radio station management's bedtime). My mentors taught me well, “Management won't judge you based on whether you do good radio or crappy radio because they don't know the difference. To avoid getting fired, simply never appear at the station during sunlight hours and always take the worst shift.” My first Rahsaan Roland Kirk special was a six hour show one year after his passing. It was a successful show because station management dutifully slept through it. Flush with a year's worth of not getting fired, I vowed to never get paid for radio and radio has never offered. I did annual all-night Rahsaan Roland Kirk specials and I felt the same “fit” on the other side of the mic as I did listening to that AM radio I found as a little kid. I went onto graduate and law school studies in telecommunications where I had the privilege to learn from the exact people who created the policies and regulations for FM and non-commercial radio. Beneath their regulatory bureaucrat disguises, I saw dashing, dramatic, even acrobatic heroes with their thrilling stories of creating one of the most idealistic industries in America, public radio. I then worked in Washington, D.C. for the exact people who ruined all radio. DC was the center of the great telecommunications conflict between commercial interests and artistic interests. It was where matter and anti-matter destroy each other like the fighting Beal and Loki from Star Trek. Thankfully, my radio artistry mentor's tools continued to work perfectly so I both avoided and survived these destructive conflicts. The people representing commercial interest were friendly, intelligent, and oh so slick. (FCC Chair, Mark Fowler, charmed my mom.) However, I immediately recognized them as “the goons of radio.” They never had an inkling of radio's beauty. Not even an interest. They were flat grey men. Banal cogs in a strict financial process that vacuumed up scattered telecommunications assets and then redistributed the consolidated mess to their shareholders who were handsomely rewarded. These financial processes purposely neglected the matters of audio artistry that my mentors and I held so dear. In fact, matters of artistry were incomprehensibly quirky to them. When they even noticed such matters, it was only to note them as aberrations to their sacred financial processes. Later they would tell stories of these quirky encounters to amaze and reassure their fellow country club denizens that their shared high status was legitimate because (unlike us radio natives) they alone “exclusively follow financial rules and processes.” Of course, the consolidation of these quirky independent radio stations into nationwide conglomerates made radio into today's soulless horror show. The consolidation was so complete that today there are only a handful of commercial (and even non-commercial) stations that aren't controlled by a national or regional corporation, foundation, university, or religious organization. My show is on a few of these remaining independent stations and I treasure the two times they remarked, “Jamie, you're a radio guy.” In a reciprocal version of the country club types, every week my listeners and I reassure ourselves with audio evidence that our shared status as “radio guys” was legitimately granted. Unlike the destroyers of art, we remain exclusively and deeply moved by radio. Just like when we were kids. But unlike the goons, we radio guys can flourish in both worlds of work and art. The goons can't distinguish the profound difference between the human joy of art and heartless wasteland of a financial process. Hell, if they can't tell the country club food is crappy, how are they going to know what “F.M.” radio stands for?
At WBCN: DJ, 1968–’96, host of The Big Mattress. Since then: DJ at WZLX; inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2009; retired and living in Maui, currently working on an autobiography titled Daze in the Life. A bunch of us were sitting around, possibly experimenting with drugs. We were thinking how great it would be to have a radio station. At the time, they were all Top 40. They would play the same songs over and over. We thought, Wouldn’t it be great to have a radio station where they played Benny Goodman, “Sing Sing Sing,” from 1938, maybe mix that with the Carmina Burana, and then mix that with Jimi Hendrix and the Stones, and then come back with a folk song? I didn’t talk fast, and I wasn’t sharp at all. My character, an alter ego called Duane Glasscock, had a heavy Boston accent. And he screwed up all the time! People really related to that. Especially here in Boston, people loved that. It was like I was one of them. We didn’t think of our listeners as being fans. Most of my listeners knew more about the music than I did. They were totally my peers. Duane Glasscock went on the air one Saturday and complained about the ratings—that’s how radio stations got their money, if they got high ratings from Arbitron, which was based in Maryland. A really good rating in Boston at the time was a 3- or a 4-point average. Duane got 13. Duane went on the air and complained, “All these fat cats down in Maryland, they’re driving around in their Cadillacs, smoking cigars, and these guys decide what radio stations get all the money from the sponsors. They gave Mark Parenteau a 3, and they gave Charles Laquidara, that old guy, like a 3.6. Are you kidding me? Everybody, send a bag of shit to Arbitron.” Duane gave out the exact address, every break, for four hours. Arbitron got a lot of bags of shit. They still gave us good ratings the next time. The following Monday, my boss, Klee Dobra, called me in. He said, “Charles Laquidara is a professional. Charles deserves every bit of respect he gets in the radio community. But Duane Glasscock is a fucking idiot. Duane Glasscock is fired. Do you understand me?” I said, “Klee, you can’t fire Duane. He’s got a 13, the highest rating ever in the history of ratings. All the rest of us have got 4s and 5s.” And he looks up at me. “Are you playing with a full deck? You’re acting like Duane and you are separate people.” And I said, “But you just fired Duane! And you kept me!” Anyway, he ended up firing Duane, but in less than three weeks he ended up bringing him back. I quit radio in ’76 because it was getting in the way of my cocaine habit. When I came back in ’78, I didn’t want to come back, because I still wanted to continue being able to do cocaine. Luckily I’m still alive. I remember one night, Paul Ahern, a record promoter, and I were sitting in his car, maybe smoking a fatty, and he said, “Charles, I want you to hear something. I’m thinking about retiring, and just managing this group and trying to get them going on tour.” He puts this cassette in. I said, “Paul, the guy singing with the high falsetto voice sounds like he’s Mark Farner, a Grand Funk Railroad wannabe.” The song was “More Than a Feeling” from the band Boston. There was a time when you could hear ’BCN without a radio. Literally. You could start in downtown Boston and walk to Cambridge, to Harvard Square. Between the cars playing ’BCN, with their open windows in the summertime, and all the dormitories, apartments, and houses, you could hear ’BCN from one end of the city to the other.
Recollections of Freeform Radio Days "One thing that being around and being the right age in the sixties gave us was the primary sensation of time's wheel. You could catch glimpses of the fourth dimension, and see the world turning." Robert Stone I was fortunate enough to see the start of the Big Turn musical while working the light show at the Matrix in San Francisco circa 1966. This 80 seat club was started by the house band "The Great Society", which eventually turned into Jefferson Airplane. It is currently named The White Rabbit Bar and it's owner is California's Governor . In the sixties, The Matrix became a magnet for some of the hottest bands that were experiencing lift off, including Steve Miller, Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Quicksilver Messinger, Blues Project, Boz Scaggs, Steppenwolf, Donovan, Paul Butterfield, Blue Cheer, John Lee Hooker, Country Joe and the Fish, It's a Beautiful Day, Velvet Underground, and Santana. The Matrix "didn't so much get ahead of the curve, but actually helped form the curve." I started noticing the suits from Hollywood coming in and signing some of these bands like Steve Miller, The Doors, Santana, Janis, and the Dead. These bands were also being recorded at the club. At the same time, our local FREEFORM radio station, KMPX, was also experiencing lift off. I could feel the shift and decided to write a promotional/marketing plan and present it to the the station manager Martin Diamond. This proposal included the idea of producing Livecasts. I pitched Martin that the record companies are recording tracks at the Matrix. Why not broadcast these concerts live and in stereo? I am hired and immediately start developing the station's first Livecast with one of the hottest bands in the country-- The Ike & Tina Turner Review performing at the Basin Street West. Phone lines are hooked up to our broadcast tower...thanks engineers! The band burned through an amazing set with the Tina and the Ikettes at the top of their game. The die was cast in stereo! Talk about a winwin for the record companies, radio, and the artists. This is going to be huge. Instead of a few hundred people hearing them at the club, there will be tens of thousands of listeners tuning into a live stereo broadcast. The resulting success of this broadcast opened the airwaves to more Livecasting in other markets across the country. I received an offer from a FREEFORM station in Denver, where I found myself producing weekly Livecasts at KFML am/fm. The first of these weekly shows was from an up and coming band from England--Fleetwood Mac! Our intrepid Program Director, Thom Trunnell picked them up at the airport and we all met at the Draught House, played pool and drank beer prior to the broadcast. The date was 11/11/71 and their label, Warner Brothers, was very supportive. The phone company was furiously making the connection with cable and microwave. The listener reaction was over the top! Positive feedback was spreading to the A&R, promo, and corporate heads at the record companies. I found a new home base to broadcast from--Summit Studios, which turned out to be the perfect fit. This recording studio had the correct hardware and it was large enough to hold a few enthusiastic audience members that added to the excitable ambiance. Warner Brothers green lighted our second broadcast with Zephyr on 2/27/72. This was followed by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks on 3/5/72 (Blue Thumb Records). The schedule for the rest of the year was the following: King Crimson/ Atlantic Records Peter Yarrow & Timberline Rose/Warner Brothers Magic Music Johnny Otis Review/Colombia Records Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee/Fontana Records John Denver/ RCA Records Little Brown Electric Band Tom Rush/Colombia 60 Million Buffalo/Atlantic Triple A Band Chief Dewey Terry/ Tumbleweed Records Tommy Bolen & Energy h.h. Zeno Tracy Nelson & Mother Earth/Warner Brothers Steve Fremholtz Danny O'Keefe/Tumbleweed Mother's Oats Bobby Whitlock/ABC Cunningham Corner Jesse Colin Young/Warner Brothers Country Gazette/United Artists Jimmy Witherspoon/United Artists Timberline Rose/United Artists Stoneground/Warner Brothers
More than 30 hours of video interviews with the people who did those shows at stations KMPX, KSAN, KPRI, KPPC, KSML, WLS, WMAS, WHVY, WBCN, WZMF and others. They and a few other folks who reviewed them, and a few more who just listened to them religiously in that long ago time and place, presented just as they were recorded on Zoom as part of the standing archive.