the Story

the Before Time

My childhood music memories are of AM pop radio, and older people are amazed I can remember hits from the age of two if not before. This continued until I went pubic, when I became just another KISW rocker, complete with Rock-n-Roll Air Force Card. Although I knew of KJET, and would listen occasionally, the signal was too crappy for me to bother with it much. I preferred more progressive stuff like the Police, Gary Numan, the Cars, Talking Heads...

It wasn’t until I was in high school in Silicon Valley in the early ’80’s that I discovered college radio. KSJS and more importantly KFJC opened up a whole new world. The music was raw, fresh, sincere... it spoke to me. It was the first time I heard the likes of the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, XTC, Kate Bush, Robyn Hitchcock and so many more not heard before or since. I was hooked.


In the Beginning

So when I came to Seattle to go to school I was happy to find a college radio station right there at UW. I went there, talked to a few people, filled out a few forms, and began my training as a real live college radio DJ. The Station Manager was Kerry Loewen (amazingly enough, formerly of KFJC), the Program Director was Victor Gonzales, the Music Director was Andy Taylor and the Production Director was George Sinfield.

At the time KCMU required airstaff to do additional time ‘behind the scenes,’ which was fine with me as I had intended to all along. I learned to do production so I could make all those non-commercials for the non-commercial radio station.

After training I took the first available airshift that did not conflict with school, the incredibly crappy Sunday 5-8 a.m. slot. I was taught to plan my show, but it seemed too stiff and structured, and I eventually started to just play whatever I felt would sound good. I called it ‘no-thought programming.’

There were many staff changes, most notably Victor left and was replaced by his assistant Marsh Gooch. Andy Taylor stepped down and eventually left to pursue an advanced degree in structural engineering or some such. Shirly Carlson took over Music. She always wore black and drew little bats all over everything, so I called her Bat Girl.

After half a year or so it got a little old and I needed to take a break. I continued to do production, and help with fundraisers.


Season Two

When I decided to resume an airshift, I got Saturday night 11-1 a.m. I thought it was great, except I missed a few shows. By then ‘no-thought programming’ was well established and I was complemented for my music choices.

At the time I was doing over half of the station’s production, and Dave-O Clements made a point one day to play only my production during his shift. He was later killed during a robbery attempt.

Abby Staten took over for Marsh at Program Director as he went to Moses Lake to pursue a professional radio career. He would later return. Faith Henschel took over the Music Department as Bat Girl got her degree (in electrical engineering, of all things) and left. Keith Anderson took over Arts and Entertainment and renamed it Fine Arts. Pretentious but appropriate.

One thing I really liked about KCMU was that it was just a cool place to hang out. Nearly everybody was really nice, and it was a diverse group of people. In fact, I can only think of one person who was an arrogant jerk to myself and others, and that was Norman Batley. I’m sure he felt the same way about me.

Many of the volunteers there were taking it seriously, something to put on a resume, but for me it was always a hobby, something I did just because it was fun.

I remember when I decided to quit my shift again to take a break from things Abby got a little pissed at me. Although I couldn’t really blame her. She was quite stressed at the time. Taking a break was essential, though.


Season Three

Abby had asked me to do a ‘drive time’ slot, Wednesday afternoon, and I reluctantly agreed. Weekdays were always a good time to hang out at the station, but doing an airshift then was another story. I had to pay attention to the schedule more carefully and especially to the underwriting. The activity was fun but too distracting, and for whatever reason Faith would pester me at least once per shift.

I finally got tired of it and swapped with Lance Reik for Saturday evening 8-11. It felt good. My theme song for that show was the Lost in Space theme. I thought it appropriate and it sounded good.

Another thing that I liked about being a DJ was we could get into shows. I was never really into live stuff that much, but I saw my share. My all time favorite was the Einsturzende Neubauten performance at Myrtle Edwards Park. Damn, that show rocked ass. I saw people there taping it with boomboxes (that was back when they made them with built-in stereo mics). I think that was the only time I wanted one.

This was about the time that Jon Poneman and Bruce Pavitt really got rolling with Sub Pop Records, but that is another story told extensively elsewhere.

There was some political upheaval going on at the time too, and I was unaware of most of it. I had applied for the Production Director position, thinking that since I did most of the work I should get the title to go with it. But Kerry put George’s assistant John Wright in the slot. I responded by reducing my workload.

The KCMU Board and Kerry were in major conflict and after a vote of no confidence or some such Kerry resigned and was eventually replaced by Chris Knab. I later learned that Kerry said he should have put me in the Production Director slot as I would have supported him. I probably would have. Despite the fact that I thought him a little sleazy, I could evaluate Kerry’s performance objectively and I didn’t really have any problems with it.

Later that year Abby got burned out and quit. Her assistant Shawn Splane took over Program Director. I think he served in that slot longer than anyone. Keith gave up KCMU to persue a career in the Navy. He served aboard a nuke sub.

I still have a phone list from that time.


Postseason

This time I had intended to take a longer break from being a DJ, as well as change my output from Production to the Arts department. I actually put in more time to the Arts department than I ever did to Production, but the work was easier and I didn’t really have to be creative.

Most of the time I wrote cards. That is, I took information from press releases of upcoming artistic events (theater, gallery, etc.) and transcribed it to a concise message the DJ could read off an index card during a scheduled break. But I also did a few reviews, mostly of gallery exhibits but also films and performances.

I found I actually enjoyed attending the staff meetings since they were not required any more (as I was no longer airstaff). But also they weren’t as long and boring as they had been. Another thing that was no longer a burden was fundraisers.

This was also the time of the power increase to a whopping 700 watts, and the slight frequency shift to 90.3 I made several carts with Tim Muck for this, and even bought a watt for myself. And KCMU was starting to change, having officially adopted what I call “scattergun programming,” trying to fulfill everyone’s musical needs with a hodge-podge of styles simultaneously.

I continued to sub occasionally. I remember one show I did with Wild Janis (Janis Wildy) went off really well and I got a few complements on it. People had asked when I would get an airshift again and in the fall I realized it was time to return. I asked for an airshift, and asked again. But alas, none was forthcoming.

Slow learner that I am, I finally realized I was no longer welcome and in February 1988 I bade the station a quiet farewell. Just six months later I would relocate to Bellingham.

KCMU went on to experience strife and upheavals, but that’s a different story.


After That

I was at KUGS for a couple years. Fun in its own way, but not the same. My program was pretty much the same mix, although heaver on techno as that was what I liked then. One segment on my show was a parody of Garrison Keilor’s “News from Lake Wobegone” that I did about my job at the time. I had nicknames for various co-workers and greatly embellished the goings on of the previous week. Years later I learned that a couple of them went around the plant changing all the radios to make everyone listen to it.

Then in the early ’90’s I did pirate radio. This was more of a ‘just because I could’ kind of project. I played weird stuff a few hours every week. I was getting into ambient/trance by then. The frequency I used was 88.1, which is now occupied by a Christian station.

Along came the internet and I hosted a download site offering up my eclectic music collection to anyone who was willing to accommodate my need for far more accessible pop that I wasn’t willing to pay for.


And Now

The only KCMU person I have any regular contact with any more is Abby Staten, and that’s just because she lives here in town. She teaches yoga and I will take a class occasionally.

I have a seasonal job at a cold storage, work on my house, try to stay fit, read science fiction, and play with the internet. I listen to KUGS sometimes and it amazes me that the music still has the same feel, and more, the DJs play the stuff I played and call it ‘old school.’


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