KFML AM-FM  Colorado Free Form Radio

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                                  A Bit Of History
By Thom Trunnell,  March 20, 2010

   There is an aspect of human nature that obliges us to look back and celebrate little pieces of history that seem important.  One such compelling slice of the past for people in and around Denver, Colorado is KFML FM and AM.  Important to the people who did it because it was important to a large number of other people who did it with us.  It was communication.  It was radio that worked.  The time was right.  Late 60s, early 70s. Protests against an unjust war and racist aberrations brought people together in pursuit of something better.  The FM bandwidth emerged from elevators across America and around the world.
    In Denver, a young man named Brian Kreizenbeck made arrangements to hold forth between midnight and six am on a station that broadcast at 98.5 on the FM band and 1390 on the AM band.  The year was 1968.  Brian played music he liked.  Music that went far beyond the tight playlists of the day.  Some of that music was made by three young Englishmen, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.  They were called Cream.  They did a song called ‘Pressed Rat and Warthog’.  Brian liked the warthog part and called himself Super Warthog.  The station, located at 290 Fillmore Street was KFML FM and AM.  Except Brian wasn’t on the AM because it was only on in the daytime.  He wasn’t on the FM for very long, either.  Just long enough to whet the appetites of listeners who really liked what he did on the air.  
     So it began in Colorado. It was also happening other places.  San Francisco.  Boston.  Coast-to-coast and up and down the dial. It happened again in Denver.  KLZ-FM for a while.  KMYR-FM for a while.  KRNW-FM in Boulder.  And, in April of 1971, it was reborn on KFML.  Full tilt this time.  FM and AM, 24/7.  The Warthog was there.  So were Bill Ashford, Sandy Phelps, Jerry Mills, yours truly and most significant others.  Rock n’ roll, folk music, jazz, rhythm n’ blues, bluegrass, country, blues, comedy, classical.  Genres didn’t matter.  Quality did. Whoever was on the air played whatever sounded to good to him or her, striving to put it together in ways that created something beyond the sum of the parts.  There was news, too.  Got to have news.  Dan Yurman at first, then Jim Clancy and Ed Chatham.  There were specialty shows like Harry Tuft’s exploration of American music roots and John Dunning’s nostalgic revisits to earlier years of comedy and drama on the radio.  There was homegrown comedy on KFML.  High Street improvised dialogue and sound effects to movies on television with the televised sound turned down.  There were quite serious efforts to make money with commercials written and produced in house so as not to be such glaring contradictions to the music, thus enhancing their effectiveness.  There were concerts broadcast as they happened.  Segues from one song to another were important, often simultaneously transitioning from one style or genre to another.  Often knocking people’s socks off.
     It was called Underground at first.  Then, as it became more and more popular, it was called Free Form.  It was spontaneous.  It was accessible, communicating directly with listeners.  It was like when friends came over and played some tunes for friends.  Maybe talked about the tunes a little.  It was pretty damn wonderful.  
    Welcome to our website.  Feel free to look around.  You’ll find details about the people involved, photos, stories & reminiscences.  Maybe you have something to add.  You can do that.  Wish you would.  

Hope you like it.  We do.

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                                                    KMYR And Beyond

By Thom Trunnell and Herb Neu,  March 30, 2010

A lot happened during KMYR.  Things were already underway when I got there.  Here.  Denver, Colorado.  January 1969.  I was 24 and ready to rock.  

The station was owned by Doubleday Broadcasting.  They’d bought it some months before from Craig Bowers and Art Robertson, who continued to operate it.  Craig as GM.  Art as chief engineer. A man named Herb Neu was sales manager. The PD was Ed Mitchell, nee Hepp, a somewhat famous former midday jock on KFRC in San Francisco.  KMYR had already been stepping out of anything resembling mainstream for several months with Ed doing six to midnight and a fellow known as The Iron Helmet doing the overnights.  It had been decided that the station would go ‘Underground’ as the format was known at the time, 24/7 commencing in January ’69.  I was part of that plan.
Other disc jockey types were Bill Ashford from Fayetteville, North Carolina and Steve Burke from Denver. I was brought on board largely because an associate of Craig’s had heard some of my production work in Salt Lake City, from whence I came, and had said nice things about me.  In radio, production means creating commercials and promotional pieces.  I was a stone rookie at putting together music shows in a meaningful way.  Ashford was great at it.  So was Ed.  Steve Burke was good, too.  I muddled along, trying to get it down, discovering early on that it isn’t at all easy.  Fortunately neither is production.  The other guys put up with me because I was good at that.  Which meant that I worked quite closely with Herb, writing and producing commercials for the clients to whom he sold time on the station.   As I recall, the first sponsor on KMYR was Cotangent, a clothing store in Boulder owned and operated by Marcello Miguel Cabus, Jr. and his wife, Rosie.  Rosie made custom cowboy shirts that were quite the rage in certain circles.  Jr. and Rosie were among the many happily happening hippies I encountered during our brief tenure at the station.  Herb and I went to lunch with sponsors, mostly local retail storeowners, who were for the most part, very enthusiastic about the station.  We didn’t try to sell ratings numbers because we didn’t have any.  Yet.  We sold the scene we were in.  The community of music aficionados.  Fortunately it was a large and growing community. I was writing and producing commercials at all hours of the day and night.  Record distributors were totally supportive.  So were listeners. Everywhere we went, the station was playing, usually quite loudly.  The scene was certainly alive and well in those days.

Richard Nixon became president during KMYR.  America was in a time of turmoil.  Brian Jones died during KMYR.  The Stones released ‘Let It Bleed’. Paul married Linda.  John married Yoko.  The Beatles were done.  Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  Woodstock happened.

At the station, Ed Mitchell had sort of a nervous breakdown.  I became PD and hired Randy Morrison to do nights.  I wanted to hire Brian Kreizenbeck, but Craig wouldn’t let me.  Nevertheless, we rocked on.  It was mostly a lot of fun.  And, a lot of work.  

Another closely allied sponsor, Barry Fey, put on the first annual Denver Pop Festival two months before Woodstock.  June 27 – 29 at Mile High Stadium.  It was the last time The Jimi Hendrix Experience played together.  Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention were there.  Homegrown Zephyr with Tommy Bolin and Candy Givens were too.  Tim Buckley, Big Mama Thornton, Johnny Winter, Poco, Joe Cocker and Creedence Clearwater Revival all showed up.   So, unfortunately, did a lot of people who didn’t have tickets.  Barry finally let ‘em all in anyway.  But, it still got a little ugly.  Maybe a lot ugly.   I just remember the good parts.    But there were people yelling and running.  There were cops and clouds of tear gas.  Bottom line:  the first Annual Denver Pop Festival turned out to be the only annual Denver Pop Festival. 

That September Doubleday decided that we were a bit too unorthodox and fired everybody from Craig on down.  Except maybe Art Robertson, who, it was revealed, thought we were too rowdy as well, and had been secretly telling the Doubleday people all about it.  The plug was pulled and the call letters changed to KHOW-FM.  Something called Pzzazz ’69 replaced our good time underground format.  I think it was the day after Doubleday did us in that the ratings - Pulse in those days - came out.  We looked great.  Randy had a solid ten at night.

Shortly thereafter, primarily because of those numbers, Craig got hired as GM at WLS-FM in Chicago.  Herb, Randy, Steve and I went with him.  Ashford could have gone, too, but chose not to.  He went to KRNW in Boulder instead.  WLS was pretty much the big time.  Chicago was fun, except for the weather.  We actually made money there. And, there are certainly some tales to tell.  But, some other time.  After a year in that toddlin’ town, Herb got hired to be GM at KPPC in Los Angeles.  And, I got hired as PD at the first underground station in America, KMPX in San Francisco.  I hired Bill Ashford and Brian Kreizenbeck and we had some great times by the Bay.  There was also a lot of drama.  Another story.  

Both stations were owned and haphazardly operated by an outfit called National Science Network in New York City.  Never could figure out what national science had to do with anything happening on the radio.  There are many things I’ll probably never figure out about those guys.  But, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Many excellent adventures there too.  And, unlike Chicago, a number of lasting friendships formed.  Neither Herb nor I lasted very long in the employ of National Science Network.  After some months of not at all unpleasant unemployment on the California coast, we came back to Colorado and talked Joe McGoey into letting us do KFML.  

I apparently didn’t quite get that last part about Herb right.  So, here he is. Ladies & Gentlemen, 

Herb Neu

Yes, I got hired to run KPPC and KMPX by National Science Network (Stan Gurrell) at a time when ABC wanted me to be VP of Midwest Sales.  I hated being pigeonholed as a pure sales guy, which was why I wanted to leave ABC.  I loved production, the creative process and especially the freedom of free form, in addition to introducing the ad community to lifestyle research (psychographics).  So at the last minute, I reversed my decision and ended up going over to KOME in San Jose, which had just signed on as a new station.  It was located in less than 800 square feet of space.  My desk had about 3 feet of surface space.  We had one sales person (alcoholic).  So I dragged my poor spouse and toddler kid to the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Thom, I think, was in San Francisco as PD at KMPX.  I'm not sure what happened there, but he soon came to KOME.  We both hated it.  At one point he mentioned that KFML was in trouble and that maybe we could get something started.  So I called Joe McGoey, made an appointment and Thom and I drove to Denver.  We met with Joe and offered a unique deal whereby all of us would get paid just $100/wk plus a split on whatever profits we generated for the AM/FM.  Joe accepted and soon KFML was on the air with an amazing free form station.  We never had a signed agreement.  We trusted Joe.

Okay, it’s Thom again.  I never officially worked at KOME.  I’m Not commenting on the part about trusting McGoey.  But, I apparently also didn’t get it quite right in the beginning.  There was another guy who was sales manager at first, although he may have been gone by the time I got there.  Or, maybe very soon thereafter.  This was all forty years ago, you understand.  Herb, tell us please about the other guy…


His name was George Layson.  I felt really sorry for him.  He simply could not understand the new format.  This was my first sales job (prior to that I was the afternoon news anchor at KHOW AM and also was a newsman at KBTR.  During KHOW, I also established the Institute of Broadcast Arts in Denver.  My board of advisors were Hugh Downs, Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Frances and Matthew J. Culligan (president of Mutual Broadcasting).  George gave me a rate card and told me to go store to store along Alameda as well as Colfax.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I think I actually paid for Junior's first spots on KMYR just to show him what we could do.  He was a super guy.  Had some awesome women working for him.

Thom again.  First I’ve heard about the awesome women.  Okay, outta here.

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                                                History of KRNW

By Jim Pagliasotti,  September 2002

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 segues, 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 segue 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.