June 27, 2010

(Radio in the 1960s looked an awful lot like this most everywhere)

It's been one and possibly two generations gone by that never actually heard what AM radio was all about, or what it aspired to do, in the 1960's. Before radio tightened up playlists, got generic and became bastions of shrill talk radio, there was music and lots of it.

In 1967 it was still pretty much geared to the 45 rpm disc, the singles market. Even though by the end of that year things would already be changing dramatically until by the following year the discovery of FM would further erode a once powerful force of the Music business. AM radio, despite trying, always sounded lousy, it just couldn't help it. But what it lost in quality it more than made up for in sheer personality and a desire to connect with an audience in a meaningful way.

In 1967, upstart radio station KBLA located in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank became something of a middle ground between the 45 culture of the hit record and the burgeoning subculture of free form radio.

Because it was a very competitive market (KRLA, KHJ and KFWB being the dominant forces in Los Angeles at the time) and because the station wasn't all that powerful, the experiment didn't last. And on June 16, 1967 KBLA did it's final day as a free-form/top 40 radio station. Dave Diamond, himself a popular fixture on the L.A. scene in the 1960's, would go off to other stations after this final broadcast.

But the writing was on the wall and it would only be a matter of months before a tsunami of change would sweep over popular culture, and popular media was the first to feel it. Top-40 on AM radio at least, had its days numbered.
So here is a small slice of history (less than one hour from a three hour show) to give you some idea of what the fuss was all about at the time. Fortunately for everyone, there were a lot of people armed with tape recorders who, like their geek brethren of later years with computers, sat faithfully by their radios day after day and preserved this stuff for some future generation to marvel or gaze askance with strained credulity.

It was another element in what it all later became - how it all wound up.

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