Thursday, July 05, 2012

Beaker Street with Clyde Clifford

As fun as it is to be a totally free form DJ like John Leonard, it's more or less listenable when you're sober.  Listenership matters, it drives ad rates. Consequentially, commercial free form was still free but not anythign resembling random. Clyde Clifford would be of that latter school. He was playing what was then deemed "underground" music, but it was almost all rock music and it flowed.

Clifford played King Crimson, Frank Zappa, The Moody Blues, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Mason Profit, Savoy Brown, Frijid Pink, Jethro Tull and mixed in artists we still hear on classic rock stations like Cream, Pink Floyd the Doors, and Janis Joplin. But there is a big difference between playing the 3 minute edit of "Light my Fire" and playing the full 7:00 plus opus. That difference was Clyde Clifford.  That's what was happening on 1090 KAAY-AM in 1966 and it probably won't ever happen again.

Beaker Street with Clyde Clifford is one of the three radio programs usually cited as the "first" free-form underground type radio program. It's not but it was still very good and very early.  Beaker Street began airing on KAAY-AM in the Fall of 1966 from Midnight to 3:00 AM. Clydes real name was Dale R. Seidenschwarz. It's worth noting that he was a radio ham (WA5AVA) a sign of a true radio man. He wasn't a jive-talking, race records man or a fast-paced hipster. He was mellow and he spoke slowly over trippy instrumentals. He sounded, in a word... stoned.  More here and here.

Clyde Clifford was the programs original announcer holding the helm from 1966 to 1972 being succeeded by Don Marcus. Then Ken Knight, and Stuart McRae. Under McRae the program was moved and expanded to run from 11:00 PM to 4:30 AM. The part of Ken Knight was actually played by a few different DJs. That clear channel, 50,000 watt AM radio station pushed their voices as far as Canada, Cuba and Mexico and they have the QSL cards to prove it. When a new program director came to town he decided to kill Beaker Street.  McRae resigned and Don Payne took the mic for the last couple shows. KAAY was sold and flipped from a rock music to a religious talk format in 1985 as it remains today.

Clifford moved to the FM dial in 1974. I know for a fact he was looking for work as of that July; he'd placed an add in Billboard. He described himself as "married, draft exempt and dependable." He began getting calls to re-launch Beaker Street. Essentially he'd been proven right as a programmer on a few levels. AOR rose in the 1970s and much of his play list became classic rock. He hosted the program on 94.9 KZLR-FM for 3 years, and only a few years ago he was on Sunday nights, 7pm-12midnight on KKPT, 94.1.