Friday, January 11, 2013

INTERVIEW: MARK SPEER

CPVR was not the first cable radio station in existence, but it was one of the most important. There is no book yet written that canonizes the role of cable radio. But there will be and CPVR will have it's own chapter.  It was founded in Palos Verdes, CA by engineer Tom Hewitt and two industrious organizers: Mark Speer and Brad Gardner. They organized and staffed the station.The historical free-form CPVR began cable casting in March of 1972.  The rest is history.  More here, here and here.

Harv Lazer on CPVR

© Harv Laser

1. How old were you when you started organizing CPVR?
I was 16 years old.

2. Did you have any radio experience before that?
No, but we had a great love for it. Radio was very electric at that time. Out in California we had KPPC, stations like KYMS, KNAC, KMET and KLOS. There was a lot of energy going on then... We started in 72. We were in pre-production in 71' and we saw Brad Sobel's radio station, KPOT. It was on the front page of the L.A. Times and he was on for all of three months. Somewhere in those 90 days we were there. He was an inspiration.
© Harv Laser
3. Were you the driving force behind the station?  How did that start?
It was interesting. First of all a little background. This was in a place called Palos Verdes, a peninsula out by San Pedro California.  What's interesting is that one side of a hill which is dark as far as LA radio and TV stations. You don't get any LA radio or TV stations. So I had this idea, and Brad had this idea and Tom had this idea all separately and then merged. We found each other and put it all together.

4. How did you meet Tom Hewitt and Brad Gardner?
Another friend of mine, a great guy by the name of Jim Sideris had just moved out to  Palos Verdes from Boston, Mass.  He picked up Brad Gardner hitchhiking (back in those days hitchhiking was a lot safer) And they got to talking about radio. After that, all I remember is that one day he came to my house expecting someone much older. When we had our first phone call he said "it was nice talking to you sir." because he was expecting to meet someone much older.  Brad already knew Tom Hewitt from high school.

5. Was Tom older? I read that he was your engineer.
No, Tom was actually a couple years younger. The guy was a genius. He built the whole thing for like $200. Today if you wanted to wanted to start something like that [CPVR] you can buy turntables, mixing boards  and stuff like that. They didn't have that back then, you either bought broadcast equipment or you built from scratch. Tom got two AR [Acoustic Research] turntables and hot-rodded them. [more here] Those became our turntables, so in order to play a record you gave it a little push to get it up to speed.  It worked quite well and they were very inexpensive. He got a Radio-shack mixer and hot-rodded it too. Tom built everything, put it all together.
© Harv Laser
6. How did CPVR end up in the Golden Cove shopping center in Rancho Palos Verdes?
There was a community organization, that was formed called the Palos Verdes Youth Commission (PVYC). They were trying to do things... like community hotlines, a free taxi service to the beach, because there was no bus service.  The guy at the Youth Commission, Mark Poer, he was a great guy. We ended up going before the board and they said "why not?"  They gave us money to get started, ...and office space for a studio. The local cable company, Times-Mirror cable they went out and got the FM modulator and the telco lines for our studios from the phone company.

7. Was the start relatively smooth or were there technical problems?
There were a few bumps. There were a lot of problems with the phone lines. The phone company has flavors of broadcast lines. They have equalized and un-equalized lines. We were on the cheap one, un-equalized lines. It took a lot of tinkering but we were able to get it to sound pretty clean.

8. In that era you were competing with AM stations, broadcasting in mono.
Oh yeah.  Back then that was the era of KHJ and KRLA and the other AM flame throwers. But we were on the FM dial, broadcasting in stereo. ..We were on 95.9 right next to KLOS and KMET. We had a blast.

© Harv Laser
9. When did things wind down at CPVR?
I think it ran until sometime in the Summer of 1974. I was there the whole time. basically we got to the point where we graduated high school and were finding out way in the world. It was getting harder and harder to get people to support the station... The world was changing.

10. That wasn't the end of your time in Radio though.
My first job was at what is now KOZZ in Reno Nevada, it was KGLR then. It was one of the last free-form stations, and that's what I really loved to do. Six months after I landed there it went to a Top-40 format. I was suddenly out of a job, which was OK because I didn't fit in. So I came back to LA and got back in touch with my radio friends. One of them, John Clark worked at KNAC. I did freelance production and air shifts for them. There was a chain of record stores called Music Plus, John ended up as the voice of Music Plus and I wound up doing the spots. It was quite exciting, as I had won the account away from Brother Studios, the Beach Boys recording studios, and they gave me great compliments (Imagine the Beach Boys telling you you cut better spots then they did!). It worked out because I was better suited to commercial production, and they after all, were a major studio at the time heavily involved in producing albums

11. I know you spent time at KWST. When was that?
The program director there, Paul Sullivan went to John Clark and asked if he knew anybody like Mark Speer that he could get. And he said... "how about Mark Speer?"  But it was brutal, god awful hours. I didn't know enough then to say I needed help. I was overloaded with work. When I got fired at KWST I just asked for my paycheck and went home and took a nap. They actually fired me twice.

12. You did production at KCHO as well.
Lorraine Dechter another former CPVR person, is the News Director at KCHO. She helped find me some work up there.

13. Whatever happened to boy genius Tom Hewitt?
Sadly, Tom Hewitt was gay in an era when it wasn't OK to be gay and he died of AIDS. It was really sad to lose such a talented engineer.

14. What are you doing these days?
I freelance, but these days I mostly spend my time teaching live television music video production at Butte College in California. These days, I also produce and direct the fireworks show for the city of Redding, CA, amongst other things That's great fun.

*All images and audio courtesy of Mark Speer