Monday, March 19, 2018

Maximum Rock 'N' Roll Radio

Maximum Rock 'N' Roll, whether you consider it a 'zine, fanzine or a magazine is a cultural tour-de-force of punk rock. What many readers do not know is that the publication has strong roots in radio. (Maximum Rock 'N' Roll shall heretofore be referred to as MRR for the sake of space.)  The infamous magazine MRR was founded in 1982, but the now obscure MRR radio program, began in 1977. It's host was Tim Yohannan, also known as Tim Yo. More here.  It's worth noting that Tim was kind of a dick. Even Wikipedia which is typically loath to use personal adjectives, describes him as "notoriously difficult" and "divisive" with the same understated subtext one might use to describe Ginger Baker. But colorful and abrasive personalities are not unusual in either publishing or in broadcasting.
Maximum Rock 'N' Roll aired on 94.1 KPFA,  on Sundays at Midnight, moving to Tuesdays 8:00 - 10:00 PM in June of 1979. In 1977 it was one of only a few punk rock radio radio programs in America, if not the world. The use of the word "punk" to describe the musical genre only began in the early 1970s. The earliest contextually musical use of the word I am aware of is from Lester Bangs. , In the December 1970 issue of Creem, Lester Bangs, ironically referred to Iggy Pop as "that Stooge punk". Writer Dave Marsh, also of Creem used it similarly in 1971. Alan Vega of the band Suicide, credits Bang's usage with inspiring his duo to bill its gigs as a "punk mass." From there it permeated pop culture. In this context it makes a lot of sense that early flyers refer to Urban Blues, Soul, Surf or Rockabilly as much as rocknroll. [SOURCE] The punk rock of the era is now often categorized as protopunk. The MRR website today describes the program:
“Maximum Rock & Roll” started in 1977 as a punk rock radio show—one of the first and best of all time. “Tim and the gang” played the latest punk and hardcore sounds from across the world, the U.S., and from their home in the bristling San Francisco Bay Area punk scene. “The gang” included personalities like Jeff Bale, Ruth Schwartz, and Jello Biafra. Punk antiheroes regularly visited as guest DJs, and the roster of touring bands interviewed on the show reads like the track list on a classic old comp. The show was notable for the immediacy of the music, a dedication to international coverage (rare at the time), and for explicitly interjecting progressive politics into the dialogue of punk. The show became hugely successful in the underground, and eventually was broadcast from stations across the U.S. and abroad."
There are surviving tapes from as early as 1980 posted online. But on one tape from a show aired in January 1987, Tim plays a segment from an MRR tape recorded in 1978. It's also worth noting that as part of fundraising drive, KPFA sponsored themed programming days. On March 7, 1981 the theme was "Punk Day" this was more or less MRR day.
1978 ad from Search & Destroy Magazine
But Tim Yo didn't host the Maximum Rock 'N' Roll radio show alone. There were three regular faces in on that show. Among them, Ruth Schwartz is notable for having her own radio program, she was a DJ at KALX then started hosting Harmful Emissions at 90.3 KUSF in 1980. In a 2012 interview, she describes meeting Tim.
"I had never met Tim Yohannan. I knew of him, but I don’t think I had met him until he walked into the KUSF studio one night to meet me. He walked in and said, “Do you want to be on our radio program?” ...That’s how I met him."
At the MRR radio program Ruth handled board ops and edited 1/4 tape with an Xacto knife for broadcast, duplication and distribution. Yes, Ruth is how MRR got distributed around the world. (She went on to found Mordam distribution.)  The original MRR program was cancelled in 1990 despite the fact that Ruth was manually syndicating to 20-30 stations. According to Alan O'Coconner, author of Punk Record Labels and the Struggle for Autonomy, (2008) Pacifica was trying to reach more upscale listener-supporters.

It may have been a coincidence, but when Tim died in 1998, at the urging of Tim Munson, MRR magazine themed the next issue (June issue 181) as their Pirate Radio issue. They did interviews and articles about pirate stations like 91.3 Radio Mutiny (WPPR), 90.9 Rebel Radio, 94.7 Radio Free Gainesville, 99.7 Black Liberation Radio, Radio Free Berkeley, Beat Radio, Radio Cairo, 104.7 WZVU, 88.9 KAW, Free Radio Memphis, 105.5 WDOA, Radio Free Alston, Micro Kind Radio, 107.9 KCMG, 97.7 WSKR, Lutz Community Radio, 88.7 Steal This Radio and many others.
MRR relaunched the program around 2002 in a podcast like format. It remains a fine purveyor of punk rock, but is no longer affiliated with KPFA.