Friday, April 04, 2014

Grateful Dead DJs on KPFA

KPFA is a set of call letters that come up often on this blog. Even for a radio station that's been around for 65 years they have truly been notable. It's really gone from extraordinary to downright peculiar how many "firsts" the station has had both large and small. For example, I realized recently that 94.1 KPFA-FM was the first and only radio station in America to host not one but two members of the Grateful Dead as disc jockeys. they performed as a band on many others, and were hosted by many more at concerts but here and only here were they DJs.  I'll be the first to admit I don't care for the band, but I do hear they were great DJs.

Bass guitarist Phil Lesh was volunteering at KPFA as a recording engineer for the program "Midnight Special" a live folk-music program in the early 1960s. It ran on Saturdays at 11:00 PM. It was in that role that he eventually met bluegrass musician Jerry Garcia.Lesh had already performed on the station in the late 50s with the San Mateo College Jazz Band. Phil came back to KPFA in the late 1980s with Rex Radio. The monthly program spun avant-garde jazz and other obscurities. The Grateful Dead's Rex Foundation gave grant money to those very same avant-garde jazz creating a feedback loop of fairly excruciating but technically proficient jazz. It was co-hosted by Gary Lambert and aired on the second Monday of each month at 10:00 PM. it continued to air until at least 1994.

Tom Constanten, a much later member of the Dead was also on KPFA. He played keyboard during what Dead Heads call the the band's "Pigpen" era. Lesh and Constanten actually met at University of California, Berkeley in 1961. But Constanten did not join the band until 1968. Another Jazz head, it's no surprise they became friends. Tom Constanten later hosted the syndicated Grateful Dead Hour with and David Gans. The program is carried on almost 100 radio stations including... KPFA.

In 1995 Gans was offered a second hour in 1995, he agreed on the condition that he be allowed to play bands other than the Grateful Dead. That program, Dead To The World, remains on air today Wednesdays at 8:00 PST.  Phil lesh is still alive and active as well. More recently in 2006 Phil has DJ'd a program on the jambase channel on Sirius Satellite Radio.


  1. Anonymous1:51 PM

    The Dead rule :-)

    73´s from Amsterdam

    PA3DMI - Jarno

  2. Not bad for a non-Dead Head. :) I am a bit confused about Tom Constanten and the Grateful Dead Hour. I have several of those early shows on tape and never heard a host other than David Gans.

    One Dead-related item you might consider looking into in the is often stated in biographies that Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan's father was a Bay Area R&B disc jockey yet no more is said than that. This is supposedly where Pig Pen got his love of that type of music that was so influential on the early days of the Warlocks/Grateful Dead. I along with many others would love to see a more extended history of what the elder McKernan did in radio.