Tuesday, July 04, 2023

A Leon Russel Bootleg

I recently found a Leon Russel bootleg cassette. Scribbled on the J-card it reads "Live in Los Angeles FM & TV concert." A second line of text dates the recording only to 1970. Am I a Leon Russel fan?  Well I wasn't until I heard this recording. The internet, being a place rich with both filth and folly, has a whole website about LP bootlegs from whence this question came. [SOURCE

The origin turns out to be the Homewood Session recorded at ABC's famous Vine Street Theatre, located at 1615 Vine St. Hollywood, CA. Originally it was the  home of The Don Lee / Mutual Radio Network. Built in 1948 today it's the oldest TV studio in Hollywood. Everything else from the golden era has been torn down. It was home to Los Angeles Channel 2, today that's KCBS-TV but it was first licensed as W6XAO on June 1931. Anyway that went up for sale in 1950 when Don Lee went belly up. [ SOURCE]  Today it's been renamed the Ricardo Montalban Theatre. (He was great in the Wrath of Kahn.)

Anyway Leon Russel's broadcast was on December 5th, 1970 on what was then KCET-TV Los Angeles.  Reportedly it was simulcast on KPPC-FM 106.7 in Pasadena, CA. You can actually watch the whole 58 minute TV broadcast on YouTube today [LINK] It's edited down from a 6-hour session tape.

Alan Baker, the show producer and even Leon Russel have claimed that it was one of the first stereo broadcast. This presents a conflict. American television was not stereo in 1970 or even in the 1980 when this was later rebroadcast. There had however been experimental stereo FM broadcasts earlier. The first true stereo FM broadcast was June 1st, 1961 on WGFM (now WRVE) in Schenectady, NY. So it's not impossible but it requires corroboration. It's worth noting that KPPC was also an early experimenter in quadraphonic broadcasting. Dennis Roger Reed was happy to do describe on the Folkworks website.

"They [KPPC] were the first true progressive "rock" station in Los Angeles, and the first station in Los Angeles to broadcast a stereo simulcast with a television program, providing the audio for a Leon Russell special on LA PBS station KCET. "
The book Superstar in a Masquerade by William Sargent makes a similar statement:

It was aired December 2 on TV station KCET (channel 28) in Los Angeles as the hour-long special "Session: Leon Russel and Friends." in color and, for the first time ever, simulcast in stereo, over radio station KPPC-FM (106.7). The program was presented again the next week, and again during Marsh and April 1971.

But that book was published in 2023 and what's it's source?  There are books today that cite this blog as a source and I'm notoriously unreliable. KPPC was no newcomer, they signed on December 25th, 1924. The calls originally referred to their original owner, the Pasadena Presbyterian Church. KLB was the first station in Pasedena, and there's some debate if KPPC was the 2nd or 3rd depending on if you believe KDYR ever actually broadcast. Pasadena had a population of about 57,000 at the time. Its a wild ride from that starting point and if you really want to dig into KPPC history I do recommend the book Riding on the Ether Express: A Memoir of 1960s Los Angeles, the Rise of KPPC-FM by Dave Pierce. 

This station is 99 years old as of this writing and has a long somewhat confusing history. Forget about KPPC-LP in San Antonio, they're Methodist not Presybterian. Let's start with 1240 KPPC-AM. Back in 1924 is was mostly religious programming.  It's worth noting that the Pasadena Presbyterian Church received the license to build KPPC from the FRC in 1925, but that's after the station had already broadcast the previous December 25th for a Christmas service. Today Santa would put you on the FCC naughty list for that. Thye started on 1310 kHz, and in 1927 began to share time with KELW-AM in Burbank. In 1928 they were moved to 1200 and had to share time with KFWC-AM in San Bernadino. In 1930 they moved to 1210 still sharing with KFWC. In 1936 they bumped up the power to 100 watts still generally a local service. Then came NARBA, under which they and KFXM both moved to 1240 in 1941. 

KPPC was really boxed in with a service that was degraded by it's successive moves. Their signal on 1240 was adjacent to KGFJ-AM on 1230 which operated at 1,000 watts and was only 10 miles away.  Under their share agreement KPPC could only broadcast Sunday nights from 6:00 PM to 12:00 Midnight, and Wednesdays from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM, it was a mere 23 hours a week. KGFJ for their part had to drop power at night to 100 watts at night from 1947 to 1986 to protect KPPC. It was not a good deal for anyone. Douglas Broadcasting eventually bought the license and shut down KPPC in 1996 to eliminate interference with 1230 KYPA-AM. More here.

The situation was so bad that in 1962 KPPC started an FM station on 106.7. The FCC granted the permit in 1959 and it's worth the read. [SOURCE]  In the document, Edgar Pierce is listed as the "west coast director of a radio and television advertising form" and member of their "radio committee."They kept it vague for some reason but he was the Vice President of Wade Advertising. Ed had a 40-year career in television production, advertising and PR, and was a charter member of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters. He's worth googling. In 1967 when they sold the station, most sources refer to him as the General Manager or Station Manager.  He died in 2012. Before you guess it... yes, I do think that Edgar Pierce is also the father of the KPPC DJ Dave Pierce. Last I knew, David was the sales manager at Fox 15/TV in Lafayette, CA. (Again his book Riding on the Ether Express is highly recommended).

So Crosby-Avery Broadcasting buys KPPC AM /FM in 1967, and then in 1969 turns around and sells them both to the National Science Network (NSN) in 1969. NSN struggles to operate the station and in September of 1971, the founder of the NSN Ludwig Frohlich died. In October, Gm Douglas Cox fired the entire 27-person staff and shut off the transmitter, It was a whole event with the staff commandeering the station to broadcast the series of events. [SOURCE]  Frohlich's estate including KPPC AM/FM went to Ingrid and Thomas Burns. In 1973 the two stations part ways with the Burns selling the the FM stick to Burbank broadcasting. It was paired with the former 1500 KBBQ-AM and they became KROQ.

Back to that reliable source question... TV did not start broadcasting in stereo until 1984, so I think we can exclude KCET from this quest. Though ABC did broadcast the Lawrence Welk show in a quasi-stereo format in 1958 by broadcasting separate channels on their AM and TV audio channels that was on ABC affiliates in New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Could KPPC have been broadcasting in stereo in 1970?  Yes it is possible. ClĂ©ment Ader demonstrated the first two-channel audio system in Paris in 1881. Berthold Laufer for Franz Boaz accidently made stereo recordings on cylinders in 1901. [SOURCE]. Modern stereo broadcasting mostly originates with British engineer Alan Blumlein at EMI in the 1930s. The first stereo In 1962 the BBC began regular experimental radio broadcasts in stereo. [SOURCE]  The Beeb used a Zenith-GE multiplex system. When WGFM did it a year later they weren't even the only one that day. WEFM Chicago (now WUSN) also made an experimental broadcast that day, lagging only because of they are on central time. 

The Leon Russel Session/broadcast occurred between the Crosby sale and the mass firing by the National Science Network. It must have been a chaotic time at KPPC.  They advertised in Billboard that they were boosting the power to 50,000 watts and going stereo as early as 1967. But PD Tom Donahue and GM Milan Melvin were fired and the staff went on strike. Strike news coverage in 1968 report that the station "reversed it's position on going multiplex stereo". The boost to 50,000 watts didn't come until the Fall of 1970, but the stereo audio was delivered in 1968. We can confirm the infrastructure was there. But did they broadcast it in stereo or was a split-channel broadcast as ABC had done 20 years before?

My cassette is of a high enough audio quality I am certain that it was not recorded from the FM broadcast. A tape copy walked out the studio door, it was used to bootleg the vinyl, and my tape is a copy of that vinyl not the broadcast. The Bill Janovitz book Leon Russel: The Master of Space and Time's Journey Through Rock & Roll History does refer to the broadcast briefly:

"The first local screening was simulcast in stereo on KPPC FM, and the newspaper ad includes a helpful chart of how to position your speakers, Leon had resisted invitations to appear on television until he was assured control over every aspect of the production. Getting the right sound was paramount"
That newspaper ad, if it exists, is the proof that it broadcast on 106.7 KPPC-FM in stereo. KROQ will turn 100 next year, sadly Leon Russel died in 2016 and won't be there to see it. I hope they rebroadcast at least a little of the 1970 session. Supposedly there's another 5 hours of tape out there somewhere in the church basement archives, Leon and Furry Lewis rolling tape and getting their drink on.

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