27 August 2006

Radio "Kazoo", part 1

Today, a two-edged tribute to a great radio station.

Her call letters are KASU. It's the station licensed to Arkansas State University, located in the northeast Arkansas city of Jonesboro. She operates at the frequency of 91.9, with a full 100,000 watts of power. KASU is an NPR member station -- a charter member, in fact, as the station has been an affiliate since day one, 1970.

I feel a great reverence toward KASU, the first non-commercial station in Arkansas. There's also a really funny piece of trivia about KASU: When the station first signed on in 1957, the parent institution was known as Arkansas State College. The call letters they tried to secure for the new station were, as you might expect, KASC. Trouble is, they were already taken - by Arizona State College. So, after a little brainstorming, they tried KASU. Those calls were available, so they went with 'em ... the ulterior thought being "Arkansas State's on the grow ... one of these days we'll be a university, and then we'll be ready."

That's right: the radio station attained university status years before the college! Meanwhile, Arizona State became a university in the early '60s, and was said to have approached Arkansas State about trading call letters. Ark. State politely declined, and when ASC was bestowed university status by Arkansas' legislature in 1967, the call letters finally matched the licensee.

Today, KASU is a proud beacon of arts and information in northeast Arkansas, the Missouri "bootheel" and portions of three other states (Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky). It is a highly-valued outreach of Arkansas State, and its programming and credibility are unimpeachable.

Even when I was a paid student announcer (1984-1987), KASU's reputation for weather, news coverage and agricultural news were unmatched.

Today, KASU's musical offerings are diverse: everything from classical to jazz to "ambient" to blues. But 20 years ago, KASU's music was ..... well, if you could call it music. Students at A-State in the '70s and '80s, especially RTV majors, probably don't think back on KASU with a great deal of fondness. And there was a reason why.

There was a dirty little secret known only to those within listening range of 91.9 .... while there were some programs offered along the lines of "normal" Public Radio fare, including a limited amount of classical music, the dominant format of KASU once upon a time was:

EASY LISTENING.

And not the "Muzak"/"elevator" variety, either. This was horrible, second-tier middle-of-the-road (MOR).

Now why would a university radio station program such a horrid excuse of a format? Simple: the director of Radio/TV dictated it. And he liked that kind of music, so that's how it was.

The KASU music library was a marvel to behold when I was there. The seams of most album jackets had long since disintegrated, so they were being held together with massive amounts of duct tape. Records carried codes: "T" for male vocals, "V" for female vocals (I kid you not, and get your mind out of the gutter, Quagmire!), "G" denoted group vocals, "X" marked the spot for instrumental LPs, "S" was for soundtrack/cast recordings, and "R" was for classical (since there wasn't much classical music being played on KASU at the time -- the RTV director was said to have hated it -- those LPs were by and large pristine).

You'd think "C" would've stood for classical, but that was already taken: by Comedy. That was a mystery, because had any of us so much as dropped the needle on a comedy record, we'd have been strapped to the railroad tracks adjoining the ASU campus! I sure wish I could've liberated some of those comedy records, though; KASU had some original, promo (some with white labels) copies of vintage Stan Freberg, Smothers Brothers and Bob Newhart LPs. I want to shed tears just thinking about that missed opportunity........

We were by and large confined to the T, V, X and G albums for our shows. The records were full of surface noise, subjected to the flagrant abuse by many students who detested the crap they had to play. Looking back, KASU's audio processing deemphasized a lot of treble ... probably necessary, given the condition of those records.

There were a variety of programs, all calling for varying shades of the MOR genre. I shall now offer you a fer-instance in the form of the weekday schedule for KASU radio in 1986:

6:00 a.m. TOWN & COUNTRY RADIO HOUR
KASU began its broadcast day with an hour of programming aimed at the vast agricultural audience. It consisted of farm news, markets, hog and heifer futures, that sort of thing .... and a heapin' dose of easy listening music, preferably with hints of country -- a few steel guitars were okay(i.e. Danny Davis & The Nashville Brass), but not enough as to require trips to the dentist to reattached loosened teeth, or sudden carnal attractions to ones' cousin.

7:00 a.m. TODAY IN ARKANSAS
KASU didn't yet air NPR's Morning Edition. This was a locally-hosted version of the show, featuring NPR and regional news, weather, some interviews with local figures, and easy listening music -- usually midtempo to upbeat.

9:00 a.m. MORNING CLASSICS
One of two daytime programs devoted to classical music. Two hours' worth, hosted by students who often butchered pronunciations so badly they could've been served as hamburger.

11:00 a.m. SHOWTIME!
Strike up the band, fire up the footlights, and pull the "S" albums .... this was 30 minutes' worth of music from Hollywood and Broadway. One (1) album was featured per day, and what the poor student was supposed to do is read the liner notes between songs, to provide a synopsis of sorts. More often than not, the album was tracked ... at least to the extent 29 minutes allowed. Adding to the fun was the fact that the most recent soundtrack LP was, ohhhh, circa 1972.

11:30 a.m. THE WOMAN'S VIEW
"Featuring items of special interest to ladies." Y chromosomes, beware. Between appropriate easy listening/MOR selections, said "items of special interest" consisted of preproduced syndicated modular programs and feature stories pulled off the AP and/or UPI wires. All in all, a relatively harmless program.

12:00 noon MIDDAY
The most house-rockin' hour KASU had! You could play those uptempo, nearly big-band selections during this hour. You read the 'almanac' section off the AP wire at 12:30, and plugged in a module here and there, but the rest of the time it was good ol' Si Zentner, Ray Anthony or other head-banging MOR. The testosterone counterpart to Woman's View.

1:00 p.m. MUSIC OF THE MASTERS
One hour of afternoon classical music. Its theme was The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi, and even today when I hear it, my mind always catapults back to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

2:00 p.m. ACCENT ON MUSIC
Ahhhh, KASU's signature afternoon easy listening music program. Its theme was Rogers & Hart's "I'll Take Manhattan," and opened with the dulcet tones of KASU's then station manager, declaring "The accent is onnnnn MUSIC!!"

"Listen for a lively show tune ... music of your favorite vocal artist ... or a lush, dreeeeeamy instrumental. Whatever your musical taste, you'll find a pleasing tune on KASU's ACCENT ON MUSIC."

Some of us had another name for the program: Accident On Music.

3:45 p.m. LOCAL/REGIONAL NEWS
Self-explanatory. If I have to elaborate here, you're probably an Armstrong Atlantic student.

4:00 p.m. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
In 1986, here's where KASU finally resembles a normal Public Radio station.

At the time, ATC was a 90-minute program, not the two hours of today. At 5:30, KASU offered up a potpourri of news and information programs, including the module Star Date, some agri news, a sportscast, and a preproduced news package known as KASU Journal. And then.....

6:00 p.m. DINNER BY SUNSET
"Listen as the music forms a soothing pattern of pleasure......"

59 minutes of broadcasting which simply had to have been experienced in order to understand it. This was in no way to be confused with so-called "candlelight classics" programs often offered on Public Radio stations once upon a time, featuring classical music appropriate for the dinner hour.

This was no "classical" program. Dinner By Sunset was one thing, and one thing only: 59 minutes' worth of continuously-segued lush music. Mantovani, Living Strings, 101 Strings, Hollyridge Strings .... one right after another, without any breaks. Intro at the top, a brief station ID at 6:30, and a closing at 6:58:30. This, being played by college students at a radio station operated by a university.

7:00-9:00 usually marked a rotating series of various and sundry syndicated Public Radio programs, often symphony concerts.

The rest of the evening was devoted to the illustrious Moods in Music. It was a program of -- yup, you guessed it -- easy listening/MOR music, taking the poor listener (and poor announcer) through 11:45 p.m. The prescribed format called for something along the lines of Accide--er, Accent on Music at the beginning, and gradually get lusher and lusher as the evening progressed. By 11 p.m., you were to be just one notch above Dinner By Sunset.

A 15-minute newscast -- News Final -- wrapped up KASU's broadcast day.

To get a taste of just what the average "Ludes" in Music show contained, stand by for part 2....

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Good Nabors You Can Turn To" Gleck

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