Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Pomona College Magazine is published three times a year by Pomona College
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Radio Archaeology: Part 2
KSPC gets swept up in the superheated '60s

Artifact // Student Life, April 26, 1962 // “KSPC Gets First Prize in National Competition;” article notes that Pomona beat out Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford with its five-part documentary series dealing with the extreme right-wing political movement in the United States.

Artifact // 1960s KSPC station identification jingle // Why does KSPC sound so good, good, good? Because extra lengths of tubes and transistors filter the sound over, under, and around KSPC’s mellow turntables. Makes it mild while filtering out harmful clicks, scratches and surface noise. Remember, only KSPC brings you the finest Mylar tapes and high-quality Vinylite records. Outstanding! And, they are round!

It didn’t take long for the cool, calculating ’50s to give way to the superheated ’60s at KSPC. Chuck Waite created a “scandal” when he introduced rock ’n’ roll to the new decade’s morning line-up. Wolf recalls that Waite really didn’t much care for rock music but gave in to popular demand. Fischer remembers that Waite would betray “only the barest hint of irony in his swingin’ intros. [He] then turned around and hosted on-air spoofs of rock ’n’ roll, featuring syrupy readings of rock lyrics accompanied by saccharine melodies on his own Hammond organ.”

Spoofs were big at KSPC. New station manager Terry Westen had a fondness for production and his staff developed a penchant for poking gentle fun at Southern California’s emerging “swinging suburbia” culture. Pre-recorded hijinx included nighttime weather reports from the beach (“It’s a pleasant 40 degrees, but nobody seems to be taking advantage of it. There are a few grunion washing up….”); “live” traffic jam coverage (“Who put the key in the cigarette lighter? Somebody just ran into us! I think this a bad day for a freeway report.”); and even a “live remote” interview with President and Mrs. Lyon where the Pomona prexy and his wife live up to their name (“We’re here at the home of President Lyon… ROAR! …Oh, Mrs. Lyon! I didn’t see you crouching behind the couch!”).

But things got serious, too, as the chilling effects McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia registered at Pomona. Influenced by the public affairs work of pacifist radio station KPFK  (managed by Terry Drinkwater and operating from KSPC’s former bandwidth of 90.7 which afforded greater frequency for KPFK and relocated KSPC at 88.7), Westen created a public affairs department consisting of Wolf, Debbie Duffield ’63, Roger Choate ’62 and Don Zimmerman ’62. After reading newspaper editorials about the ultraconservative John Birch Society, Westen and his staff were inspired to create a five-part documentary series, “Crusaders on the Right.” They set out to expose "conditions in society which enable the demagogue and agitator to flourish” according to The Student Life as the series profiled the John Birch Society and the right-wing preacher Rev. Billy Hargis. It also featured exclusive interviews with Southern California Black Muslim leader John Shabazz and American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell.

The interview with the latter, titled “Portrait of an American Agitator,” kicked off the series and gained quite a bit of notoriety, ultimately garnering the station the top prize from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System. Westen recalls that he and Choate learned that Rockwell was scheduled to give a talk in the area and was staying in Pomona, so they began calling hotels and asking for the leader of the American Nazi Party. Once located, Rockwell granted the interview, and Westen and Choate set out with their tape recorder. Westen recalls “this is kind of a seedy hotel, the third floor, down a dim hall. We knocked on the door — and there he was …We spent two hours asking him questions. This was interrupted by people coming in and out of the room giving Hitler salutes and exchanging cash! We were in the middle of some underground movement.” Back in the studio, the crew edited the tapes into a program with an introduction and context. Westen also recalls that they added “carousel music that went ’round and ’round; we tried to [make it] communicate a sense of insanity. And it really did.”

The country began spinning ’round and ’round in its own cultural revolution as the end of the decade found America waging an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam. Commercial AM radio attempted to sooth the seethe with the sunny domestic sounds of surf music and Burt Bacharach, or the shaggy but harmless hits of the British Invasion. Underground FM radio — especially in California — quickly became a vanguard in the youth and hippie movements. It wasn’t long before Bob Dylan, the Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and other such magical mystery tourists found their way to these airwaves.

The station opened itself to a wider array of programming diversity in the ’60s as well. Eric Nordberg ’64, a station deejay for all four of his undergraduate years, came to Pomona College because of KSPC and remembers that “the station was avant garde in the sense that it included genres that were not generally on the radio then, reflecting student interests.” Nordberg helped bring more of a pop sensibility to the station and soon found that others were joining him in sharing their personal interests. Roger Russell ’65 hosted a Saturday afternoon show devoted largely to Indian ragas and Koto music, and Leonard Rogers ’63 hosted “The Opinion Plant,” an hour-long “talk block” that gave him the freedom to do everything from discuss Broadway musicals to ad-lib his senior thesis on-air.

By the end of the decade this mix of exciting, diverse music and issue- and culture-oriented programming had become an intoxicating brew. Gary Kates PI ’74, a college-bound high school senior in the Mar Vista area of West Los Angeles, listened with rapt admiration to the underground sounds of hip college FM stations KUSC, KPPC, and KSPC and thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice….”
©Copyright 2006
by Pomona College
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