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Friday, August 12, 2005

Remembering KFML

[ Originally Posted at the FFR Forum: 12 May 2004
Post subject: Memories of KFML-FM Denver by:
Dan Yurman djysrv@hotmail.com 43N 112W -7 GMT
"Our mountains are high and the emperor is far away" ]

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KFML-FM was a top-rated radio station in Denver,CO, from 1971-1973. During this time its "free form" music format, which featured album cuts and long music sets, catapulted it to the top of the ratings charts among the 18-34 age group.

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I was KFML's first newsman. I was hired in Spring 1971 because I mixed music with the news. What I didn't know was my so-called innovation wasn't unique. A fellow named Shadow Morton had tried it the previous year in San Francisco, but it was a hell of a hit in Denver.

Like any radio job, the way to get it was to submit a demo tape. I asked for and got studio time, albeit late in the evening. Lucky for me, I brought along a splicing block, white grease pencil and single edge razor blades. For those of you who live in the digital age, this is how we put stuff together on tape in the old days.

I put together two or three five minute spots using news stories I'd written for a Denver community newspaper called "Chinook," which was published by Patrick Dolan and occasionally illustrated by Phil Normand. Mixing music, sound effects, and voice together, I figured the station would either love it or hate it. The next morning I met my future boss Thom Trunnel, who looked up from his coffee and said, "you're hired. You're the only one who used music."

KFML was so new, and so strapped for cash, the UPI wire was taken out. I had to develop all the news from scratch. Since "rip & read" was gone, I produced a series of news reports first thing each morning and put them on carts (like old 8 tracks) in a rack with descriptive titles for the DJs to use with their shows. I'd get in about 6 AM and have the day's material produced by mid-morning. Then I'd start working on material for the next day.

Our youth oriented audience with an age range 18-34 had a distinct "alternative" flavor, and was not interested in the usual news about car crashes, blood-and-guts crime, and national events. What was popular was what we would call today "lifestyle" news, and our listeners loved it. I would listen to the music the DJs used on their shows and then take the current play list material and mix it into the news spots. I recall King Crimson, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Dan Fogelberg, among others, as being popular.

In addition to lifestyle news, there were also the issues of the day including a number of things left over from the 60s. These were the war in Viet-Nam, drugs, and so on. Frankly, some of this stuff didn't fit in with lifestyle news, but some of the other radio stations didn't have the staff, or the nerve, to cover them.

For instance, a series of reports that put us on the map were revelations of racially motivated beatings of black inmates by white guards that took place at the Lowry AFB stockade. An Air Force officer walked into the radio station one day with a secret tape recording of one of these incidents. Needless to say, the lid blew off at Lowry with newspaper headlines in the Rocky Mountain News. The Air Force later conceded the problem and commented that while the news coverage was fair, they also felt it was "overplayed." For this series of stories, the station was nominated for a George Foster Peabody Award, the "Pulitzer" of radio news.

However, life style news and the real world sometimes collided, and if I had it to do over again, I would have tried to develop more balance between the two. Unfortunately, I was only 24 at the time, and lacked the wisdom of 54 which is where I am today (2002). After one of these reports DJ Bill Ashford was so astonished he grabbed an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album and played one side all the way through.

A saving grace was that some of the more popular pieces we aired were not only news, they were also satire after the tradition of Paul Krassner. I think I had more fun with these types of original material than almost anything else.

That's what made working at KFML worthwhile. It was just great fun! Where else could you go, every day, and blow the minds of 100,000 people with whatever came into you head that morning? I think that's why the DJs were into it because they got to put together music sets that were second to none compared to the rest of the radio universe. For these reasons, I enjoyed working with the entire KFML staff.

Like all good things, my time at KFML eventually came to an end. After that I worked as a freelance journalist for the Straight Creek Journal and several other publications. I helped organize the first two Capital Hill Peoples Fairs with Denver Police Officer Dick Alligood. The fair endures today more than 30 years later and is a signature event in Denver.

In closing I recall that being the newsman at a top-rated radio station had great social benefits. I got invited to a lot of parties, and people who didn't know my name would recognize my voice. This "celebrity" status was mind blowing.

When I saw recently found Dan Fong's famous KFML publicity photo, I sent it to my family and friends. I'm not sure what they think of all this, but I know what I think. KFML was a blast.

This is KFML news.

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Thanks for sharing this, Dan.

The format you developed for KFML News not only worked well, it was progressive and creative. What other radio station DJ could play his/her news whenever they wanted to? Since the news was on cart and we did not have established times set aside on the broadcast clock to air the news, we could fit it in however best it worked for our sets. It gave us DJ's tremendous freedom to freeflow our freeform!

Flowing out of music into a music bed used for news was incredibly effective. I believe listener tuneout was minimalized because of this. Certainly, using news in this way faked out the Arbitron hour stats.

BTW, I have three full newscasts circa Spring 1972 I plan on uploading to FreeForm.org soon. Jim Clancy and Ed Chatham's work.

Please stay in touch. - MALCOLM

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I regret that my tapes of that period were lost in a move years ago. I was pleased to see you mention Vince Scelsa at WFMU-FM. I had the opportunity to sit in on several of his all night Saturday night shows in the winter of 1969. About 3 AM we'd make a run for cheeseburgers at the local diner in South Orange, NJ, by puttting on the entire side of the Stones '2000 Light Years from Home."

After leaving KFML in 1972 I worked as a free-lance journalist for the Straight Creek Journal, Cervi's Rocky Mountain Journal, Capital Ledger, and several magazines. I also helped start the Capital Hill Peoples Fair with Dick Alligood. I left the Denver area in late 1975 after getting a masters degree in city planning and changing careers.

We tend to romanticize experiences from our early years, but I'm glad the better memories are the ones that last.

I still care about the music, and the news.

Dan Yurman djysrv@hotmail.com 43N 112W -7 GMT
A Time Traveler from the Age of Steam

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Hey, Dan ~

I wasn't good about keeping airchecks until about 1977 and then I kept them religiously! As a consequence, all of my classic freeform work is lost forever, but I have a fairly large library of my days as a "progressive rock" jock... Not nearly as rewarding!

If you are so inclined, you might like to read "FM" by Richard Neer. He worked with Vin for a good number of years and there is a good amount of material about Scelsa and his contributions in the book.

I enjoyed reading that book, but I'm still at ground zero with books about FM radio: there needs to be a good one about freeform -- totally in the spirit of what we did...

... to those ends, I have been working on a book about freeform. I've waited many years for a bigger name, higher profile person to write it, but I'm afraid we're dying off to fast for me to be assured that it's gonna be done.

That was the primary motivating force behind getting this website together... to link up with other freeformers and mine the digs... Thanks for being part of this effort!

May The Longtime Sunshine Upon You! - malcolm

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I began the evening searching for the Starlite Ramblers. I stumbled across a cassette I had recorded of "Ain't It the Truth" and thought I'd see what was out there. I thought of an old friend, KFML, and here I am.

Memories...Quite a few, suprisingly I guess.
How about a couple hours of ocean sounds during the afternoon when the AM only was just getting started.
Scotty's morning music.
The benefit for Sandy Phelps (as I recall she cut herself in a chain saw accident).
Bill's alter ego, Dumptruck O'Neil
Ashford getting mad at complainers when he played country...once he answered by playing, "You're Just a Jive Ass."
Speaking of lyrics, I heard Harry Nilsson's ode to unrequited love on KFML, "You're Breakin' My Heart"
Hope this message revives this string. T

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T ~ I had forgotten about Dumptruck O'Neill. Just the way Ashford said the name with a gravelly roll was funny... Bill's show always seemed to be a community affair. There were always people around him while he did his show and then there were those of us at the station who just liked his energy... One Friday will always stick out in my mind (maybe there were many and I'm just bunching them all into one). Bill must have really been looking forward to the meagre paycheck McGoey was doling out (Spring 1972). Bill'd blast ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid" over the studio speakers so loud, you'd think they'd loosen from their moorings! Thanks for jarring some memories... ~ malcolm

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T ~ Also posted two links to more Ashford bio info and KFML memories on the FreeFormRadio Blog. A gem at the tripod site is a portion of a Super Warthog aircheck... ~ malcolm

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Malcolm, I was pleased to see your quick response to my post; given that there was no action for several months, I imagined there would be no reply.

Thanks for the link to Ashford's present life. I'm struggling a bit with the idea of Bill on a talk radio format but hey...maybe someday I'll see if I can't find the station on the net and give a listen.

I left the front range in the mid-late 70's and was working as a wilderness ranger in the High Uintas in NE Utah. One night scanning the radio dial (when out of the high country), I picked up KFML when the skip was in. I called Ashford and had a good chat and requested a tune or two that I think he blew off. What I remember most about him--and what set him apart from others, then and since--is that he was just himself, not a radio personality; whether he was happy, mad or sad, his feelings shone through on the radio. Most uncommon.

I enjoyed reading his discography and have many of the albums on his list, mostly because of the years with KFML, including 60,000,000 Buffalo and Zephyr (I've got Sunset Ride, which I believe was the last album they recorded before Tommy Bolin left). Pretty sure I saw both these bands at Tulagi's. Oughta write more about the music, but this feels like enough. Good conversing with you. T

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T ~ There's a forum function that enables you to receive messages when a reply is posted, so it's pretty easy to see when there is a response. Take a look at the check boxes at the bottom of the thread. I check-in anyway to see who may have surfaced... A call from a ranger station in the Uintas would have made my night. I'm sure Bill got a good hit from your call. We all were not into fulfilling requests much in those days. We were on a track and riding it at full speed. Also, I must admit, when you're a young man you just don't appreciate what you have until many years later when you can't have it back... Zephyr's I'M NOT SURPRISED remains one of my favorite tunes of all time. First time I played it was on KFML and I continued to play it at other less well known stations throughout the '70s.... ~ malcolm

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Lost the site for awhile, Malcolm. I was a bit confused when my link took me to Legendary Surfers. Ah, but now I'm found.

About a year ago I posted a note on the AOL site for Denver suggesting the possiblity of a KFML and Friends reunion--no response. Be kinda neat to reserve a room in some club, play KFML music and visit..I can almost hear Rick Cuhna's "Damn Sweet Woman" ringing through room (I don't know maybe followed by Rioppelle's "Red Ball Texas Flyer"). T

BTW, I'm still with the Forest Service and back in Colorado after many years away (mostly AZ).

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T ~ I had to change the location for the FREEFORM RADIO site. It was costing me, so I just relocated it under the umbrella of my surf writings site. That costs me nothing... You will not end up the only one confused. Hopefully, others will quickly refind the site like you did... A KFML Reunion would be great! I can think of a number of supporters that could really get into it. I think the lack of response to your idea last year is only because -- so far -- there hasn't been a major connecting spot for former station people and listeners. Sandy and some others had a KFML website going for a while, but it has been down now, or only password-accessible, for about a year... I'm hoping the FREEFORM RADIO site can fill in the void, not only for KFML, but other freeform stations of the past (and the few freeform programs of the present), as well... - MALCOLM

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... Today I was thinking about one genre of music that Jerry Mills often played (at least I'm pretty sure it was Jerry)-- English, Irish and Scottish folk-rock. KFML introduced me to Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson and the great Fairport Convention album "Leige and Lief." Steeleye Span, JSD Band from Scotland, Shirly Collins and the Albion County Band (a collaborative that included the who's who of English folk-rock like Richard Thompson). T

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Greetings. I discovered this forum yesterday and find myself intrigued. First, I am out of the talk radio business, thank God!! When I moved my family back from Michigan to Colorado Springs in 1990, I visited a few people, including Harry Tuft and Meredith at Swallow Hill. I tried unsuccesfully to re-establish with some of my old workmates, but found them distant. I realize I "took a lot of space" back in the day, but no more than a few others I could name. Anyway, I finally worked it up one day to drive to Denver. I parked at the corner of 3rd & Filmore and just cried for about 15 minutes. I'm not sure if it was for a life wasted or for great times unimaginable these days. People and adventures unavailable and probably unsurvivable now. I've paid my price physically...Lung cancer leading to major surgery & radiation almost three years ago and a couple of other things I can only attribute to excessive wear and tear. I found that I have been out of warranty for some years. Anyway. the good, the bad and the ugly, it was my life and I don't regret most of it. Your postings are a bit old, so I have no idea who will see any of this, but life is OK in Florida, if you allow for the 5 hurricanes last year.
- Bill A.

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Bill! Great to be contact!

Thanks for posting and sharing. Admittedly, ours is a small group, right now, that check into this website/blog/forum. But, then again, as freeform programmers we were always a rare breed. I'm hoping the numbers will improve and by using the Internet, we can get reconnected with many of our old compadres if only to share some memories and -- why not? -- airchecks.

If I can find the necessary time to learn the technical details, I hope to have clickable audio that we can all listen to on our PC's and/or download to burn.

Sandy had a KFML website up for a while. Now, the only thing besides this site that gets into any KFML stuff is the one tribute page from KIMN and the one on Tripod (one in the same?). Links to it are on the blog, if you haven't seen it/them. There's a picture of you behind the control board and some audio of Superwarthog.

I think Sandy can get you in touch with Thom, if you are not already. Let me know if you need her email address.

Please keep the communication coming! - MALCOLM

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NIce to see you check in, Bill. Sorry to hear of the serious health problems and hope you stay in remission. In keeping with Malcolm's remark about freeform programmers being a rare breed, it appears that listerners are a rare breed too. How the chrise did you guys pay the bills? I could only make so many trips to Budget Tapes and Records in those days (I think they were a sponsor).

Oh well, somebody once said, "you can never go wrong underestimating the American public." With respect to popular music, I've certainly found that to be true. T

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I just reread this message string and there were a couple references to 1972. I'm pretty sure that was the year the Rolling Stones came to Denver on the "Get Yer Ya Yas Out" Tour.

Myself and several friends camped out at the old Denver Coliseum for tickets and got seats on the floor about 12 rows back from the stage. I remember Ashford playing sets of Stones music that evening before the concert. All of us down on the floor spent the whole show standing on our seats. What a nite...come to think of it...what a nite

I saw them again several years later up in Ft Collins, one of those stadium concerts. Chrise, that day like'd to never end. Hot, tired, too messed up..waited too long and the Stones weren't into it either. Big difference in two shows. I never went to another stadium concert again. T

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... As fate would have it, I have a story to tell about that night, but I'd like to defer to Bill, first. Whatcha remember of that day, Bill? - MALCOLM

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For me, most Stones days and the night before and after were generally a blur. I remember a really amazing part with ALL the Stones in Barry F's backyard. I was so secret we had to drive to a pick up point, where we poured ourselves into a van and taken to the party. That, I suppose, was to keep us from leaking the site. Naturally it got our and people began arriving in cars later, and were absolutely turned away. Dinner was served on low tables which afforded us the opportunity to sit on the grass. I think I remember there being one Stone per table. Keith came with Anita Pallenberg, who litterally noded out in her plate of food. Keith pull her up by the back of her hair, probably saving her from drowning in whatever it was we were eating. I remember a really huge replica of the tongue hanging in the air. As you would expect, a very surreal evening.
And very naughty.

The show I went to in Ft. Collins was an unannounced (officially) tune up concert in a gymnasium and was probably the best show I ever attended, by anyone any time, well maybe with the exception of Otis Redding and his band at the National Guard Armory building in Lumberton N.C. in 65 or 66. From there the Stones played LA next and eventually came back for that sloppy stadium show you saw. I attended ever concert they ever did in and around Denver, but the third one I remember almost vividly was the "Some Girls" show at Folsum Field. I ended up in one of the backstage trailers, talking country music with Mick. I was made very comfortable while Jerri Hall laced up Mick's leather pants. All of a sudden, a photograper bounced into the trailer and said to Mick and Me..."awright you to, stand together next two the wall for a press shot. It turned ou to be the ONLY shot with a radio guy to be used in any trade mag during that tour. I'm looking at it hanging on my wall right now. God, did I look rough. - Bill A.

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Great stories, Bill. Would have liked to just ride in the vapor trail in those days.

The 72 concert was opened by Stevie Wonder. As his set progressed he was led from instrument to instrument around the stage, playing keyboards, guitar, drums--'bout everything I guess. The Stones toured with Billy Preston and Bobby Keyes.

That concert was top three, along with The Who, touring Who's Next and the Reunion Tour with Dylan and The Band. Keith Moon was still alive then and I remember he had a quiver full of sticks. As he splintered pairs of sticks, he'd throw 'em down on the snare head and they'd spin off toward the crowd. Dylan did rock versions of Blood on the Tracks. All nite long he said only 1 thing, "Nice to be in the Rockies." T

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There were lots of ground breaking performances in Denver/Boulder, but I have a feeling you have forgotten some of the amazing things that happened at Mammoth Gardens. Also, Malcolm, where is the "recollection" you were going to share? -
B

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[ continued in: "KFML Stones Dinner" ]

9 comments:

  1. Scott CoenApril 20, 2006

    Hey Guys: Was at KFML from the beginning and have fond memories of everybody. Did weekend shows and
    sales. Brings back mucho memories.
    The original bunch came from KRNW in Boulder. Super Warthog, myself,
    Sandy Phelps, Jr.all came from KRNW. Hope all is well with all my
    buddies. Cheers, Scott Coen

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well,
    You bloody poseurs and wankers.
    I guess it is true, only the good die young, listen to you old farts sitting around reminiscing.
    We were good, high, ethereal, in touch, free and at times, ONE.
    Do you still carry that spirit of living the truth in your hearts? Do you still beat against the wall of mediocrity?
    Remember:
    "May The Baby Jesus Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Mind"
    Do you?
    Time has passed and we have had our brother warriors fall in battle, yet we live.
    Because we know, that makes us responsible. Ne c'est pas?
    Love to you all,
    Butch

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well,
    You bloody poseurs and wankers.
    I guess it is true, only the good die young, listen to you old farts sitting around reminiscing.
    We were good, high, ethereal, in touch, free and at times, ONE.
    Do you still carry that spirit of living the truth in your hearts? Do you still beat against the wall of mediocrity?
    Remember:
    "May The Baby Jesus Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Mind"
    Do you?
    Time has passed and we have had our brother warriors fall in battle, yet we live.
    Because we know, that makes us responsible. Ne c'est pas?
    Love to you all,
    Butch

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, James, somehow I have somehow missed this posting all these months. First of all, may we have your criteria for and credentials to assign us such a name. Do you not remember the famous Conception Corporation rave up on J. Garcia sitting on a park bench with a compatriot, reminiscing about the good old days before Big Bro began their mandatory Cocaine Helicopter flyovers...."hack, hack, what happened to the good old days when you did this when you wanted to, not when you had to? I tell ya, kids today have no sense of moderation....look out, here it comes again....fade to silence". It's true to this extent, if the originals in anything outlive their co-starters, they have every right to sit on a swing or whatever and talk of the good and bad old days. If you're the last man standing, who's gonna argue with you.To answer your question, a good number of us still carry the dream, AND in the memory of those who couldn't finish the trip, we think of them daily. Beside my computer and wall of voodoo cds, there hangs the excellent burnt into wood version of the KFML FM & AM staff as it existed then. So, before I sit at the equiptment, computer and wall of voodoo cd collection that allows me to maintain a 24 hour a day internet site called The Rock Garden, I touch that rare poster, read the words, "keep freeform rolling" and have another go at showing that many of us actually still carry the flame, the fire and the fondness for those we worked with, even if some of them I swear I can't remember. Point it..it can be done again, just not the same. We were the soundtrack to a social revolution. Besides, don't you like to sit around and tell stories? You have no creditials to label us as you did in the beginning of this piece..... So....Butch,my Brother, and James, whomever you may be.....
    Peace on you
    Bill A.
    freeformrock.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. I cut my teeth on KFML. As a kid growing up in Denver I hated KIMN and KTLK. I wanted real rock, and as a young kid KFML was it! By age 9 I had started my record collection. CCR, Jethro Tull, Iron Butterfly, and Blood Sweat and Tears. I have now worked in the commercial radio business for over 30 years, but frequently produce free form radio for the Internet. I think KFML was a huge part of my life and my desire to still drop the conformity and just play music the way I feel it should sound. Thank God for Internet Radio!

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  6. What was the sign off at night when KFML went off the air? All I can remmeber is a lyric "did your hear what I said" Man, that was 30+ years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I was lucky enough in my music knowledge that i went to the station a couple of times in Cherry Creek, most often wildly searching for albums that whomever was DJ needed and being quiet as needed most never knew late night studio might have a half dozen in it. The best thing of all was the lasting conversations and memories of that time.

    ReplyDelete
  8. And lest us not forget the very hard working sales team who included: me ( Jane Steinberg) as SM, Nancy Sanders, Lynn, Sam Fuller. I remember one very rainy day when Barry Fey called me at home. He was doing an outdoor gig at Folsom and started screaming at me : You don't give a fuck, do you?". Then there were the free movie screenings ( I once got some hash brownies from a grateful listener) and the column where just about everyone in music signed their names on Fillmore st.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Orlin JansmaFebruary 16, 2014

    I had moved to Denver with my girlfriend in December, 1971. KFML played Stones all day long on Christmas day. We spent the entire day in bed. I have very fond memories of this station; & it definitely shaped my music library for years to come. Thank You!

    ReplyDelete