Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Vancouver Freeform, 1967-68

[ Excerpt of "When Vancouver rock radio bubbled up from the underground," by Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun, August 08, 2007 ]

During the Summer of Love in 1967, Tim Burge was a Boss Jock with Vancouver's CKLG-AM.

Frustrated with playing sappy pop singles while the psychedelic music scene was exploding, especially after attending the Monterey Pop Music Festival in the San Francisco Bay area, Burge suggested to LG managers that they try a new format, similar to that being pioneered by San Francisco disc jockey Tom Donahue at radio station KMPX -- a free-form, acid rock format that became known as underground radio.

His idea fell on deaf ears at CKLG. Oddly enough, Vancouver radio station CJOR, owned by businessman Jimmy Pattison, agreed to give the format a try.

Burge claims it was the first rock radio program of its kind in Canada at the time: During his 8 p.m. to midnight shift, he played everything from jazz (John Coltrane and Roland Kirk) to the Velvet Underground, the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix.

The show lasted only three months.

Burge recalls that Pattison was at home one night, listening to his station, and was shocked to hear Burge playing Hendrix's Third Stone from the Sun, a spaced-out psychedelic rap that fused together slowed-down sound effects, jazz and rock guitar.

Days later, CJOR hired a new program director, Red Robinson, who told Burge that his "hippie dippy garbage" had no future.

"He also suggested I get a haircut," Burge recalls.

After the program was canned, CJOR went back to playing Engelbert Humperdinck and Patti Page songs.

One Vancouverite who protested the loss of Burge's show was a young University of B.C. law student, Mike Harcourt.

"I regret your decision, Mr. Robinson," the future Vancouver mayor and B.C. premier said in a letter that Burge still has. "Mr. Burge's program excited me about radio programming for the first time in years . . . Unfortunately, you have turned him into one of the thousand and one DJs across the continent spinning out a phoney 'adult' sound reminiscent of the Doris Day-Rock Hudson movies."

But Robinson didn't relent and Burge went into exile at a Victoria station.

But CKLG called next spring, in March 1968, wanting him to return to CKLG-FM, which was adopting the underground rock format. Burge became a DJ and also assumed music director duties at the station, whose new DJs would include Terry David Mulligan, John Tanner and J.B. Shayne.

"It really was a wonderful time in radio," recalls Burge, now known as Pamela Burge. "It was free form. I remember Jimmy Page, then with the Yardbirds [and later Led Zeppelin] coming into the studio with his guitar and playing."

Now a community support worker in the mental health field, Burge has been living as a woman since 1993 and had a gender change in 1996.

He also recalls Mulligan decided one weekend to allow the public in for a tour of the CKLG-FM studio. "People were lined up inside and smoking pot. I remember one of the managers came in the next day and the place stunk."

Another pioneer in Vancouver radio in 1967 was 24-year-old Bill Reiter, who owned Bill & Bob's Record Shop, which sold rhythm-and-blues and soul records in the world's narrowest building at 10 East Pender St. in Chinatown.

CKLG program director Frank Callaghan asked Reiter to host an experimental program on CKLG-FM, which at the time was playing classical music and wanted to appeal to a younger audience.

Reiter called the show Groovin' Blue -- the title of a 1961 jazz album by Curtis Amy and Frank Butler. It was the first of its kind in Canada, playing only play black music: the latest R&B, soul, blues, jazz, funk, gospel and salsa. It first aired in September 1967 on Saturday nights from 6:30 to 8:30. Six months later, when CKLG-FM switched to all-rock, it ran 6-8 p.m, Monday through Saturday.

The 100,000-watt signal could be heard by fans in Washington state, recalls Reiter, who says a New Yorker phoned one night to say he'd recently been on a freighter in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, heading to Vancouver from Japan, when he picked up the Groovin' Blue signal. The Big Apple denizen said he couldn't believe anyone in Canada was playing New York conga drum hero Mongo Santamaria, as well as Pucho & his Latin Soul Brothers.

Reiter recalls that many recording artists got their first Canadian airplay on the program: Ollie & the Nightingales, Marva Whitney, the Dapps, Sy Risby, the Joe Tex Band, Sly & the Family Stone, the Trials of Jayson Hoover, Freddy Robinson, Mabel John, Oscar Toney Jr., the Raelettes, O'Dell Brown & the Organizers and Melvin Van Peebles.

Groovin' Blue lasted for two years, ending in mid-September 1969. Reiter says the Groovin' Blue format will make its home next February on the Internet via radio station WAGR, which he will co-host with Sunny (Sweet Daddy Fonk) Wong, Al (There's This Line) Foreman, Buddy Bok & Harry Bok (Chow) and voice-actor Jim Conrad.

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