Bill Ashford, a Colorado pioneer in the underground "free-form radio" genre best remembered for his years as a disc jockey at Boulder's KRNW and Denver's KMYR and KFML, died Dec. 10 in Ocala, Fla., his home since 1993. He was 66.
At the time of his death, Mr. Ashford was... the producer and programmer of The Rock Garden Show, a free-form rock Internet radio station.
Mr. Ashford spent his life in broadcasting, starting with getting his own radio show at age 14. But it was at the fondly remembered KFML that Mr. Ashford found legendary status, at least among early 1970s Colorado listeners.
"This was progressive radio, with an open-ended, free-form approach to programming, low- key and genuinely hip disc jockeys playing album cuts regardless of length or sales statistics," said longtime Denver music critic and author G. Brown. "And Bill was the hippest of them all.
"He had encyclopedic knowledge. He could take you somewhere with a set he would craft. He perfected the art of the segue, going from one key to another. It was a rhythmic thing, crafting these sets based on his knowledge of the music. It was the halcyon days of radio."
"He was dedicated to what he did," said Thom Trunnell, now a Denver deliveryman, and the onetime program director for KFML. "He believed it was important, as we all did. He had a way of knowing who was doing what, how to present it.
"He had a lot of connections and knew how to get information about bands and performers sooner than the rest of us did. He was a musician's disc jockey."
Born Dec. 5, 1942, in Fletcher, N.C., Mr. Ashford's first album was a Bix Beiderbecke 78, a Christmas gift from his father. It was to be the first of many.
"Duke Ellington once said there were two kinds of music: good and bad," said Trunnell. "We tried to present what was good. And Bill really had an ear for that."
Over the course of his career, Mr. Ashford worked at radio stations in Denver and Boulder; Fayetteville, N.C.; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; Lake Tahoe, Calif.; Indianapolis; Grand Rapids, Mich; Colorado Springs; and Ocala.
He was also a songwriter. He co-wrote Floods of South Dakota with his then-wife, singer Judy Roderick. Years later, Tim & Mollie O'Brien recorded a version that in 1992 was nominated for a Grammy.
"He was always all about the music," said Gail Ashford, his wife of 31 years. "Because he was a songwriter, he was always coming up with a good tune, a good lyric.
"As I clean the house now, I'm finding all these scribbled notes everywhere. He would get up in the middle of the night and put song sets together because he would have them in his head. He'd be dreaming about this stuff. It was like living with an artist who painted with music.
"To me, Bill will always live on in a good lyric well written, a beautiful melody well sung and a screeching guitar riff."
Last summer, Brown tracked down several old Denver DJs, including Mr. Ashford, for a special tribute to the Summer of '67 on Denver's now-defunct KCUV.
"He had a four-hour stint on the show," Brown said. "We got so many calls from people who remembered him. To reconnect like that was really a joy for me."
Mr. Ashford is survived by his wife, Gail Ashford, of Ocala; four daughters, Mary Ashford Rohrich, of Steele, N.D., Holly Ashford, of Tallahassee, Fla., Hannah Ashford, of Tampa, Fla., and Erin Ashford, of Tallahassee; a stepbrother, Roger Ashford, of Charlotte, N.C.; his stepmother, Margaret Ashford, of Newberry, S.C.; five grandchildren and one great- grandchild.