Northwest Underground rock 1980 'til the End of Time

Sept. 2009: Steve Rabow's 1982 Best of the KZAM LOCAL TAPE EXTRAVAGANZA!!

Steve Rabow’s 1982 Best of the

KZAM LOCAL TAPE EXTRAVAGANZA!!!

RabowThis month’s Green Monkey Album of the Month is “Steve Rabow’s 1982 Best of the KZAM Local Tape Extravaganza.” In case you forgot or never knew, KZAM was the first “Rock of the ’80’s” radio station in Seattle.The station would actually play actual local music on occasion (gasp!) and this is some of it.

What follows are the original liner notes written by Steve Rabow in 1982 for the 23-song album that was never released and a few of my comments on the project.

The Story is something like this…
It wasn’t a time of innocence or confidences. If anything it was a struggle, a seemingly never ending fight against an unsympathetic management who had a fondness for the word “no.” For every project actually pulled-off there must have been five that were never allowed even semi-serious discussion. But we really did a lot, considering that this was commercial AM radio. In fact we probably got away with more than anyone was aware of at the time; such was the nature of “new wave” station in the dawn of the ‘80s.

In 1978 I volunteered at KZAM Radio in Bellevue, Washington (more hot tubs and condos per capita than anywhere else in the Western World) in hopes of creating a record library of small label recordings for potential airplay. Eventually that year I became responsible for selecting the material and information for a weekly import show featured both on the AM (5000 watts, mono) and FM 100,000 watts, stereo) stations and it was on this program I first presented artists like Gang of Four, Lene Lovich, Tapper Zukie, The Residents, XTC, Brian Eno, The Slits and many others who deserved (and still deserve) commercial radio exposure.

Then KZAM Radio was purchased by Sandusky Newspapers out of Phoenix. The weekly import show was terminated along with much of the staff, this being typical of radio in those days. Sandusky sent in a “whiz-kid-former-manager-of-Robin-Trower” as the new Program Director for both stations. His name was Paul Sullivan. They also sent a very pro-Reagan minded Michael Henderson as General Manager. As you might guess it was Paul who came up with the initial idea for “The Rock of the 80’s” (based on a similar idea being created on KROQ in Los Angeles by Rick Carroll) while it was Henderson who came up with the ongoing non-support.

“The Rock of the 80’s” was cleared for the AM station in time for a January 1, 1980 kick off with a playlist loaded with 10cc, Queen, Wings, four songs by Blonde and three by the Ramones, a group announced on the air by one of the DJs then as “four brothers from England.” (Yes, really.)

The programming hours on the AM side ran from 6 AM to Midnight, then the AM side merged with the FM in the name of cost effectiveness (so after the Ramones said goodnight just before midnight, Christopher Cross would be waiting on the other side to greet the new day…blurg…)

I approached Paul with some ideas including – oh, what a surprise – one that would put me on the air. He wasn’t impressed much with the notion of this post-premed college kid going on the air, but he did offer me a part time job typing playlists for the airstaff based on his hand-written notes of the songs and groups he wanted played. I figured that at least I’d be in the door, although at three dollars and fifty cents an hour I wondered exactly what I was trying to prove.

What Paul didn’t know (he’ll find out now): I added about 100 new titles and plenty of new artists to the playlist, not to mention the dinosaurs that ended up MIA in the tar pit or something – shhh! No one could figure out why I seemed to enjoy such an obviously stupid job. Anyway, after months of begging, tape demonstrations, pleading, Paul told me that if I went out and sold enough advertising for my own show then he’s put me on the air. I came back the next day with the amount he wanted. But when Henderson saw that he came up to me and let me know the station needed twice that much to put me on the air. I came back the next day with that amount as well. So, without another way to say “no” I was finally allowed on the air, on their 5000 watt AM station during their MEGA-HUGE listening time slot: Monday nights from 10pm – Midnight.

I called the show “Music for Moderns: an overview of imports and independent American recordings.” The very first song I played was “Bob is a Robot” by Red Dress. I thought it was important to start with a Seattle group. The second song was by a new band out of Ireland who just released their first import single, “I Will Follow” – the group was called U2. This was May, 1980.

From this point there was no turning back.

Soon I was allowed to host other weekly time slots on KZAM weekends and I gave each show its own name and focus (“The Saturday Night House Party”, “The Post-Modern Hour”, “The Prostitute Hours…”) were all natural extensions of my attempt to focus on the wealth of recorded material being produced both around the world and around the block at the time, virtually all of which was being ignored by the commercial radio and press at large.

My friend Bruce Pavitt who at the time had a small but popular zine called Sub Pop wrote “Stephen Rabow has the most radical radio shows in American on KZAM.” (I heard that Bruce went on to start some sort of Sub Pop record label…I wonder if he ever “made it.”)

The “Local Tape Extravaganza” came about as a direct challenge to the listenership to actively participate in “two-way radio.” The only restrictions presented were 1) a time limit of no more than 5 minutes per piece 2) an understanding that no more that no more than one song per tape would be played and no more than one tape per artist could be submitted and 3) there should be a concerted effort to keep my butt out of jail (i.e. language). Other than that it was entirely up to the audience as to what would be programmed.

The idea was that ANYONE could receive airplay for their composition be it good, bad or ugly was unheard of on commercial radio; no gimmicks, no prizes, just a good-natured invasion of the airwaves by anyone who had the energy to contribute their individual brand of lunacy.

The first “Local Tape Extravaganza” took place three months after I initiated “Music for Moderns” and the program lasted four hours netting around 80 tapes.

In the next few months this vividly different sounding KZAM-AM radio station started amassing a phenomenal amount of attention by the press even though the weak signal prevented large portions of Seattle to be able to receive us. The phones began to go crazy ringing non-stop from the sign-on-time to when we had to merge with the FM station. (By the way, going 24 hrs. on the weekend took a lot of doing. Essentially it happened because of complaints from the FM staff about the amount of rude phone calls coming in requesting the Sex Pistols, or else. Most of the FM Staff requested time on the AM side anyway, it was the trendy thing to do, eh?).

“The Rock of the 80’s” had been on the air for one year by the time of the second “Local Tape Extravaganza” inspired over 350 homemade recordings to converge on the Bellevue, WA studio.

14 hours of local tapes!! (Nine and a half hours straight before we had to merge with the FM so the rest of the tapes were played on the next week’s show.)

In my mind, as feeble as it might be, radio will never be better than what went on air those nights. Sure, some of the material was crap and yes other pieces were brilliant. Who cared? It was just too much fun.

And maybe that is why the “Rock of the 80s” format was given the ax – it was just too much fun too soon without any real means of support. (Michael Henderson continually refused to allow the AM station a single salesperson leaving it instead to twist and shout in the wind).

I tried to salvage as many of the local tapes as I could before they would inevitably be turned over to production technoids who always had a disturbing knack for frothing at the mouth when in close proximity to quantities of recordable tape, especially if it was free tape. Luckily I escaped with almost 200.

After a year of combined procrastination and recovery I have selected 23 for your continued enjoyment and as a document of what once was and most likely never again will be.

This could have been a two hour tape. This could have been an eight hour tape. Who has a mother that could afford so much just to show off to her friends, “Look my baby the punk rock star!! People magazine is just around the corner!! No thanks. It is my sincere hope that this tape reflects the diversity of the program and my apologies to three hundred artists who are not included here.

There are too many individuals to thank so let me limit the list to: Paul Sullivan, the staff of “The Rock of the 80’s,” and each of the 10,000 people who signed the “Save The Wave” petitions, John Saltzgiver, Shelia Anne Feeney, and my folks; without any of the above you wouldn’t be hearing this music. Now on to other things.

Don’t be stupid unless, of course, you really want to be.
Steve Rabow Spring 1982

Post Script 2009
I ended up continuing to produce “Local Tape Extravaganzas” while working for two other commercial stations in Seattle (KYYX and KHIT) before “retiring” to rock-n-roll DJ heaven in Florida.

Now, thanks to Tom Dyer, some of the surviving tapes have been lovingly removed from storage, digitized and are available for your “enjoyment” (or not – be warned) here on the wonderful world wide web.

Thank you for your time here – Steve Rabow

Dyer notes:
Steve gave me the reel-to-reel master tapes for this project before he drove his flames-painted-on-the-rear Ford Pinto (they were famous for catching on fire, kids) off into the Florida sunrise many years ago. The plan was that it was going to be released back then, apparently on Engram Records, home of Seattle Syndrome 1&2, the Blackouts and other fine stuff. Instead I got the tapes and they lived in a box, first at my house and for 6 years in Green Pajama Joe Ross’s basement while I was out in Boston.
I recently pulled them out of the box to transfer them to digital. The tapes were in pretty bad shape, but I managed to get them transferred even as they were falling apart. Then came the notion of mastering, which in this case was an esthetic dilemma. Should I just do a straight transfer that would give us, in theory their exact original lo-fi sound? Did I really know what they sounded like in the first place to be able to compare? In the case of the Adults, I did because it was my band. On the master tape, the Adults were 3 times as loud as anything else. That didn’t seem good. In the end, I simply remembered what I was doing back in that time – trying to make the best recording I could with whatever equipment I had and assumed everyone else was doing the same. With that in mind I did some EQ and limiting and in some cases a little noise reduction to reduce the tape hiss, but I really tried to keep the esthetic of what was on the tape.
So who was on the tape anyway? Quite simply I have no idea. I know the Adults because they were my band and I recognize Al Bloch’s band Wenis, but that’s it. Hopefully all you folks out in internet land will identify all the artists. Regardless of who these people are, I think this is a pretty hip old-school collection of what people were doing in Seattle basements, back bedrooms and garages in the days when home recording was an adventure.
Originally Steve was going to make this an ACLU benefit project. I’m keeping it simpler. It’s just free to listen to on God’s own internet. You can’t buy it because it’s not mine to sell. If you are one of the artists on this and don’t wish to be, let me know and I will pull your song. Otherwise, enjoy. It’s pretty entertaining.

Tom Dyer, September 2009

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