Radio Free Phoenix Takes The City’s Ghost Radio To The Next Level
As published in the Phoenix New Times
Thursday, Feb 3 2005
For Cheryl Olson, a registered nurse who also chairs meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, the only thing worse than having her chatterbox, musical know-it-all husband hanging around the house all day, running his quirky little Internet radio station from the den, is having to listen to all the trippy music he plays without succumbing to the urge to, shall we say, fly Mexicana Airlines.
“Sometimes it’s hard, because the music’s on all the time, and it’s like a constant contact high just listening to it,” she says, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the home radio station her husband, Phoenix radio veteran Andy Olson, has built just off what used to be the laundry room (until Andy covered its every wall, top to bottom, with classic rock and pop CDs).
“I have to be careful about listening to ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’ too much, you know?” she says, laughing.
DJs Andy Olson and Liz Boyle: “Andy doesn’t want to mess it up with commercials, or sponsors, or having to answer to ‘the man,’” says Boyle.
Andy Olson’s five-month-old, commercial-free Internet radio station, Radio Free Phoenix (radiofreephoenix.com), is actually one of the few places today where someone could hear a little too much Traffic — not to mention Captain Beefheart, the Bonzo Dog Band, King Crimson, the Firesign Theatre, and any number of other resin-stained relics from FM radio’s early progressive rock era that most commercial broadcast stations today consciously avoid playing.
“The last program director we had at KSLX was having a dilemma over playing any songs by Traffic,” says Olson, who still pulls Saturday and Sunday night shifts on KSLX, and previously worked at the now-defunct KSTM (“The Storm”) and KZON. “Because he felt that songs like that, people listened to when they got high. And he didn’t want to bring that element in. ‘Cause it can really take you back.”
No doubt, Radio Free Phoenix takes listeners back — not only to FM radio’s hippy-dippy era, but also to the boss-jock days of AM Top 40, the acoustic-rock period of the mid-’70s, the early days of alternative rock, and pretty much every brief, accidental moment in radio history when the DJ had a chance to experiment a bit and play what he wanted.
There’s a definite Phoenix stamp on the playlist. On his computer, Olson splits up the thousands of songs in his personal archive into sub-playlists like “Storm songs,” “The Zone [KZON] songs,” as well as a pack of ’60s garage-pop classics he calls “KRUX/KRIZ” stuff. Acts who were big only in Phoenix, like Jerry Riopelle and John Stewart, are represented, as are the songs of legendary local bands like the Jetzons, Billy Clone and the Same, Blue Shoes, Bob Meighan, and even Commodore Condello, from The Wallace & Ladmo Show.
“It’s so cool to play a song by Mike Condello and know this is streaming out to the whole world,” says Olson, whose ISP-unscrambling software tells him when a Web surfer from Germany, Japan or England is tuned in.
It’s not all nostalgia, though. The station also plays a healthy dose of new music that Olson feels fits the mix, from Wilco to My Morning Jacket to Guster.
“People will call up KSLX and say, ‘There’s been no good music since the Allman Brothers,’” Olson says, laughing, while Wilco’s nearly 11-minute Crazy Horse-style jam “Spiders” streams out from one of the two PCs competing for desk space with old reel-to-reel decks, turntables and CD players in Olson’s home studio. “I go, ‘Yes, there has. There’s somebody making music that you would like right now. You just haven’t been hearing it.’”
In conceiving an electronic-age update to the freeform radio style that ruled the early days of FM, Olson, a native Phoenician, was most clearly influenced by legendary Phoenix program director William Edward Compton.
“When they mention all these great underground radio innovators, like [KSAN’s] Tom Donahue and others, at large, no one’s really aware of Bill Compton — and what he stood for, and what he did. He was who he sounded like. He was real.”
Olson never personally got to work with Compton, who started Phoenix’s first underground station, KCAC-AM, in the late ’60s, and who took the format to the FM band with the creation of KDKB (Compton died in a car accident in Phoenix in June of 1977). But Olson later came to know and work beside other jocks from KDKB’s early days, like Toad Hall and Hank Cookenboo, who are now also deceased.
“The music those guys played was a portal into who they were,” he says. “So the music was mixed with the social consciousness, what the station stood for, and also who these guys were. They were credible people.”
Bringing those kinds of people back to radio is Olson’s other mission with Radio Free Phoenix. Using his radio biz connections, Olson has brought in a slew of familiar on-air voices, like KOOL’s Liz Boyle, KDKB/KSTM vet Lee Powell, KZON’s Dave Cooper and, recently, Jeanne Sedello, another KSLX alum.
“In a lot of ways, we’re so simpatico with KCDX,” says Liz Boyle, referring to the mysterious commercial-free — and DJ-free — automated radio station broadcast out of Florence on 103.1 FM. “The big difference is, we’re real people. And we’re familiar voices to a lot of listeners of this kind of music. We’re old friends.”
“We’re real people who stand for something and mean something to listeners — as opposed to just a box of songs,” Olson adds.
Olson, who’s been funding the operation with the help of listener donations and a click-through partnership with the Barnes & Noble online music store (Radio Free Phoenix earns 3 percent of revenue from CDs purchased online through its links), admits his hardest job so far has been getting the older listeners who love the music he plays the most to make the switch from “terrestrial” radio to the new online frontier.
“It’s the people from our generation [Olson and Boyle are 47 and 45, respectively] who still have the dial-up connections and are the most computer-illiterate,” he laments. “But they were also the same people who didn’t want to switch from vinyl to CDs, and now you have no choice.”
DJs Andy Olson and Liz Boyle: “Andy doesn’t want to mess it up with commercials, or sponsors, or having to answer to ‘the man,’” says Boyle.
“Sooner or later, everyone will come around,” adds Boyle. “This is the rebirth of freeform radio. It’s just not on the radio anymore.”
Phoenix New Times
Listener Email generated by The Phoenix New Times story
I just discovered the station and it’s great. I am a Mesa person who had KSTM, K104 and the old KDKB (yellow hippy lettering) bumper stickers on my high school era Volkswagen Bug. I still have a K-15 pin somewhere in my stuff. This is the way radio should be. I would even endure some not-obnoxious commercials, if the music stayed true to your chosen course. Good job.
Douglas D. Brimhall
Andy, I started listening to KSTM in the ’84 timeframe after I graduated high school. What a cool radio station. I learned about so many cool artists and cool songs by artists I knew about. I remember listening to you in the evenings on KSLX in probably the 87-88 timeframe. You played such a good mix of music. I remember laying on my bed with my girlfriend listening to KSLX thinking life couldn’t get much better. I just saw the article about you and Radio Free Phoenix on the New Times website & tuned in to listen. Thanks for putting Radio Free Phoenix together. It is a worthwhile project. I’ll be listening to it.
Oh, I have a little page about stuff I remember about Phoenix music in
the 80s and other assorted memories. Its at:
Hey! I just read about you guys in New Times today and, first I’d like to say right on! It’s really cool to see you guys pool together and bring back something sorely missed from radio. Hopefully what you do catches on and bring some relief to all us soon-to-be-old-farts who continually suffer through this city’s excuse for radio. I wish you the best of luck. Losing the Storm was a very dark day….
Hi Andy, just read the new times article and just wanted to let you know I love your format!!!! I was raised here in Phoenix and when Bill started KCAC and KDKB, I became true freeform listener and have been a fan ever since. I really enjoyed KSTM and K104 with Jeff Parets over the years and now I listen to KCDX, but wish your format was over the air. I really loved the days when you cold hear artists like John Stewart, Davic Bromberg, Tom Rush to Jerry Riopelle, Jerry Jeff and so many others. Keep up the great music!!!!
Long May You Run…
I just picked up the latest edition on the New Times to see what bands are coming to town. I’m sure glad I did, as I read the article titled “Straight Outta (Bill) Compton”.
I wondered what ever happened to Andy Olson and Liz! I’m glad to hear that you are still broadcasting great music. I’ll be 40 next month, but I still like the alternative stuff and always will…
What the latest New Times did not discuss were all of the other great radio stations that we used to have in the Valley; K104 FM, K15 AM (with Johnny D), the KEY FM, as well as AM 1060 with Jonathan L. I loved those stations and I miss them very much. I still remember listening to the radio when K15 played their last song before going off the air permanently, it was around 5 or 6 in the afternoon and I think it was “It’s No Game” by Bowie.
I remember when the Storm went of the dial as well… I called the station and I was told that the transmitter was damaged. I was devastated to hear Hispanic music in place of Storm music. Makes me wonder if that transmitter really was damaged, but at least they kept playing music…
It was also nice to see some acknowledgment that The Zone used to be a different kind of radio station than it is today. Most of my fellow employees are in their late 20’s to early 30’s and have no idea what the real definition of “Alternative Radio” is.
I kid you not, I still have dreams where I am tuning a radio dial and I come upon a station playing great music like all of those past gone stations used to play. I wake up disappointed, knowing that those tunes are now memories, most of them lost forever in someone’s long-gone vinyl collection (I still own a turn table). Enough sadness.
I now have a new station to “tune” to. Thanks very much!
I still rue the day my beloved KSTM went off the air, great to hear real music again! Great to see some Harry Nilsson and Tom Rush, David Bromberg, Riopelle, and Steve Goodman(!). This storm trooper is happy. Thanks, from a Phoenix native that hasn’t listened to FM in over a decade.
Remember you all from my days at KUPD in the 70’s and KNIX in the 80’s, best of luck I crossed over to the dark side and now a GM for Regent Broadcasting, AKA corporate radio. You are the future keep it up the rest of the world will catch up!
Don “Cristi” Wagner
I read the article on Radio Free Phoenix in the New Times, and decided to give your station a listen. I like what I’ve heard so far. As far as I’m concerned, FM radio in the Phoenix area is pretty lame. Small towns have better stations with better variety than what I’ve found in Phoenix. My tastes run to heavy metal and album-oriented rock of the 70’s. I just wanted to let you know I like what you’re doing here and will try to turn as many people as possible on to RFP as I can.
Andy… just read the article in the New Times (Feb 3-9 2005)…what Liz states about being familiar voices is true…I’m 50 years old and I was born in Phoenix…I grew up listening to KRIZ, KRUX, KCAC etc in the late 60’s …I remember Bill Compton spinnin tunes at KCAC and going to BILL’S RECORDS to buy Jethro Tull, David Bowie, Cream, etc…then in the early 70’s listening to KDKB going to EVOLUTION RECORDS in Tempe while attending ASU…what great times for music…listening to your station brings back ALOT OF GREAT MEMORIES…
Are there any plans to broadcast from FM signal or (think BIG) satellite signal? There is an audience out there in our demo that would support such like station…there is no competion and KCDX lacks personality.
I was in the record biz from mid 70’s to early 80’s…worked for distributors Associated Distributors and Pro One Stop and retail at Circles, Cheap Record, Hollywood Records so music consumed me 24/7…I even helped my late friend Brad Singer open his 1st ZIA record store with part of my album collection…got to see almost every group that played at Celebrity, Dooleys, Coliseum, Mason Jar etc courtesy of the record labels…
THANKS FOR THE MUSIC AND THE VOICES…KEEP ROCKIN’
I read about your station in the New Times and I think it’s terrific. I see that you have Michael Stanley listed on your artists list. I’m from Cleveland (lando’cleves) and used to go to Michael’s concerts in ’74.. I have one of his LP’s (probably his only one). Just wanted to say hi and that you’re doing a terrific service. I will tell my friends about you too. Take it easy,
Hey Andy And Liz, I remember Bill doing KRUX Underground on Sunday nights, with Blues Magoo’s Never Goin Back to Georgia at the beginning. I was lucky enough to hear Bill announce one Sunday afternoon, a free concert at Thunderbird Park with Alice Cooper and a band known then as The Beans (who we all know became The Tubes w/Bill Spooner). One other thing that sticks in my mind about B.C. was the promos and business cards with his picture for Long Hair Inc. barber shops. We all were sadden with his death back in the 70’s, we all miss him I’m sure. Enough of that, you guys are doing a great job and service to us “we’re going to change the world” generation, by bringing back important people and events back to memory. If it was the old days I’d offer all of you a shot of cactus juice and a toke, but that was the old days. I’ll just offer my thanks, and keep up the good work.
Hey – Just read the write-up on Radio Free Phoenix. Fantastic! I’ve been grieving since McRadio killed KUKQ, but y’all help ease the pain 😉 Thank you for getting good tunes out, if not on the airwaves, at least into the ether of the virtual realm. Be well,
As a former DJ, I’d love the opportunity to be on Radio Free Phoenix. I grew up on great stations in Boston like WBCN & WBOS. I listened to Charles Laquidara, Mark Parenteau and eventually was a DJ at my college station during the heyday of the 80’s college music revolution. I ended up working for commercial radio station in Massachusetts and Providence. I left radio when deregulation reared it’s head in 1993. I miss the days of DJ influenced radio. This format is great and I’d relish the opportunity to return to the booth one more time….
Somebody’s been messing with my clock… I think it’s running backwards! Full cirlcle… deja vu… and here we are , right back where we started. Good on Ya and all the best to all of you. It’s about time somebody turned this maddness that passes for radio around. Let’s hope the unruly masses have enough consciousness left to appreciate radio as an art form!
Greetings pioneers, I’ve been listening to your amazing station for a bit as my best friend shared it with me one day, and actually still listen to KSLX on the way to work (No suckup intended). I grew up being a Navy brat, as mom had us travelling all over, living everywhere from England to Ventura to Boston to San Diego. Went to high school in San Diego with the good fortune of a great renaissance of radio there, and had my earlier years in Boston first really getting into music and actually having a Billboard subscription for Christmas when I was 11. Keep up the great station!
Luv ur station………I’ve been listening all night long, and yes it does remind me of the old KCAC and KDKB stations of free-form whatever the fuck the dj dude wants to play format. Especially the occasional too much dope selection, like what’s playing now.( Robert Wyatt – Las VegasTango (Part 1) Please don’t play this again. I’d rather hear the long version of Inagodadavida! (just jokin’)
After reading the New Times article about Radio Free Phoenix, I realized that you and I shared a studio one cold night in early 1986.
The late, great KSTM used to have a listeners’ show called “Nine O’ Clock Jock” that aired at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings–real prime time *lol*. The show was taped on either a Wednesday or Thursday night….my memory is a little fuzzy.
I remember driving a helluva long way to tape the show; the Storm’s studios were somewhere in Apache Junction, which was *waaay* out in the sticks 20 years ago. And you were the DJ in the studio who ran the board; I remember Seger had just released an incendiary live performance of “Fortunate Son”; we listened and thought it stood up well to John Fogarty’s original.
My memory isn’t always this good….it’s almost *never* this good, actually…but it was jogged by the fact that about two weeks ago, I found a tape of that 1986 show (recorded by my then-girlfriend, who later became my wife, then my ex-wife). I hadn’t listened to it in several years; in fact, I’d forgotten most of the songs I played that night. Funny how timing works; I stumble across that old tape and a few weeks later I read the article about your Internet station.
Needless to say, I *love* Radio Free Phoenix. It brings back many fond memories, and I also like how you’re introducing new music. I remember how cool it was to discover new artists on the Storm and (the original) Zone; when they changed formats, my passion for music slowly ebbed away. I’m thinking RFP might bring that passion back; I haven’t been this excited about a station in a very long time.
I just found out about Radio Free Phoenix and I want to thank you for bringing it to those of us who miss those ‘good old days’ of music. I’m going to share this with all of my friends because this is just what we’ve been hoping and waiting for. All of the best to you and the others on the station!
It’s been a while since we’ve heard the great “AO”…….got turned on to this Wonderfull Commitment to local radio……listened yesterday to about an hour or so,………….Threw my $100.00 boom box in the trash and replaced it with on-line listening. Nice job guys and girls…. P.S. God bless crazy Dave Otto
Wow! I recently discovered your station from the story in the New Times. I was a regular listener to early KDKB, K-104 and The Storm so needless to say you have another devoted listener…and I’m spreading the word to others.
It’s great to see your acknowledgment of Mike Condello who is often overlooked as a great Phoenix talent and is fondly remembered by many. If you haven’t seen it: www.mikecondello.com.
Maybe you can help me. Back in the late sixties I was a fan of KRIZ radio especially Phil Motta who did some great comedy parodies and bits on his show. You may remember Joe Nasty, Red Nose Motors, Doremefasolatedo, etc. etc…. used to have a lot of it on reel to reel but it all got lost!
Anyway do you know of anyone who might have some of Phil’s old stuff on tape?
Thanks again for Radio Free Phoenix.
Just found the article in the New Times and I’m so happy! I was raised in Phx in the late 60’s and grew up listening to KRIZ/KRUX and then KCAC and KDKB. You may remember Frank Bennett (Lehmann) from those days. We’re still in contact and are great friends. Reading about Hank & Bill & Toad really brought a smile to my face! I’m listening at work right now and I’m thrilled to hear the old music once again. No one ever “got” Jerry Riopelle outside of Phoenix, did they? And the “Phoenix Concerts” by John Stewart are so great to dig out every once in a while! Thanks for being a part of bringing it back!
Thank you for your service to humankind!!! Just found your site today; right on & far out, man. I’m gonna turn on all the brothers. sisters, heads & freaks I can.
I love what you guys are doing! The New Times article was key, I probably would have taken a while to find you otherwise. I almost got a tear in my eye when I saw that you have a weekly Zappa show! I moved here in 1992 from DC (WHFS) and was thrilled when the Zone started off. Doesn’t take long to get corrupted, I guess. Keep the faith!
Best of luck to you (Donation to follow!)
Just wanted to give you greetings from Dallas, TX. A friend of mine in Phoenix turned me on to your little internet station, and I’ve been tuned in for the last few days on and off. Major kudos to you and your staff! I did most of my musical growing up in Phoenix (I landed in town when KZZP launched way back when for a reference) Again, kudos on the station!
GREAT Station. Perusing the play list and find it hard to believe you have no Mahogany Rush. I have been looking for Mahogany Rush since I lost my album collection many many moons ago. You guys are the greatest. Brings me back to KCAC, Toad Hall and the best days of my life.
As on “old timer” whose musical interests were expanded listening to Bill Compton’s show on KRUX and everything on KCAC, I have to say this is an exciting new source of great music. There is about 50 years worth of great rock, folk, etc music out there and you seem to tap into it all. Keep up the great work!
YAY!!!! I grew up with WABX in Detroit . Underground radio at its finest. Thank you for reminding me why I ended up playing music for a career.
An old roommate I haven’t seen in years stopped by work recently with the recent article you were featured in from the New Times. I went to the site and am so incredibly taken back. This is soooo cool and I personally thank you from the bottom of my heart. Keep up the awesome work Andy and I’ll guarantee I’ll listen more and spread the word around about your site. Peace!
Been listening the last week or so now, looks like I’ll have to not give my $25. annual bucks to KJZZ! I will be contributing in March, as you’ve become my main internet radio spot. Thanks, I love the programming, I’m a listener from the KCAC/ KRIZ vs KRUX 60’s days.
Picked up the New Times while visiting my best friend Jan. 30-Feb. 6 in Scottsdale. Now I can’t get enough of RadioFreePhoenix. Are T-shirts available and if so, how do I go about getting one?