KUDO 1080 AM, 2004-10

December 14, 2010 at 10:24 am | Posted in alaska, anchorage, politics, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Anchorage’s KUDO 1080 AM radio ceased to operate yesterday after 6-1/2 years of struggling.  Phil Munger, writing at his blog Progressive Alaska said: “The fact that the station lasted as long as it did has been a triumph of sorts.”  That’s about right.

From around 1980 until 2004 I supplemented my music radio listening with public radio, listening to KSKA and its national news via NPR and PRI.  In ’04 NPR committed the unpardonable sin of sacking longtime ‘Morning Edition’ host Bob Edwards [a thoughtful anchor with a capability of probing questioning] with a rotating combo of the milquetoast Steve Innskeep and breezy but vacant Renee Montagne [the latter had been Edwards’s faithful substitute host for years].

The timing of the firing was troubling — two months before George W. Bush was reelected.  I always wondered if public opinion was tilted just slightly by the changes at NPR.  The CPB, which oversees NPR and PBS was at the time being run by Kevin Tomlinson, a Bush appointee who also went after PBS host Bill Moyers.

Edwards and Moyers ran afoul of a changing political climate that was coming increasingly under corporate control.  The Bush administration wisely decided to stop threatening to cut off the CPB’s funding and instead began working on it from the inside, to ‘balance’ its coverage.  The blog NPR Check continues to document the insertion of right wing propaganda into NPR’s news shows, that continues to this day in thousands of subtle and not so subtle ways.

Only alt-public network Pacifica, and a handful of independent programs remained with a left wing viewpoint.  Meanwhile, right wing talk radio had ramped up to a 90% share of the talk radio market.

Into this concept of a void, Air America Radio launched on the ironic date April 1, 2004.  The privately funded, NYC-based startup was ambitious and artistically successful, sort of against all odds.  Only Randi Rhodes [can’t recall if she was on from day one, or soon afterwards] and Mike Malloy [who began there in late ’04] had a wealth of previous experience.  Newcomers Sam Seder, Marc Maron and Rachel Maddow had strong starts.  A weekend show, Ring of Fire — hosted by Mike Papantonio and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — was a particularly riveting and timely program covering politics and environmental issues, and like many of the original shows, it survived Air America’s demise and continues to this day.  Each and every episode of Ring aired on KUDO.

Air America suffered a series of buyouts and management changes, was scaled back in ’06 and ’07, losing its show co-hosts and most of its original shows, but it continued to be well worth listening to as it picked up new talent like Thom Hartmann, the Young Turks and others.

KUDO signed on in Summer ’04 as one of the first batch of Air America affiliates, but it was never exclusively about Air America.  I hadn’t heard of Rich McClear before KUDO, but I understand he was a pioneer of Alaska public broadcasting in Anchorage, Sitka and other places.  He was also involved in the reconstruction of Croatia and Bosnia, and had many interesting life experiences that he spun into interesting radio bits.

McClear managed to counter razor-sharp national programming with an upbeat, homespun local backdrop.  He employed his wife Susie and son Kevin to read local news headlines and community calendars, and himself recorded a series of ‘KUDO Commentary’ spots that were inserted within commercial breaks and where he sketched various local and state political and social topics.  There were other commenters, including Geoff Kennedy and Mr. Whitekeys.

He included NY Yankees baseball and offbeat programs like Joey Reynolds and Lionel.

McClear’s playful lampooning of ’02-’06 Alaska governor Frank Murkowski and his taxpayer funded private jet was legendary, pointing out that the jet couldn’t land in most places in Alaska, as Frank Sinatra raged in the background [“Fly me to the moon!  Let me play among the stars…”].  Some of those spots were played on Hartmann’s Air America show when he interviewed McClear.  I also once heard McClear call into The Lionel Show about a discussion of ‘English only’ laws — he talked about Barrow and Bethel and other places where Yupik and Inupiaq are spoken.  “It’s not English — but it’s also not a foreign language — so should we cut off funds for bilingual education in those places?”

McClear began to experiment with local shows when he became uncertain whether Air America would go out of business and leave him scrambling without a backup plan to fill the air time.  McClear hosted at first, then experimented with a couple other local hosts including Joe Princiotta.  Either McClear or longtime voice of New Sagaya commercials Jack Frost [Frost was also hosting an afternoon conservative talk program on KUDO] discovered Aaron Selbig, an ambitious recent UAA grad who had been doing a weekly public affairs program ‘Insurgent Radio’ on KRUA and publishing an underground newspaper, Insurgent 49.

Selbig followed in the tradition of past Anchorage alt-scene kingpins like Frank Harlan and B-Mac, but he was more serious and more in tune politically.  He was paired with Jack Frost at first, but it was soon made clear that Frost would step down and his protege would continue on his own.

Around the same time, McClear cooked up a plan to unload his struggling startup to a local chapter of the IBEW union.  The union saw it as an opportunity to publicize the benefits of union organizing to a somewhat skeptical local audience.  [And there was probably a lot more to it than that, but I’d just be speculating, wouldn’t I?]

Meanwhile, somebody at KUDO [Selbig?] made a command decision to put Shannyn Moore on the air with her own show.  She had zero previous experience, working as a house painter and contractor, but from the very beginning she was witty, confident, cutting and sort of ironically precious, while tackling diverse socio-politcal issues and scandal from a well-researched basis.  Her slogan, “I’m just a girl from Homer, painting a red state blue one stroke at a time” is both a intentionally self-effacing and a recognition of the complexity and persistence of the task at hand — getting people to quit advocating and voting against their self-interest, regardless of left-right paradigms, political parties and other alignments that exist.

Moore and Selbig, along with Anchorage radio vet Camille Conte maintained a daily solid block of local programs between 11:00 and 5:00 for a year or so, until IBEW became dissatisfied with the direction and replaced Selbig [by then the Program Director] with Cary Carrigan, kept Conte and fired Shannyn.  Carrigan, who had been a lovable but goofy weatherman on Channel 13 news in the ’80s, was pretty much a flop as a liberal talk radio host.  He babbled nonsense gibberish, his saving grace being his guest lineup and regular co-host Linda Kellen Biegel, who provided content and guidance.

Selbig moved to Homer and worked for both weekly newspapers before becoming News Director for Homer public radio, KBBI.

I threatened to stop listening when the Carrigan regime began, but I came back soon.  I also discovered KWMD radio, a public radio station with its HQ in Kasilof, AK that was rebroadcast in Anchorage, Eagle River, Mat-Su and maybe a few other places on various FM dial locations.  KWMD carried Pacifica programs and various national and locally produced music shows, including Friday and Saturday nights from the Spenard domicile of the Rev. Less More and the Spenard Fruit Fly.  Love at first listen!  KWMD was owned and co-managed by Jeremy Lansman, 1980s co-owner of muisc video UHF TV station Catch 22, and currnet owner of KYES Channel 5.  Lansman’s humorous and riveting style was in full flower in KWMD’s station IDs/announcements and atmosphere.

KUDO changed management again, rehired Shannyn [by then she was doing a weekly show on otherwise conservative talk-oriented KBYR; and had began a Lansman-produced weekly TV talk show] and made other positive changes including reshuffling the lineup of national shows and incubating a number of junior local hosts in an array of short shows concerned with politics, medicine, business, adult beverages and advocacy.  Studio 1080 was a kind of catch-all local show that gave various state and local Democratic politicians a platform, and was hosted by new KUDO P.D. Kathy Phillips and occasionally also by Christy Harvey, an Anchorage transplant who previously appeared in an ongoing segment in Al Franken’s Air America program as a representative of the think tank, the Center for American Progress.  Shannyn’s new show now included regular hour-long chats with Jeanne Devon, blogger and editor of The Mudflats, an Alaska politics blog that gained national notoriety in the ’08 campaign by getting the word out about Palin’s incompetence and malice.

Thom Hartmann, Mike Malloy, Randi Rhodes and most of the others survived the caving of Air America and continued on other networks or as indies on KUDO.  Sam Seder recently launched a new version of his first Air America program, The Majority Report via podcast.  Marc Maron has produced about 150 episodes, two weekly of his new podcast WTF — deftly deploying his usual self-loathing bits as a vehicle to getting into his guests’ [comedians and pop culture icons] psyches.

Maddow became and anchor show on MSNBC, and lately Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks has run the substitute circuit there and seems on the cusp of getting his own show.  Ed Shultz, who also now does a weeknight MSNBC hour recorded one of his radio shows in Anchorage in ’09, and this year Maddow filmed a segment of her show where she chased AK-Sen Republican candidate Joe Miller down two escalators while asking him probing questions about DADT.  And talked to his supporters and managed to point out the dichotomy between his stated positioning [constitutional scholar/proponent and fiscal conservative] vs his supporters’ motivations [god, gays and guns].

When KUDO ceased operations yesterday, Shannyn’s show and a few of the other local programs on KUDO moved down the dial a short ways to KOAN 1020 AM, an Eagle River-based station that mostly broadcasts Fox News Radio!  Oh, the irony!!  It is nice that Shannyn’s show lives, but I feel sort of like she is trapped at a Thanksgiving Dinner, only the crazy right wing uncles and in-laws don’t pack up and go home on Saturday.

I tuned into KOAN, straining to hear the dialogue over hisses and pops and white noise three times today when Shannyn wasn’t on.  I heard three hodads in the morning gushing over the potential of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee in ’12.  Later, a smarmy host sketching Obama and Bill Clinton, dazed and confused and wandering the back hallways of the White House looking for the Press Room, late for a presser.  Then finally, an interview with liberal foil Ralph Nader, attempting to clarify his non-support of a third party Bloomberg candidacy by saying how wonderful it would be.

Fantastic!  And this is better than listening to Hartmann, Rhodes and Malloy?  Not even close!  I hope KOAN dies a quick and merciful death.  There’s no chance it will be enshrined alongside KUDO, the original KABN, KWMD, KBBI, KJZZ, KRUA, KBRW, Whole Wheat Radio and a few others that will be recalled as pioneering Alaska broadcasters.

I intend to follow the podcasts of the dispatched national shows, but my ISP, GCI is not making this easy.  Their cable internet network in Anchorage is string together with bailing wire, duct tape and hamster wheels, and they continue to neglect their customers and core mission while they donate $900,000 to Lisa Murkowski’s AK-Sen campaign, and who knows what else.  And they can get away with it because their competition is even worse!

So it’s too bad that something like KUDO won’t be wafting over the regular airwaves for the time being.  KWMD, off the air since early summer is threatening a comeback, and Out North has an FM license, even a frequency and call letters assigned, but funding shortfalls seem to preclude the possibility of their radio startup for now, lacking a benefactor with deep pockets.

Maybe because I had previous radio experience [producing/hosting punk, new wave and even retro-alternative music shows on KABN-AM 1984-86; and KRUA 1992-98] I was especially captivated and fascinated by the developments at KUDO and radio in general.  More than a general inerest, though, KUDO was a gift, an exceptional and unexpected development.  May it live on in memory and infamy!

An adoring fan,
Clark

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Jackson’s impact

June 26, 2009 at 8:31 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Lukewarm pans by two of my Alaska media heroes today were a little disappointing.
Shannyn Moore said: “I’m shocked at the lionization of Michael Jackson. Isn’t anything else going on in the world? Really? Gold records, plastic surgery and little boys.”
and Aaron Selbig: “I’m sorry but Michael Jackson was a pedophile who got away with it because of his wealth.”

Perspective, please!  I’m a little older than either of these two, so I recall events a bit differently. 

It would have been enough for most child stars to have sung “I Want You Back”.  Jackson was ten when the song was a hit, his older brothers playing the music and Michael the writhing, soulful singer of songs with adult themes.  Rolling Stone’s Illustrated History of Rock and Roll describes the song this way:

“…the record explodes off the turntable with an intricate Sly [Stone]-influenced arrangement featuring some of the toughest bass, drum, paino and guitar playing on any soul record anywhere.”

And remember that this song was supposed to be in the category of bubblegum music — fluffy, watered down and meaningless.  It was anything but.  It may have been distributed partly on the back of cereal boxes, but it was the real thing!  The Jackson 5 went on to record many more hits, layering increasingly complex and multifaceted themes and musicianship.

In 1979, at age 20 Jackson released Off the Wall, a Quincy Jones produced masterpiece that cemented Jackson as the most talented working singer-composer-entertainer of his generation.  Relentlessly energetic, gritty, street smart, rhythmic, flawless.  Play this one today and it’s every bit as good as it ever was.

By the time of Thriller [1982], Jackson had been crowned King of Pop, and he was an unstoppable force.  He broke down all racial and cultural barriers.  Because of him there could later be De La Soul, Black Eyed Peas, Public Enemy and all the other artists who infused black culture into mainstream pop culture.  The world is a better place for all of that.  He accomplished it by brute force.  For all his effeminacy and kitschy pastiche, he was also an uncompromising, take no prisoners, winner take all madman who left everybody else in the dust.  There’s every reason to believe he could have regained his musical status or even exceeded it, given more time.

It’s worth mentioning that I wasn’t listening to mainstream music very much in 1982 — but I could still recognize and acknowledge that what Jackson was doing was monumentally groundbreaking and stunning.

Accusations of pedophilia were serious and troubling.  Also inconclusive, I think.  Is he guilty?  Who knows — a tossup, speculation.  Were the parents of the alleged victims opportunistic?  In a big way.

And holding the kid out over the railing — no one normal, who isn’t higher than a kite does anything like that. 

I suppose it’s just too tempting to fixate on what was wrong with Jacko [lots] than appreciate his accomplishments.  I think he’s the most important American pop musician ever — a catalyst, a tempestuous towering monster; a man with no peers.

Update: Words about Michael Jackson from another Clark:

MICHAEL JACKSON, R.I.P.: The ultimate tabloid celebrity was also the ultimate mess of contradictions, as you’ve long known. He was a devout student of classic R&B who had a series of nose and chin reconstructions, straightened his hair, and wore whiteface makeup on and off stage. He was a self-made sex symbol whose mark of “toughness” was to shriek in an attempt to reach the high notes of his early fame. He was a creator of effortless-sounding music whose life was rife with chaos, drug/alcohol abuse, and music-industry sycophants. He was a beloved entertainer who was accused of some of the most heinous crimes. He’d attained unlimited wealth (or the closest thing to that any African-American man has ever had), then spent the last third of his life scrambling to avoid total financial collapse.
In all the TV, radio, and online chatter in the first hours since his demise, I’ve been reading and hearing the wildest tales. Given what we know about his life, even the wildest of these rumors seem believable, whether or not they’re true.
My favorite quotation about Jackson came in a Facebook message from ex-Seattle semiotician Steven Shaviro: “MJ, in his musical genius and in his sad racial and sexual confusions, epitomized American civilization more than anybody else ever did.”

Update 2: This is a really great story, by a former Anchorage radio and TV personality.

Although it always seems convoluted and weird and hard to explain in retrospect, the work of artists who move us knits further into our fabric than the simple enjoyment of a particular tune. That’s how it is with my memory of Michael Jackson. His introduction to me was the sweet spot in the middle of a riot, so the two are understandably inseparable in my mind.

In 1969 I was 7 years old. So was my friend Kevin, but somehow he got a grade ahead of me at St. Frederick’s. During the riots in ’67 and ’68, we both wound up in the same dumpster after being chased by National Guardsmen during a daylight curfew. Why the hell they decided to let us all out of school the minute the violence spilled over from the high school into the rest of the city is beyond anyone’s comprehension save the combined wisdom of the Pontiac city council. It was their idea. Jesus, their IQs alone must’ve totaled 100. One of them even came up with a patently brilliant way to keep the riots from happening again.

“Hang basketballs in nets along the ceilings in the hallways of the high school. When the shit starts, let the basketballs loose. Everybody knows that niggers would rather shoot hoops than start trouble.” The remarks were met with laughter by those assembled. It was a different time then – really fucking different.

It was Kevin’s idea to jump into the dumpster. It proved to be a sagacious decision, one that kept my ass from getting kicked for the umpty-millionth time. But then again Kevin had rescued my white hide on more than one occasion. The day that Isaac Jefferson announced that he was going to kick every white muffucker’s ass on this here school bus, Kevin stepped between him and me.

“You leave him be. He’s not white. He’s Scottish.”
“It’s the same goddamn thing!”
“Ain’t. Now go on.”

Isaac complied, but I could tell it wasn’t because he was fooled by Kevin’s bullshit ruse. I suppose he thought that any white kid worthy of a black kid’s protection must be seated pretty damn close to the right hand of God. My ass went un-kicked for one more day.

The day we wound up in the dumpster, I just kept my trap shut and followed Kevin’s lead again. When he decided it was okay for us to bail, I followed him back to his house. We ducked and weaved through the neighborhood alleys and hedgerows like our TV heroes did on “Combat” and “Rat Patrol”. His mom wasn’t home, which was a good thing. Usually she’d be watching Jack Lalanne about that time, monopolizing the mammoth black and white Motorola. Now it was all ours.

There was an afternoon music show on. I can’t remember the name of it now, but most of the time it featured music and artists that we both found too emotionally distraught, sexually-charged and confusing for our pre-teen minds. But today we happened to cut in right in the middle of a song being sung by a brightly-dressed group of young black kids. The sight of them made Kevin squeak and run out of the room. “The Jackson 5!” He came running back in with a shampoo bottle in his hand and sang into it with all his prepubescent, falcetto might.

A B C
Simple as one two three
Do re mi…

I was dumbstruck. Here on the screen was a kid near my age that embodied every quality that I ever wanted to possess in all my seven years: good looks, soul, nuclear-grade charisma, and unmistakable blackness. I was so stunned I couldn’t move. Eventually Kevin shook me out of my worshipful stupor and got me to sing the Tito-and-Marlon parts.

“Whycome I gotta sang the backup all the time, Kevin?”
“Because white people cain’t sang. You know that.”

I had to agree. I was no Michael Jackson. And I had certainly never heard any white person sing like Michael Jackson.

Then something absolutely horrible happened. My parents moved us to Iowa. I was the only white kid I knew in Pontiac. And I was probably the only kid in Iowa who thought he was black. After being weaned on Motown, I had to learn to love Skynyrd, Styx, Head East, Zeppelin, and Molly Fuckin’ Hatchet.

Redemption came when Michael released “Off The Wall” in 1979. I jammed a copy into the cassette player in Jay Bocchart’s Chevrolet Sex Van and changed that white boy’s world permanently. The way I remember it, Michael proved to be the gateway drug that led Jay to Earth Wind & Fire, The Ohio Players and Parliament, which in turn led to a funk-inspired sojourn to Michigan City, Indiana to purchase a pair of six-inch Sly Stone stacks. Or maybe that was Jeff Hundley who bought the stacks. Either way, famous negroes were beginning to corrupt (or save – depending) the youth of the corn belt and I was glad to have played a part.

My first semester of college, I had sex roughly three hundred and fifty million times after using a Jackson-laced soundtrack as a seduction tool.

When I was 20 years old and had become a jaded, cocaine-fueled Top 40 disc jockey, Michael released “Thriller”. Shortly thereafter, his fame swelled to rival the girth of the sun. The monumental impact of the album was lost on me. The station I worked for had the album in a rotation so tight the tracks practically overlapped. I was numb to it. Shortly thereafter I lost touch with his music altogether.

Tonight I started over at ABC.

I love you, Michael. Thanks for everything.

-Thaddeus

Update 3: More testament to the depth Jackson’s appeal — punk rockers, even!

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