The Good Times of Early FM Rock in St. Louis
The early days of FM rock radio in St. Louis were anything but organized, but that’s what made them so much fun. Sam Kaiser is 46 now, but at the ripe old age of 18 he was pressed into duty as a disc jockey at KADI-FM. As he tells it:
“Christmas night 1972 - 10:30 PM - I was at my parents’ house in Ferguson desperately trying to start my car, my hands shaking so bad I could not get the key into the slot. I had scored an on-air position at KADI, which at the time was the prime competitor to rock powerhouse KSHE. I’d been hired to do mornings, and they figured the best way to break me in was to have me sit in with Gary ‘Records’ Brown that night until about 3:00 AM and then take my show solo from there.
I don’t really know if I was all that good, but I had pestered [program director] Peter Parisi relentlessly from my overnight air shift at WRTH while he was on KADI. It was the only time I’ve ever confirmed a new job at 3:00 AM.
I was scheduled to go on at midnight that night, but in my absolute terrified state, I arrived at the concrete blockhouse on Bomparte in Brentwood an hour early. Gary looked up and said ‘You must be the new kid. Here are the music sheets, commercial logs and transmitter logs. I gotta go to a Christmas party.’ I was left alone with a record playing on the air, and it was about to end. So much for the break-in period.”
Throughout the 70s, KADI made many attempts to unseat KSHE, and that meant great radio for all the rock fans. There were free concerts, lots of giveaways, and listeners who called the stations and talked about the music with their favorite jocks. And being a jock, while it didn’t pay well, was great for the old ego.
“The KADI job put me in the St. Louis radio rock and roll culture I so much wanted to be a part of,” Kaiser says. “Boy, what a coming of age it was. Not only did I get paid for playing all the bands I worshiped, working at a station that I listened to 24 hours a day, but I also became part of the incredible cast of characters that comprised my hometown rock and roll royalty.
There were plenty of extremes at that radio station. I was fired and rehired at least three times. During one of those fired times, I went on the air at KSHE. We had complete freedom on what we played and how we constructed our shows. All we had to do was make sure the commercials went on as scheduled. I’m talking about 12-minute Pink Floyd epics, song sets that included Herbie Hancock and Brian Auger, obscure but famous tracks from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sammy Hagar, Foghat, Nectar, J.D. Blackfoot, the list goes on.
The KSHE staff had hotwired an audio box from the soft-porn drive-in theater next door to the station on Watson Road. The jocks would put on long record cuts and watch the dirty movies with the audio coming in on the studio monitor.
During the KADI days, when the ‘Concerts for Bangladesh’ album was big, jocks would play the 16-minute long Leon Russell track ‘Youngblood.’ It was a musical signal to drop by the station and smoke a joint with the jock on the back stairway of the transmitter shack.
Then there was the story of the infamous KSHE staff meeting in which Shelly Grafman [the station owner] started screaming that ‘youse guys gotta stop smoking that shit in the studio…the fucking studio reeks of marijuana!’” Sam Kaiser also remembers his cohorts of those times: Radio Rich Dalton “still the best FM jock I have ever heard, bar none,” Shilo Brunswick, Steve Rosen “one of the original KSHE jocks,” Paul Donahue “the best audio engineer I ever encountered,” Mr. Ed, Ron Stevens, John Ulett, Ted Habeck, Jim Singer, Tom Gordon “extremely talented,” and of course, Gary “Records” Brown “larger than life.”
The crazy days of seat-of-the-pants FM rock are gone, and maybe it’s for the best, but people like Sam Kaiser who lived to tell about it know what a “long, strange ride” it was.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 9/2000)