Saturday, March 5, 2011

Grateful Dead Live FM Broadcasts-KSAN Re-broadcasts (FM Broadcasts II)


An intriguing tangent on a recent Comment thread brought up the subject of FM broadcasts of live Grateful Dead concerts. While Deadhead scholars have identified FM sources with their usual thoroughness, I realized that there has been little discussion anywhere about the practice of broadcasting rock concerts on FM radio, whether taped or live. Like many other aspects of Late 20th Century rock music, this practice started in San Francisco and the Grateful Dead were the leading practitioners. Nonetheless, even the most musically connected scholars take this practice for granted, and the Dead get no credit for having helped create and define the idea.

Another researcher has published an exceptional list of known Grateful Dead FM broadcasts. Rather than duplicate this excellent work, I am beginning a series of posts not on the actual FM tapes of live Grateful Dead, but of the history of live FM broadcasts as I know them, and the business background to each of the broadcasts as best as I can discern them.

In the previous installment, I wrote about what is known about the first Grateful Dead live FM remote broadcasts, as well as the early history of rock concert live FM remotes in San Francisco in the 1960s. However,  in researching this post it became clear to me that few Grateful Dead scholars seem aware of the role KSAN-fm played in broadcasting pieces of 60s live Dead shows in the early 70s. Although these fragments were relatively limited, and have since been superseded by complete recordings, the original KSAN sources have generally been forgotten. In order to set the record straight, however, I realized I needed a post on why there are so many pieces of 60s Grateful Dead performances listed correctly as "FM" that were not actually broadcast in the 1960s. To my knowledge, all the 60s fragments broadcast by KSAN in the 70s come from two special radio programs, one in 1972 and one in 1976, so I will use this post to illuminate both events.

KSAN-fm
KSAN radio in San Francisco (94.9 on your fm dial, "The Jive 95") was founded by Tom Donahue in Spring 1968. Donahue had single handedly invented the modern rock FM radio format on San Francisco station KMPX the previous year, and after an acrimonious strike Donahue and his staff moved over to KSAN. Instantly the station was the hippest thing to listen to, widely regarded by fans and musicians alike. As more and more people got FM radios in their cars and on their home stereos, the station rapidly became one of the most popular stations in the Bay Area radio market, competing effectively against all other AM and FM formats (Top 40, News Talk radio, etc).

To some extent the KSAN effect was true throughout the entire country. In the early 70s, the top FM rock station in every city (WNEW in New York, KMET in Los Angeles, WBCN in Boston, and so on) were among the top stations in their home cities. Since the stations played album cuts rather than singles, FM djs had a huge say in what became successful, so albums like Dark Side Of The Moon or Led Zeppelin IV became massive hits without benefit of a single (or at least, long before a single was played on AM radio). Tom Donahue and KSAN had helped define the FM rock format, so rather than take ideas from other stations, they did things their own way. KSAN was continually interested in showing that they were the hippest station in the nation, and they were always looking for ways to prove it.


(the DVD Cover to the 1971 movie Fillmore: The Last Days) 

Fillmore Live Weekend 1972
KSAN had helped pioneer live FM remote broadcasts, and by 1972 live rock shows were a regular part of the KSAN broadcast mix, more so than most or all other stations in the country. Late in 1972, or possibly early 1973--I was in the 10th grade, so I can't be more exact than that--KSAN decided to have an event where Bill Graham would come into the studio and play tapes from the Fillmore West. At this time, the Fillmore West had only closed less than two years before (July 1971) and was still remembered fondly by everyone as "the good old days." The idea that there were tapes of the performances was a complete revelation to me, and probably to everyone else.

I do not have the exact date of this event, and by and large it seems that everyone has mostly forgotten the event itself, much less the date. Nonetheless, for much of the ensuing decade it was the principal source for an overwhelming percentage of the interesting tapes that would circulate for many 60s groups, not the least of them by the Grateful Dead. While many of the tapes that were broadcast were probably eventually leaked out in a better form, for a long time this weekend's show were the only audio window into the Fillmore's musical past.

In those days I listened to KSAN constantly, since I still didn't have many records, and KSAN was the best source of new music and cool old music ("old" being about 3 to 5 years old, but it seemed like a long time gone then). All week the djs mentioned that Bill Graham would be in and out of the studio the whole weekend, and he would be bringing by tapes of shows from the Fillmore and Fillmore West and talking about the Fillmores. There was no published schedule because I don't think there was one planned. KSAN studios weren't too far from Bill Graham's offices, so clearly he was free to come and go as he liked. I eagerly looked forward to the show, but I figured that--rationally--Graham would be on the air for a few hours on Friday, and maybe drop in at some other points during the weekend. I think the station advertised when the show would start, and just said vaguely "Bill can stay as long as he wants."

To the amazement of everyone, Bill Graham spent almost all of 72 hours at KSAN, even sleeping in the studio. He spent hours and hours on the air, playing tapes and telling stories. Most of the stories were ones that he told in various forms over and over throughout the years, but this was the first time most of them reached the public. At the time, all the backstage stories about how Mick Jagger did this or John Fogerty said that were completely fascinating. And then there were the tapes.

While Bill Graham mostly just held court with the djs, the general theme of the weekend was that each hour, Graham would have some tapes from a specific weekend of shows. The djs would ask about the artists or the weekend, and Graham would tell his stories, and throughout the hour they would play tapes. In general, they would play two or three songs from each artist on the show from the featured weekend. The shows ranged in time from 1966 to 1971, and while "major" bands predominated, there were plenty of local favorites as well, including not only the Grateful Dead but many lesser known bands as well. Usually the exact date was given, but not always--sometimes Graham or the djs would just say "here's Pink Floyd from 1970 at Fillmore West." I do not even know what Graham's motives were for appearing on KSAN, as the Fillmore: The Last Days movie had opened and bombed several months earlier.

In general, most of the tapes that Graham was playing turned up later as part of the "Wolfgang's Vault" collection of tapes. However, at the time, no one even had any idea that Graham had even taped the shows. The experiment was never repeated in this form, so I have a feeling it wasn't fondly received by bands or record companies, so the uniqueness of the event was even more pronounced. To this day, I know of no complete listing of what was played. It is safe to say, however, that when you see a two or three song "FM source" for a BGP Grateful Dead show in the 60s, it came from this weekend.

One issue I had not considered until recently was how the actual tapes were broadcast. At the time, I imagined Bill Graham in the KSAN studios with a stack of reels, but I now think that was mistaken. Given the reality of reel-to-reel tape, some lucky KSAN dj must have gotten a chance to screen some of the tapes (no doubt at Bill's direction) and dub a few key tracks onto cassettes, reels or 8-tracks (or "carts" as they were known in the radio trade). The tapes were not particularly high fidelity, but they were cued up to the right places, so there must have been some pre-editing.

I recall sitting on my parent's front porch with my little FM radio on a Friday afternoon, as my best friend and I sat goggle-eared at the broadcast. Graham told these stories (like "Jeff Beck's manager had to pay me a guarantee that he would show up"), and then instead of album tracks they would play these amazing things from the Fillmore and the Fillmore West. The Jeff Beck Group, who had broken up in 1969, were one of our favorites, and we were stunned to hear a crushing "Let Me Love You">"Jeff's Boogie">"Beverley Hillbillies Theme" medley from 1968, with Beck mowing down everything in his path while Ron Wood and Mickey Waller drove the train.

In 1972, the only music available was from albums that bands had released. Record companies minimized releases, to keep up demand. Being able to hear Jeff Beck live from 1968, or Traffic from 1970 (among my favorite groups at the time) was like an alien visitation. It didn't even occur to me to get a tape deck--I didn't even know what they were. My friend and I listened all afternoon and then we went out. What a surprise the next afternoon to tune in to KSAN and find Graham still there, blasting tapes and yakking it up with the djs. What had I missed? Even then, I did not drop everything to listen all weekend, since I didn't realize that such an event could never be repeated.

Once I got a tape deck in 1978, I started asking around about these tapes. Keep in mind that in 1972, very few people had cassette decks, and fewer still were equipped for "line-in" FM recordings. Thousands of people must have heard the broadcasts, or at least part of them, but almost nobody would have taped them. Even fewer would have realized that it was going to be a 72-hour marathon, since KSAN themselves did not anticipate that.

Finally, in late 1981 a friend of a friend of a nurse I was dating had a partial tape, but it was reel-to-reel, and after various struggles with my Dad's ancient deck, I managed to transfer a few hours worth. These tapes alone confirmed all my memories, and the few reels I transferred were amazing. Now, various intermediate tapers had edited out ads and dj chatter, which I did too, so in some cases there was music but I had to guess where it was from. You could usually, though not always, deduce it from the way groups were linked together. At the time, the fact that I had things like even one song from a June 66 Mothers Of Invention concert ("Call Any Vegetable") set me apart from the usual accumulators.

The first few songs on the first tape nicely summarize the joys and confusion of this broadcast. The dj (probably Bonnie Simmons) and Bill Graham were discussing the groups that played Winterland on October 24, 1969. They very specifically mentioned the date. I assume they played Jefferson Airplane first, since they are not on the tape. The tape picks up with a 3 songs by Doug Kershaw, who opened the show (I only recently realized that this Doug Kershaw tape was the first known recording of Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen, who were backing Kershaw). Then Graham waxes on rhapsodically if somewhat officiously about the Grateful Dead, and then they play two Dead songs. Finally, the dj says "and here's the last band who played on the night of October 24, 1969, the Sons Of Champlin," and Graham says "ooh, nice" and they play "Misery Isn't Free."

Graham and the dj are very clearly talking about October 24, 1969, but the Dead portion begins with Graham's announcement "...and the Charles Atlas of the Psychedelic Set, Jerry Garcia! The Grateful Dead" and the band launches into "Cold Rain And Snow," followed by "High Heeled Sneakers." Knowing what we know now, this is clearly November 19, 1966, but it was presented as Oct 24 '69. Now, it's possible that some dj chatter that was since cut out identified the tape, but I doubt it. More likely someone swapped or mislabeled a cassette, and the wrong piece of tape got played. No matter: at the time, it was rare, unheard Grateful Dead, even though the dating of the tape was completely wrong.

The Deadlists entry for Nov 19 '66 mentions a lot of confusion about tape splices, without being aware of this source. It's possible that "Cold Rain" is from set 1 and "Sneakers" opens set two, or "Cold Rain" was spliced in from a different tape in order to make good radio. I suspect other little bits and pieces that were broadcast throughout the weekend may have been similarly vaguely dated, and this may account for some confusion about circulating fragments.



(a poster for the 1976 KSAN radio special "What Was That?" Can anyone read the date?) 

1976: The 10th Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love-"What Was That?"
By 1976, although KSAN was still a very popular radio station, they weren't as invincible as they had been in the past. While they didn't fall into a format per se, some djs on the station were in a bit of a rut and there was a lot of competition for music listeners all over the dial. KSAN still strove to make itself the coolest radio station, and in 1976 they decided to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of The Summer Of Love. Since "real hippies" knew that the Summer of 1966 was the true Summer Of Love, and 1967 was just for tourists, KSAN celebrated in 1976. Perhaps this was a business mistake, as music listeners were getting tired of the same old thing, but KSAN was the hippie station for good or for ill, so they went all out with a three day radio special entitled "What Was That."

"What Was That" was a formally structured radio documentary. It lasted three nights, and took up the whole evening. Each evening began with an hour or two of formal taped documentary, with a narrator and a timeline, and snippets of interviews with all the important people. Since it was just 1977, just about everybody (except Janis Joplin and Pigpen) was still available.  There was some music interspersed throughout the documentary, some of it off LPs and some of it live. I'm fairly certain they broadcast the Nov 19 '66 clip with the Charles Atlas intro again, but implied it was February 12, 1967 (by this time, they probably didn't know what it was for sure, but it made good radio).

The highlight of all three evenings, for me anyway, was a three hour "concert" from live tapes at the Fillmore and the Avalon. I did not yet have a tape deck, but I listened to all three nights more or less from beginning to end. Different bands were highlighted, but they sort of followed the pattern of playing bands from the same weekend. For example, both The Grass Roots and Quicksilver were featured from the weekend of October 3-5, 1967. Every band only had a few songs broadcast, but it was enough to get a feel for the sound. There were just as many ads as during a regular evening's broadcast, so each band had 10-20 minutes depending on the timing of the ad breaks.

All of the major San Francisco bands got an airing at some point over the weekend. To be honest, I have forgotten which Grateful Dead shows were broadcast. I have cassette tapes from the broadcast, but the Dead were sorted separately, and I no longer recall which show they broadcast. I think it pretty likely, however, that the Oct 12 '68 Avalon tape, mis-dated as Oct 13, was broadcast as part of "What Was That." It's possible that only part of the tape was broadcast, and the entire tape was rescued from the KSAN vaults, as we will see below.

"What Was That" was essential for circulating good quality FM tapes of a lot of artists like Steve Miller or Quicksilver who were not widely traded. The Dead shows were starting to leak out, even by 1976, but that wasn't true of other bands. The more interesting aspect to "What Was That" was the source tapes themselves. KSAN bragged after the event that they had the complete tapes from each concert in their archive, rather than just the few songs they broadcast. Clearly, KSAN got the Fillmore tapes from Bill Graham. The presence of numerous Avalon tapes, however, was unprecedented in commercial radio. The only possible source for Avalon tapes was Bob Cohen.

Bob Cohen was Chet Helms's partner at the Avalon, and he designed the Avalon sound system. He was another mainly self-taught electronic genius. In order for his sound and light crew to hear themselves during Grateful Dead performances, Cohen invented noise-canceling headphones. He created an intercom company (Clear-Com) which he ultimately sold in 1998, so that he could retire. By all accounts, he lives happily somewhere in Oakland with a basement full of first rate Avalon tapes, recorded by Cohen himself. It may be the last great lost 60s tape stash. I think Cohen provided the amazing Avalon tape from October 12, 1968--what else has he got down there?


Tape Aftermath
So what happened to the tapes? KSAN held onto all the tapes they broadcast. I know for a fact that the 1977 tapes were held in their library, and I'm fairly certain that some or all of the '72 Graham tapes were there as well. Someone I met assured me that Graham kept all the original Fillmore tapes at his house. My assessment today is that he didn't keep all of them there, just the best ones. This is fortunate, because in May, 1985 Ronald Reagan attended a memorial for SS troops at a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany. Since Reagan had spent the war making movies in Culver City, he had no idea how offensive that was to Holocaust Survivors. Many survivors, including Bill Graham, were deeply and publicly offended. Soon after Graham spoke out against Reagan, an arsonist burned down the BGP building, including much of his archive.

I have always assumed that many of the tapes that survived the '85 BGP fire were those at Graham's house, and I think they formed the basis of the tapes that were purchased by Wolfgang's Vault. The Wolfgang's Vault people have admitted that many of the tapes that one might expect to be in there are not, presumably lost in the fire, but the missing tapes tend to be the less well known ones (eg Initial Shock, Sanpaku, etc). Nonetheless, while I am no expert on the history of taping itself, it does appear to me that various taping collectives (with names like "Hell's Honkies") have preserved many of the recordings broadcast on KSAN in 1972. I think they preserved them from the dubbed tapes used on the '72  and '77 broadcasts. This is fortunate, since not all of those tapes appear to have survived the fire. Also, the '77 broadcast was the only time I know that Avalon tapes (probably made by Bob Cohen) were broadcast, so that too was a boon.

KSAN-fm 1968-80 RIP
KSAN was pushed aside by more powerful corporate competitors in 1980, and the station switched to a country format. Much as its loyal fan base lamented the departure of the station, many things had changed since it began. The famous KSAN record library, including all the live tapes, was donated to something called The Bay Area Music Archive. The Archive was started by BAM (Bay Area Music) Magazine, and was a well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful effort to create an archive of Bay Area rock music. The Bay Area Music Archive never got off the ground financially, and almost no one had official access to it. However, since its director was a huge Deadhead, I would be surprised if one way or another any Dead tapes that hadn't been properly copied already were suitably addressed.

Sometime in the early 1980s, the Bay Area Music Archive folded, for reasons unknown. Bill Graham took over the Archive, easily enough since he was housing it already. Since the KSAN tapes became part of the BGP Archives, the KSAN tapes were part of the material purchased and mostly accessible on Wolfgang's Vault. Some of that material was probably lost in the BGP fire as well, so its fortunate that many of the KSAN tapes appear to have been copied and are available on Sugarmegs or other sources.

Conclusion
Grateful Dead tape trading was an iterative process. In the mid-70s, when the peculiar activity began, KSAN broadcasts of 60s Dead shows, however fragmentary or poorly labeled, were one of the few sources for listenable music from that period. The unique circumstances under which these Grateful Dead fragments were broadcast, however, has been largely obscured. It is remarkable that two weekends several years apart were the principal sources of circulating 60s music for a long time to come.

7 comments:

  1. "Few Grateful Dead scholars seem aware..."
    How many GD scholars are there, anyway?!

    Good to hear the stories of these broadcasts I'd never heard about before. So that's where those KSAN clips & compilations originated!

    Grateful Dead tape history (and the tape-history of most other '60s bands as well) tends to be self-erasing - people are of course more interested in 'the show itself' than its transmission through the years, so as the master sources come out, the older tapes die off, never make the jump to digital & disappear.
    Rightfully so, but it makes it hard (without talking to old tapers) to find out just when shows first emerged.
    People listening to, for instance, the 5/1/70 Alfred show today mostly wouldn't know that just part of it circulated in the early days (as "St Louis 5/19/70"), part of it didn't come out until the '90s, and the last missing piece was unknown until just the last few years.
    The Taping Compendium does talk about this sort of thing, but pays almost no attention to early broadcasts by KSAN or other stations...

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  2. I wonder how many Avalon tapes Bob Cohen actually still has?

    He was partly behind the Vintage Dead/Historic Dead albums released in '71. As Nick Meriwether notes:
    "Originally part of a project that was to release live albums from a host of the San Francisco bands, the Dead's albums were all that was salvaged. ...Cohen was hired to engineer and master the tapes, and completed work on not only the Dead's tracks but a number of others as well, including some from the Charlatans and the Airplane.
    The original project fell through, and when the studio where Cohen had done the mastering was not paid, they held the master as collateral. ...MGM bought the tapes and...blithely announced their impending release over Cohen's protests. [The Dead also disputed that they'd authorized the albums' release.]
    When Cohen found out that MGM planned to release other tapes from the original project without the bands' permissions, he took matters into his own hands and erased the tapes.
    ...Cohen now refers to the entire debacle as 'that ill-fated nightmare.'"

    I would point out that all our '68/69 Avalon recordings seem to come from Bear's tapes (except perhaps the mysterious 8/28/68) - and almost all the Dead's 1966 Avalon shows have vanished.
    Possibly Cohen's sitting on a treasure trove? Possibly not. He's mentioned one argument he had with Dan Healy about taping the band:
    "Healy said, 'Don't record them.' ...Two minutes before they're about to go on, he comes running up and says, 'OK, record them.' So I got it recorded...and then after the show he comes up and says, 'OK, gimme my tape.' I said, 'What? This is my tape...' So we get in this big argument [while] I'm playing the tape back... He picked up the tape, cut it in half, and walked off with half. I've got the front half...I'd love to find out if the other half still exists."

    (BTW, the "What Was That" poster dates look like Jan 31-Feb 1....the Winter of Love, perhaps?)

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  3. Bob Cohen's tape archive is a true mystery. The only person who seems to be granted access, to my knowledge, is Alec Palao. Palao has put together many fine albums for various labels (like Ace and Sundazed), and even one from a Cohen tape--The Oxford Circle Live At The Avalon 1966 (Big Beat).

    The excellent San Francisco Museum exhibit on San Francisco 60s music, curated by Palao, also featured a special event where Cohen played unreleased tapes.

    My own theory is that Cohen's archive is relatively small, but spectacularly good. I hope we eventually get to find out.

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  4. Corry, thank you for preserving this episode for posterity. It really seems like this was almost lost to memory.

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  5. You could always email Bob and ask him about the tapes. I know he still has posters maybe he has the tapes too;-)

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  6. Thanks to a correspondent, I know that the date of the KSAN Fillmore weekend was October 27-29, 1972.

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  7. KSAN What Was That date on poster is January 31, February 1.

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