Sometime in the early 1960s, my dad’s friend got him hooked on high fidelity classical music, so he worked over his vacation to afford a big Magnavox high fidelity cabinet stereo; furniture to hear Beethoven on. It’s now in my garage.
But Sir, I’m Just a Robot
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Specifically, the FM station with the call letters of KSHE. At the time, KSHE was just a guy playing classical albums from his basement, an engineer.
The rest of the family was warned to never change the station. Someone did—the station. The guy sold his radio station to corporate types, who started playing what was called “Easy Listening” back then. Dad grumbled, but kept listening.
There’s an interview at KSHE’s web site with Shelley Grafman, who they call KSHE’s archetect, but in the interview, the late Mr. Grafman gets some things wrong. First was that when it was classical you could only hear it for a short way, but that was incorrect. We lived across the river in Cahokia and Dad picked it up very clearly.
Also, he thought that it was still classical in 1967, but perhaps he couldn’t tell the difference; many people couldn’t back then. When the corporates bought it from the engineer is when it stopped being classical and started being easy listening.
I always got home before anyone else, and always picked out a good rock album, the only way to hear rock then. I would turn Dad’s stereo on and play the album. Then one day when I was fifteen I got home, got an album out, turned on Dad’s stereo, and instead of José Feliciano, better rock than I had in my hand was playing.
KSHE had changed formats again. I listened for an hour and went to my room to find this great station on my little, less faithful stereo.
When Dad got home he was pissed, and demanded to know who changed the channel. My sister and I were then grounded until the disk jockey mentioned the format change. I told Dad, he cursed, and rescinded our groundings.
Before that day there were few ways to discover good rock. The AM pop station would occasionally (but not very often) play a rock song.
There was Teentown and bands playing in shopping center parking lots, who never played anything you heard on KXOK; they played the music KSHE would play after the format change.
Then there were jukeboxes. I was playing pinball at the Burger Bar when I first heard Pinball Wizard. I bought the album, and was disappointed. It was quite a while before KSHE played The Who, among a few other bands. The Kinks come to mind.
There were friends’ albums, music they had found elsewhere. The “elsewhere” was usually where I found most of the good rock—a record store. Record stores always had new music playing, usually good rock. I discovered Led Zeppelin in a record store the day their first album came out.
The critics panned the album. They were wrong. But probably as a result, KSHE, today “Your Zeppelin station forever”, never played any until the second album. I heard it on the day it was released, in a record store. It blew my mind; I’d have bought it just for Communication Breakdown, the song that was playing when I walked in, even if the whole damned album hadn’t been great.
It was years before they played Jimi Hendrix, too. They weren’t alone; nobody played him. Rock and pop stations relegated him to the Black stations, and Black stations relegated him to the rock stations. As racist as the nation is now, it was far, far more racist then than today. My late friend Tom Egbert introduced me to Are You Experienced?. KSHE started playing him after Woodstock.
Of course, I turned all my friends on to KSHE. It was a station unlike any station I had ever heard before, and KSHE today is far less unlike other stations than it was at first. Part of the reason, I’m sure, as chronicled by Mark Klose, one of its first employees who was hired when KSHE was five and came out of retirement not long ago, was that “they were all a bunch of hippies who didn’t know what they were doing,” but mainly because all the other rock stations later copied KSHE.
I didn’t hear the first song played; nobody did, except perhaps the disk jockey. Nobody who enjoyed Herb Alpert was going to like Jefferson Airplane and would have changed the station or shut it off when White Rabbit, Real Rock Radio’s first song ever broadcast, started playing.
If I remember correctly, and I may not since it’s over half a century ago, KXOK never played Jefferson Airplane. There were very few songs both stations played.
The music KSHE played was basically, or at least mostly, songs relating to sex and drugs; hippie music, starting with that first tune.
Back then, cars didn’t have FM radios, cassettes, or eight tracks. The closest to rock you could hear in a car was still KXOK, so KSHE listeners were forced to listen to either KXOK or road noise. We could all still tell that KXOK still sucked worse than road noise. Despite that, both stations sponsored the Doors concert in 1968, a concert I attended. Morrison was so drunk he couldn’t have stood up without the microphone stand. He still put on a good show. Both stations played Light My Fire, KXOK playing the forty five and KSHE playing the long album version.
1968 was also when their mascot, Sweetmeat, the joint smoking, headphone and sunglasses wearing pig was born, when KSHE started their bumper stickers.
I mentioned earlier that they didn’t know what they were doing. Their ignorance spawned the greatest rock station ever.
Every other station on the planet would never, ever play a song longer than three and a half minutes, with most broadcast songs more like two minutes. KSHE didn’t follow radio rules because they didn’t know them, nor did they care to. KSHE was an album station, playing mostly album sides or full albums, and seldom playing any song shorter than five minutes long. Today’s KSHE DJs talk of 45s, but KSHE never played them.
A few stations copied the album format, but not many. By the middle seventies the standard size for a rock song was stretchable, from the old standard up to seven or eight minutes. The pop stations kept the old standard, so when the sixteen minute long In a Gadda Da Vida was released, you only heard it on KSHE until they released a cut down forty five. KXOK played the amputated version. When Creedence released Suzie Q, KSHE played the seven minute album version. The forty five cut the song in half, with the first half fading out on side one and fading in on side two. KXOK only played side one.
Another thing that was different from any other station except the college stations was that there were absolutely no commercials. After a few months, a few commercials advertising waterbed stores and head shops started playing. It’s a far cry from today, where every car dealer and jewelry store in the St. Louis area advertises there.
In late 1969 or early 1970 I caught influenza, and spent the worst day of it laying on the couch listening to KSHE. Before KSHE I, like today’s young people, listened to singles, having no clue about concept albums. I mentioned earlier that I had purchased The Who’s Tommy album on the basis of Pinball Wizard before KSHE played The Who at all. Tommy was the first Who album they played. I had needled through the tracks, and was disappointed. The album stayed in its sleeve until after that day I was incapacitated by the flu.
The disk jockey started playing the first track, and rather than going to my room to fetch an album, I was too sick and simply laid there listening. By the end of the first side, I realized it wasn’t the songs that were important, but that the entire album was a single song, in a way. It was a story! And it kicked ass! “Sickness will surely take the mind where minds can’t usually go.” It was very fitting.
By late 1970 the albums and album sides were nearly gone, thanks to the record companies, but not completely. They moved full albums to Sunday nights, on Saturday they had the “album of the week”, and they played an album side every weeknight at six.
This continued until after I joined the Air Force in June of 1971. For the next four years I would only hear KSHE when I was home on leave, when I would tape it, because east coast radio really sucked. In Delaware the only place to find good new rock was friends’ albums; even worse than St. Louis before KSHE, as there were no record stores in Dover and maybe not in the whole boring state.
However, I did hear Pink Floyd for the first time; a friend was a fan. He bought the brand new Dark Side of the Moon album, having already played Relics for me. I probably taped them both. I also learned of Nazareth from the guys I was stationed with.
In July of 1973 I returned home for a month before leaving for Thailand. I’d had a subscription to the St Louis Post Dispatch, which was delivered to Dover a couple of months late. I had no news at all in Thailand; I only knew of the Arab Oil Embargo from the Thai taxi and bhat bus drivers bitching about the price of gasoline. The streakers, Watergate, impeachment hearings, everything, I missed it all. Imagine my surprise upon reaching Alaska in August 1974 and seeing the newspaper headline “Nixon Resigns”, having known nothing of Watergate or the impeachment hearings.
I went home for a month, to find that my parents had sold my ‘67 Mustang that I had paid seventeen hundred bucks for, for three hundred. I wound up with a new AMC Gremlin, with a factory AM/FM radio. It wasn’t the first time I ever heard KSHE in a car; I had bought a car FM stereo from Radio Shack about 1970, when I was a little annoyed that KSHE had started playing a little southern rock, which I hated then but have grown accustomed to. I did like Charlie Daniels’ Uneasy Rider and had always liked fiddle music. Today there is a lot of southern rock on my file server.
1967 KSHE wouldn’t have touched Charlie Daniels with a ten foot pole; they wouldn’t even play Frank Zappa, despite massive listener requests, because Zappa was comedy, not rock. Fast forward to the 1990s when KSHE itself produced Nights at White Castle, a hilarious parody of the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin. And of course there was Uneasy Rider; KSHE had started lightening up.
They were also damned chauvinistic in the beginning, refusing to play female singers because “girls can’t rock”. Fortunately they have evolved a lot. At one point decades later they had Ruth Hutchinson, who was billed as “the world’s oldest rock and roll DJ”.
KSHE wasn’t a lot different in August 1974 than it had been in August 1973. It was about the only thing that hadn’t changed much, the first being that gasoline cost twice as much as it had been. Stagflation had started, and President Ford, the only president in US history to have never won any federal election, ran for re-election. There was inflation and recession at the same time, Ford had pardoned Nixon for his crimes, and of course lost the election.
I don’t remember when the daily album sides and “Album of the Week” ended.
On the trip to Beale, about seventy five miles north of Sacramento, I discovered that there were a lot of stations playing the same music as KSHE. That wasn’t the case when I was traveling before then.
Beale is pretty much in the middle of nowhere and there were no FM stations playing rock, but there was an AM station that seemed to be taking its cue from KSHE, KZAP. But it had a weekly half-hour radio show that was nothing at all like KSHE. It was called the National Lampoon Radio Hour and was actually Saturday Night Live before television, with the same cast as the TV show’s first season. I have a couple of the shows on cassette, which I’ve later sampled digitally when I sampled my albums and other tapes.
I was only at Beale for nine months, but a lot happened musically in that nine months. I’d bought a Yamaha acoustic guitar in Thailand, and one of my California friends, Joe Foreman (no relation to the boxer), bought it from me. I didn’t really want to sell it, but I needed the money; I was always broke in the Air Force. In fact, I was poor from the time I enlisted and stayed poor for a quarter of a century. I still had the electric guitar I’d gotten when I was thirteen, but it was back in Cahokia.
Joe, I, and a few other guys drove down to see Montrose, I think in Sacramento. It was a long drive, and the concert was awesome. Of course, it had been years since I’d seen any concerts at all. I had no clue that Sammy Hagar would later become a KSHE and St. Louis favorite, but I became a fan at that Montrose concert.
A couple, or maybe a few months later, Joe knocked on my door again. His sister’s live-in boyfriend, a guitar player named Duane Mahoney, needed a ride to Las Angeles, from... San Francisco? Oakland, maybe? I’ve forgotten. Anyway, Joe said he was a really cool guy and it would be fun, and gas and everything would be paid for. Why not? So we drove down.
Duane was indeed a really cool guy, and was happier than anybody I’d seen in a long time, and with good reason. He’d written a song, and played it on his guitar for a record producer, who told him to make a demo tape and he’d cut a record.
The guy told Duane he’d have to change his name. “Oh, man, I wouldn’t,” I said. He shrugged. “If I want to be famous I have to.” Instead of Duane he’d go by his middle name, Eddie, and shorten his last name to Money.
He played the tape for Joe and me; Baby hold on to me, whatever will be will be... I really wasn’t impressed, but the final record was much better. There was extra instrumentation and arrangement, and the final record had a really cool strained sound that the demo lacked.
I thought “He’s gonna get sued for that.” I didn’t say it, and instead said “Cool, man, good luck! I hope you make it!” He did get sued for it decades later.
I heard the demo for that song before the producer did!
He had a bong collection on his gas fireplace, which was lit, and we got lit, too, with bongs and Budweiser. Duane showed Joe and me a few guitar licks, and I can honestly say that I have played guitar with Eddie Money, although only the three of us were there.
A few hours later Duane realized we’d partied too long and would never make it to L.A. in time, so he’d fly the next morning. Joe and I went back to the base.
Six months or so later, give or take a few months, I was a civilian, driving down Highway Three in Sauget and listening to KSHE, and they played a new song: Baby Hold On to Me. I was so surprised and distracted I almost wrecked the car. I was saddened when I heard of his death in 2019, Duane was a really cool guy.
I found a girlfriend, who I married the next summer, and started college at SIU in Edwardsville. Or tried to; in January 1976 on the way home from signing up for classes we had a head-on wreck, we in a 1974 Gremlin doing about fifty, colliding with a three quarter ton pickup doing about seventy. I was off school until the next quarter, listening to KSHE on the killer stereo I’d bought duty-free when I was stationed in Thailand. We got busted up pretty bad; she was in the hospital for weeks. That’s when I started wearing seat belts.
KSHE hadn’t really changed while I was in the military, except one thing that I hadn’t realized at first: the mascot, a pig wearing headphones and sunglasses and smoking a joint, was missing from their bumper stickers.
My wife and I, the Trepkas, and Davy Bynum went to a Mississippi River Festival concert in Edwardsville, on the SIU campus. I don’t remember who was playing.
I had been selling reefer to friends to be able to afford to smoke it, and had rolled up a whole ounce into joints. At the time, the River Festival was a free for all, everything was allowed. But of course the drunks caused trouble, as they almost always do. We sat on a blanket, baggie of joints in the middle, listening to the music. I had to pee, and got up and went to the porta-pottie.
When I got back, they were all gone, having forgotten all about me, the wife (since divorced) included. Dumb, because I was their ride. Davy found me and explained that someone had thrown a full, unopened can of beer and it had hit him on the head, so they shook out the blanket and left.
They were all pretty apologetic when I pointed out in fairly vulgar language that they had thrown away a lot of my pot.
We were very poor, living in the slum that was East Carondelet. Two of our neighbors went to prison for jewel theft.
A friend, Tom Egbert (or was it Mike Brawley?) discovered another KSHE, KADI. Like the early KSHE, and probably like all new stations, it had little or no advertising. Yes, I listened. One day in the middle of a song it went VWOOP, the sound of a needle scratching across a record, and silence. A minute later, classical music played. I later found they had been busted for drugs.
I missed the KSHE kite flies. Of course I heard about them on the radio, but somehow never went; I probably couldn’t afford the gas. I would be poor for a long, long time.
The landlord, allegedly a Christian preacher, evicted us when he found that we drank beer. Imagine his horror had he known we smoked pot!
We moved to Cahokia, where we had grown up, where we were married in the oldest courthouse in or west of the Mississippi Valley. It was on the day before the bicentennial, because neither a judge or a preacher is available on Sundays, so it had to be the third or fifth.
We then moved to Collinsville because a friend in the police force tipped me off that I was being investigated; a friend had been busted for his pot garden and turned me in, and if I moved out of the county the investigation would stop. I’m indebted to my police officer friend, who has probably left this world by now.
We hated it. A tiny, cold, trailer. But we were eventually able to move on campus, which was great! We had a big apartment, with a balcony, and on a warm night you could hear the Mississippi River Festival, half a mile down a path but three miles by road.
By then they had changed things. Alcohol was no longer allowed, probably because Davy likely wasn’t the only one who had been injured.
We would go down and listen to the concerts every night outside the gate, and I never had to buy beer when we lived on campus, because people still brought huge amounts of it and left it in giant piles outside the gate.
I never bought any pot, either. Remembering my lost ounce, I walked down there early one morning and found at least a quarter pound of weed. From then on, I went to collect pot every morning after a concert. This was great, because I had stopped selling it when we moved to Collinsville and usually didn’t have any.
Of course, weed wasn’t the only thing left behind, but it was all that I was after. Almost never was there any cash, but of course when there was, I took it. It wasn’t like there was any way to find the owner, and I was way too poor to do anything else. If I’d found a wallet I’d have returned it, of course, but there were no wallets left behind.
My wife got free tickets for us from KSHE phone-in contests. One that particularly sticks in my mind was to a Yes concert at Kiel, with Donovan opening. We had five bucks to our name, so we put three in the gas tank. We drove down there and I spent one of the two dollars on two joints, in Kiel’s men’s room; I never liked carrying pot while driving.
As Donovan came on I lit up the first joint and passed it to my wife, who passed it along. A couple of minutes later a different joint came from that direction, then another, then a pipe. It went on for three quarters of the set. I was stoned.
Yes came on and I lit the second joint. The reaction was the same as the first. Oh, and the music was great, too. Sometimes the people around you can make or break a concert.
There was a sold out REO concert at Kiel, and KSHE broadcast the concert live! I taped it, but somehow the tape has disappeared. Maybe it will turn up on one of the tapes they’re looking at now and Favazz will play it on a Sunday night. At least one song from that concert was on their live album.
KSHE played Ted Nugent’s first album a week before it was officially released, and I taped that, too. A couple days later we were in a bar in Wood River and the band took a break, so we went outside to smoke a joint. I had the Nugent tape blasting, the Vega’s hatchback was open, and the band came out. “Wow, man, that’s some great rock!” They partied with us, and their weed was better than mine. Thanks, KSHE!
They had what was called “superjam” at Busch stadium for a few years, with several big name bands playing. We couldn’t usually even afford the gas it took to get from Edwardsville to downtown St. Louis, let alone tickets, which were pretty damned expensive for the time. A bunch of us pooled our dollars one summer and drove down there, and sat outside listening, like we usually did with the River Festival. Of course, when a band I really loved was at the festival and I had a few bucks (rare), we paid and went in.
After college I struggled in vain to find a job; I discovered that to get a job in advertising, they didn’t care what you studied or if you never studied at all, it was whom you knew. A friend’s brother worked at the Cerro Copper factory in Sauget, and I got a job there. They laid off half their workforce a month after I was hired, so I was unemployed again.
The pig mysteriously returned, only instead of an ink drawing it was a cartoon pig who no longer partook of the noble weed. I don’t remember exactly when that happened. I’d been smoking it since the year I joined the Air Force.
My mother, who had divorced my dad the year I was married, had moved to Florida and encouraged me to visit and see if Disney would hire me. I did. I didn’t get an art job, but was hired as a “cast member”, pumping gas at their service station. The pay was lousy, but the benefits were great. One benefit that wasn’t in the union contract was that I saw every space shuttle launch before Challenger, since I worked outside. I even saw a night launch from my mother’s in Tampa; space rockets are really loud and really bright.
There were two stations there that played pretty much what KSHE played, one in Orlando and one in Tampa. But my knowledge of KSHE between 1980 and 1985 was nonexistent, except for a few days in 1981 when we went back to Cahokia to retrieve the belongings my sister was storing for us.
But working at Disney I met a lot of the rockers KSHE played and still plays, as well as other famous folks. I never understood why people go crazy about fame, the only difference between them and you is they (probably) have a better paying job, so I always treated them like I treated anyone else.
Like anyone else, some were nice folks, like Lou Brock, and some were real jerks, like a pop musician KSHE wouldn’t play in a million years named Chris Cross, who was really rude and angry because I’d never heard of him.
Others, like John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd denied being themselves when some of my co-workers pestered them. I went to their defense, and Aykroyd quietly thanked me as they left. I kind of felt sorry for them, because of my co-workers.
Many, like the late Buddy Hackett, enjoyed conversing with fans. I asked if he was an employee and said I could give him a discount if he was. “I have been,” he said. I replied that I recognized him. He was a very pleasant man to talk with; his favorite movie was The Love Bug. “I had so much fun making that movie!” he said. We talked for a good twenty minutes.
Still poor, we moved back to Illinois after our first daughter was born, and lived in my sister in law’s attic for a month. On my Dad’s recommendation, we moved north to Springfield. I still couldn’t get a job, but we were able to get on AFDC and food stamps up there, unlike in St Clair County. KSHE reception was sketchy up there until I could retrieve my good stereo from my mother’s in Florida a year later, the stereo that would pick up the ten watt college station in Forest Park from Edwardsville.
I was still unemployed when my second daughter was born, so I spent the week they were in the hospital at home, potty training her big sister. I had previously spent my days fruitlessly searching for a job.
The kids grew up on KSHE, and came to hate Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd because I played their albums so much. I never heard Pink Floyd on KSHE until I got out of the Air Force; they apparently started playing them after Dark Side of the Moon was released. Today you occasionally hear One of These Days or Free Four as well as albums after DSOM.
I had KSHE on when my youngest was three, and a Loggins and Messina song came on. Her jaw dropped, her eyes got wide, and she exclaimed “They’re singing about Winnie the Pooh!”
I finally got a job at Public Aid as a clerk, when my youngest was a few months old, after hundreds of tests and dozens of interviews. With The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) I now worked in the Department of Human Services. We were poor until I got a huge raise shortly after, becoming a... I have forgotten what my job title was. I retired comfortably in 2014.
When we had gotten back to Illinois I was crestfallen to find that they had quit playing rock in the mornings, instead playing the not often funny syndicated “Bob and Tom Show”. I don’t exactly remember when they got rid of that show and brought rock back, but I was pleased, as I imagine everyone else was; we listen for the rock! I was appalled that the station that formerly wouldn’t play Zappa because it was comedy and not rock, replaced morning rock with a couple of lame comedians who spoiled all the humor in a mildly humorous country song by laughing hysterically.
New rock that didn’t suck was scarce in the noughts, and KSHE made a huge mistake, not only airing a Red Hot Chili Pepper song that unfortunately wasn’t real rock at all, but putting it in regular rotation! It was pure unadulterated rap crap, which most of us rockers strongly detest; rap is the twenty first century’s disco, which we rockers all hated and is now dead. Rap will die, too. I’m sure KSHE lost listeners, and I have one friend that they did lose because of it.
Perhaps they had caught “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Fever,” where you call everything from Tommy Dorsey to NWA as “rock”. That hall lost its meaning the first time they put a rapper in. The only rock hall of fame that matters is the KSHE hall of fame!
They never mentioned anything on-air, at least that I heard, but I read about something stupidly hilarious. I looked for it on the internet, and it was there, but not the date or even the year. KSHE started a restaurant, maybe at the station; I never ate there. It was, of course, called the Real Rock Cafe, and the Hard Rock Cafe sued them for trademark infringement. Hilariously stupid, because KSHE had trademarked “Real Rock” long before the Hard Rock Cafe was even thought of, and of course KSHE kicked the Hard Rock Cafe’s ass. I think it was in the mid nineties.
KSHE’s ownership had changed several times, but the rock didn’t. They were still “the best of rock, old and new.” They celebrated their fiftieth birthday in 2017, the world’s longest running and now oldest rock station.
A couple of years later and they changed owners again, this time slightly changing the format, now “St Louis’ classic rock station.”
As rare as good, new rock is these days, I’d especially like to hear good new rock; the Rolling Stones released Ghost In a Ghost Town in 2020 about the pandemic that KSHE played, twice, the first new song I heard there since the ownership changed. They should put it in regular rotation. They mentioned that Metallica had a new song that hit number one, but haven’t played it. Bruce Springsteen released a brand new song, Letter To You. they mentioned it, but didn’t play it.
In the early days, one would never hear the same song twice in the same day, usually not twice in the same week. Sadly, these days, despite their “no repeat workday” they play mostly the same songs every day, becoming as vapidly repetitive as any other classic rock station. I love Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone but I don’t want to hear it every damned day!
Sundays are the exceptions, when John Ulett plays the “KSHE Klassics” (he’s been there since the early 1980s) and his morning show partner Favazz plays “The Seventh Day” at night, when they still play half a dozen full albums, over half a century later.
And in 1975 KSHE never played Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick without following it up with Bring It On Home. In 1980 they never played Van Halen’s version of You Really Got Me without first playing Eruption. Sadly, you hear that and worse far too often since the latest ownership change. I once heard the 45 version of In A Gadda Da Vida on Ulett’s show. Sacrilege! In the last few years I also heard The Beach Boys and the Dave Clark Five. KSHE never played those bands when they were making records! They only released singles, and KSHE only played albums. As to the Beach Boys, Hendrix said it best: “To you I must put an end. Never hear surf music again!”
For any day but Sunday they’re no longer any different from any of a huge number of classic rock stations. I miss the old KSHE.
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But Sir, I’m Just a Robot
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