Late Nights With FM Radio and the Firesign Theatre

Posted on March 10, 2012
Filed Under Culture, Main, People, Radio | Leave a Comment

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In the late sixties — like so many kids of my generation who were “revolting” against the status-quo and the all-too-narrow and straight pre-fab lifestyle of our parents (and many friends our age, as well, who opted for marriage and family right out of high school) — I would listen to the then-new phenomena of free-form FM radio, with it’s outrageous disc jockeys and its almost-commercial free set-after-set of long, uninterrupted rock ‘n’ roll (remember the Stones’ “Going Home,” which was the first rock song to break the 10-minute mark, clocking in at 11:13?).

(The rock revolution also took over the AM airwaves, with such L.A. stations as KRLA and KFI boasting near-album-oriented playlists — remember Dave Diamond and his Diamond Mine, which featured a mix of psychedelic rock and commentary; Diamond was one of the first disc jockeys to play The Door’s “Light My Fire” in 1967).

Many’s the night I would sit in my red 1965 VW, parked in the carport outside my one-bedroom apartment I shared with Dick Green, listening to the avant-garde and political leanings of late-night KPFK on my Blaupunkt AM-FM radio, well into the early hours of the morning.

It was FM that helped fuel the fire of counter-cultural revolt. And KPPC and KMET were the Los Angeles vanguard of “underground” radio in the United States, presenting a freeform mixture of experimental and historical music with countercultural ideas, playing a wild mix of rock and roll, folk music, blues and comedy. DJs included B. Mitchel Reed, Jeff Gonzer, Tom Donahue, Dr. Demento, Ted Alvy (aka “Cosmos Topper”), Uncle T, Elliot Mintz (whose late-night Sunday show played everything from Baba Ram Dass lectures to listener-created recordings), Cynthia Fox, Paraquat Kelley, Ace Young, Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins, Jim Ladd, blues archivist Johnny Otis and comedy troupes The Credibility Gap (featuring Harry Shearer, Richard Beebe, David L. Lander, and Michael McKean) and The Firesign Theatre.

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Which brings us to the death at 72 of Peter Bergman, the comic who co-founded The Firesign Theatre, the hippie-era heirs to the humor of Stan Freburg and Lenny Bruce.

Here’s an excerpt from the obit, which ran in today’s L.A. Times:

“Peter Bergman, a founder of Firesign Theatre, the comic quartet that channeled the absurdist sensibility and chaotic impulses of the countercultural 1960s and ’70s into a popular radio show and a series of cult-classic albums, has died at 72.

A longtime Los Angeles resident, Bergman died of complications of leukemia Friday at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, according to his former wife, Maryedith Burrell.

Bergman was hosting an alternative, late-night talk show on the Los Angeles Pacifica radio station KPFK-FM in 1966 when he started Firesign Theatre with Phillip Proctor, David Ossman and Phil Austin. Their stream-of-consciousness comedy, a blend of the daffy and the surreal, spoke to a generation in rebellion.

It also caught the attention of executives at Columbia Records, which released four albums between 1968 and 1972: ‘Waiting for the Electrician Or Someone Like Him,’ ‘Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers,’ ‘How Can You Be in Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All’ and ‘I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus.’

Bergman acknowledged the seemingly random nature of the group’s shows, which, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1998, were ‘jazz-like performances, filled with hidden jokes and meanings that even we do not always intend when we write the material.’”

RIP.

Tip o’ the hat to Wikipedia and L.A. Radio – The Way it Was

Read the complete obituary

 

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