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Documenting KGB’s FM Radio Revolution

“At the end, people got cardboard boxes on their desks”

June 2019 KGB alumni lunch at the home of longtime KGB DJ Gabriel Wisdom.
June 2019 KGB alumni lunch at the home of longtime KGB DJ Gabriel Wisdom.

“There’s something magical about a transmitter sending music across the airwaves, music that becomes unscrambled in your car to become the soundtrack of your life,” says Professor Raul Sandelin about his latest documentary project, KGB and the FM Radio Revolution. The first of five hour-long episodes screened recently at Folk Art Records. The project is a collaboration between Sandelin and cinematographer Tony Butler, brother of Jack Butler, who played with Thee Dark Ages alongside future Beat Farmer Jerry Raney and aspiring rock critic Lester Bangs (then attending Grossmont College).

Far from a dry recitation of dates and facts, the series attempts to delve into the glory days of local FM radio, while at the same time discussing its decline. “The story begins in 1972, and then we look at all the personalities, the big promotions. You know, the Chicken, the Homegrown albums. We produced an extensive look at the Homegrown albums run because Cameron Crowe” [Almost Famous and Fast Times At Ridgemont High] helped us out a lot by providing them. We do some behind-the-scenes stuff talking with John Barcroft, who was the chief engineer for KGB in the late ’70s through the early ’90s. He built the Engineer Road studio, or he designed and oversaw it being built, so he talks about some of the technical stuff, including the transmitter down there at Euclid and Federal. I didn’t even know that was where the transmitter was located.”

In the end, the collaboration of fans and insiders produced more footage than could fit in the final five-hour running time.

“The five episodes have an arc, [including] the golden era, as Ron Jacobs comes in and brings this brash new boss radio format and flips it over to the FM side. You know, everybody is young and the money’s flowing, and other things are flowing, like cocaine, and it’s a big party. And then of course, at the end, people got cardboard boxes on their desks, and there’s a bunch of goodbye videos.”

Loaded with KGB luminaries such as Coe Lewis and Jim “The Last DJ” McInnes, the documentary also includes tributes to late radio personalities, including DJ John Leslie, of whom there was no footage available. Butler and Sandelin are currently looking for a platform willing to stream or distribute the series.

"The downtown Central Library wants to screen all five episodes over five weeks in March 2022. So we're going to make a big deal about that and hold Q&As after each episode. Many of the KGB alums will be on the weekly Q&A panels."

Sandelin’s training as a historian comes to bear when discussing the death of free-form radio, and what he feels may be the end of the musical style that drove it. “I think the new generations, whether they call themselves Zoomers or whatever, want to create their own aesthetic versus listening to Dad’s music when they go on the Sunday drive. So it’s the same thing that happened to Greece and Rome, the same thing that happened to the Han Dynasty in China. If anything, it’s a little emblematic of the rise and fall of the American empire, too. But there’s a lot of positives, because we’re seeing a much more multicultural aesthetic; that means bringing in lots of different kinds of music that may even not be rock and roll.”

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June 2019 KGB alumni lunch at the home of longtime KGB DJ Gabriel Wisdom.
June 2019 KGB alumni lunch at the home of longtime KGB DJ Gabriel Wisdom.

“There’s something magical about a transmitter sending music across the airwaves, music that becomes unscrambled in your car to become the soundtrack of your life,” says Professor Raul Sandelin about his latest documentary project, KGB and the FM Radio Revolution. The first of five hour-long episodes screened recently at Folk Art Records. The project is a collaboration between Sandelin and cinematographer Tony Butler, brother of Jack Butler, who played with Thee Dark Ages alongside future Beat Farmer Jerry Raney and aspiring rock critic Lester Bangs (then attending Grossmont College).

Far from a dry recitation of dates and facts, the series attempts to delve into the glory days of local FM radio, while at the same time discussing its decline. “The story begins in 1972, and then we look at all the personalities, the big promotions. You know, the Chicken, the Homegrown albums. We produced an extensive look at the Homegrown albums run because Cameron Crowe” [Almost Famous and Fast Times At Ridgemont High] helped us out a lot by providing them. We do some behind-the-scenes stuff talking with John Barcroft, who was the chief engineer for KGB in the late ’70s through the early ’90s. He built the Engineer Road studio, or he designed and oversaw it being built, so he talks about some of the technical stuff, including the transmitter down there at Euclid and Federal. I didn’t even know that was where the transmitter was located.”

In the end, the collaboration of fans and insiders produced more footage than could fit in the final five-hour running time.

“The five episodes have an arc, [including] the golden era, as Ron Jacobs comes in and brings this brash new boss radio format and flips it over to the FM side. You know, everybody is young and the money’s flowing, and other things are flowing, like cocaine, and it’s a big party. And then of course, at the end, people got cardboard boxes on their desks, and there’s a bunch of goodbye videos.”

Loaded with KGB luminaries such as Coe Lewis and Jim “The Last DJ” McInnes, the documentary also includes tributes to late radio personalities, including DJ John Leslie, of whom there was no footage available. Butler and Sandelin are currently looking for a platform willing to stream or distribute the series.

"The downtown Central Library wants to screen all five episodes over five weeks in March 2022. So we're going to make a big deal about that and hold Q&As after each episode. Many of the KGB alums will be on the weekly Q&A panels."

Sandelin’s training as a historian comes to bear when discussing the death of free-form radio, and what he feels may be the end of the musical style that drove it. “I think the new generations, whether they call themselves Zoomers or whatever, want to create their own aesthetic versus listening to Dad’s music when they go on the Sunday drive. So it’s the same thing that happened to Greece and Rome, the same thing that happened to the Han Dynasty in China. If anything, it’s a little emblematic of the rise and fall of the American empire, too. But there’s a lot of positives, because we’re seeing a much more multicultural aesthetic; that means bringing in lots of different kinds of music that may even not be rock and roll.”

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