The Troubles we had at the Hippie Radio Station

What is so rare as a Hippie Radio Dallas, Texas of all places. This had to be the biggest demographics blunder of all times, or at least since Chet Helms opened the Denver Dog. If it's got something to do with Hippies, why put it in a fascist police state? The last thing the citizens of Dallas wanted was a Hippie radio station to listen to, but thanks to Lorenzo Milam and Dennis Gross, they got one anyway, complete with Hippie sound engineer (me), Hippie business manager, several Hippie program directors (they tended to burn out in record time) and many Hippie disk jockeys (and a few square ones thrown in just to make things more interesting). While many might object to it being called a Hippie radio station, I'm sure the volunteers at the station who were part of the counterculture outnumbered those who were not. Actually, the station was more like a miniature United Nations because everyone was included.

Although Lorenzo was a bohemian in every sense of the word, he wasn't exactly a Hippie because he was more like Beat Generation age. Anyway, he didn't seem to get along with us younger Hippies very well, but we all had the same goal, run a radio station that the community had full access to. The first thing we had to do is learn the physics of running a radio station, because few of us had done that before. We all had to get an FCC license and learn how to take the logs, run the equipment and do pledge drives (something every bohemian hates to do and probably the worst part of the whole gig).

It cost $200 a day just to keep the station on the air and naturally, none of us got paid because we're all like starving artists, remember. Eventually, they got me and several others CETA grants, but most of the time, we never got paid. Sometimes, someone would actually send in a pledge so we could pay some of the bills around the place, but that didn't happen very often. Money was a constant hassle at the station.

After we got to the point where we could run the station, we had to train others (the volunteers) to run it. The station had about 100 volunteers plus about 10 of us on the staff. The worst job at the station was being Program Director because keeping track of 100 volunteers and what they're doing on the air is a real mind blower. Another problem we had were people not showing up for their air shift and one of us having to drop what we were doing and go on the air unprepared, and try to wing it until the next person shows up to do their shift. The Program Director usually quit after having to do an all night stand (air shift) after three or four back to back no-shows.

About five of us at the station were known as the KCHU Pranksters because we were the ones that seemed to upset the squares the worst. Actually, we weren't trying to upset anyone. We were just trying to keep the station on the air and have a good time while we were doing it, but somehow our kind of art clashed with Lorenzo's and the citizens of Dallas didn't seem to dig our the time we had a booth at the State Fair and ran a remote broadcast from there. Somehow a booth of Day-glo Hippies looked so out of place in with all the cowboy stuff, and the fair management thought we were giving the product a bad name.

Then there was the Acid Test we did in an attempt to raise funds for the station, which we called Radioactive Island. That one we held in the right place, but unfortunately, at the wrong time. Although we had been plugging the event for weeks, at the very last minute, some other bohemian happening was scheduled on the same night as ours, and only 50 Hippies show up when we were expecting over 200, but even so, they managed to track Day-glo paint all over the place and Lee Park started to glow in the dark... and the citizens of Dallas didn't like that. I think we barely broke even on that one.

I don't know why but I don't think KCHU ever had a successful fund raiser, although some of our emergency pledge drives were a success. Every event we tried to hold somehow turned out to be a flop. Anyway, we managed to stay on the air for a year and a half before the bad shit started to happen. The biggest bummers we had before then was the time we ran out of recording tape, which meant that no one could produce their shows. The station was broke as usual, of course. We ended up having to buy government surplus army issue recording tape for 37 cents a reel. The only thing worse than that was the Saturday the mixing console in the control room shorted out because the power supply suddenly went high, and it took Larry and me six weeks to get it running again.

The building the station was in was a three-story Victorian that looked like it belonged in San Francisco and was even old enough to have knob and tube wiring. It seemed to defy all attempts to heat or cool it. The last year the station was on the air, we had a real bad-ass winter and the furnace broke down. When that happened, all the equipment went haywire. The turntables wouldn't come up to speed and the studio-transmitter link kept drifting off frequency, which kept knocking us off the air.

One night, I got woken up so many times from calls from the station about equipment problems, I decided that if I didn't get down there the next morning and get everything running again, we wouldn't be able to be on the air that day, so I headed down to the station and when I walked in, I noticed all this gushing water in the back, and I had to round up every available Hippie I could find (including the one on the air) and get them to bail water while I tried to figure out how to shut it off. After I got that problem under control, I had to deal with the next headache, the fact that none of the studio recorders would come up to speed. When I got to the control room, I noticed that someone had put up a sign by the door that said, Ice Station Zebra. I told everyone to set all the tape machines on their highest speed and hope that would warm them up. Finally, I called the station's business manager and told him that the trouble with the furnace had become an emergency situation that was threatening to knock us off the air. Everyone finally pitched in and got it going again.

After that happened, we decided to have a meeting and all the volunteers came, and we decided to have an election so that we wouldn't have so many screwups in the future. Well, we had the election and several of the Pranksters were elected, including me. I thought all our problems were over because I was pleased with everyone who got elected. We decided to have Saturday work days, where we did repairs and improvements on the building, and tried to fix problems before they got out of hand.

I don't think anyone knows why the station suddenly fell apart, but what happened was there was a real nasty power struggle that caused two of the Pranksters and me to leave the station. It also caused Lorenzo to leave the station, by the way, and when we many times has this freakin' story been told before...

What happened to KCHU when we split was about the same as happened to the Pranksters when Kesey split to Mexico (see The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe) and what happened to the League when Leo split (see The Journey to the East by Herman Hesse). For those of you who have never been caught up in this particular kind of synch (as Tom Wolfe puts it), here it is again for the millionth time. And I quote...

"Hardley had Leo left us when faith and concord amongst us was at an end; it was as if the life-blood of our group flowed out from an invisible wound."

I really felt sad about the whole thing. When you think of the things you should have done or tried or said that might have saved the station, it gets really depressing. If I had been older, I might have been able to prevent the atrocity from happening, but the thing about it was, we were all college age at the time. We were more into the art of the thing rather than the politics, and that's probably what did us in.

Well, the station went to hell in a hand basket and was off the air in six months, Lorenzo turned the station license over to a group called ACORN, who started another station called KNON, but I have no idea what has become of that station. It had neither the equipment or elbow room that KCHU had and I never could get into it. Besides, I was 10 years older when that station went on the air and just didn't have the energy to hassle it.

While all this might sound depressing, don't let it discourage you. Many community access radio stations have been much more successful than KCHU was. Besides, we did manage to produce some pretty good shows at KCHU and had a lot of fun doing it. Although the multitudes failed to materialize for our Acid Test, artistically speaking it was a great success, and we really enjoyed doing it (I think we had three people running the light show, about 12 musicians on the stage, me running the mixing console, another cat helping me run the tape machines, two prop people backstage and another cat backstage who's job was to reset the circuit breakers whenever they kicked). Sure, it was a bummer when the Day-glo paint spilled and got into everyone's Hippie Hair and beards when we were trying to get it cleaned up, but you should have seen how it upset the squares when it got tracked all over the sidewalks and it started to rain, which left vivid rainbow colors on the sidewalks under the mercury vapor lights. They claimed that we had created the worst goddamn hallucination in the history of the State of Texas, and they weren't even tripping on acid. Imagine how it must have looked to those of us who were! Who cares if the squares don't dig our art!

To find out more about community access radio, read Lorenzo's book, Sex and Broadcasting and explore the radio station pages on the World Wide Web to see if there's a community radio station in your area.

Copyright © 1995,
Colin Pringle (