I first saw the inside of a real radio station when I was a teenager – I guess I was 13 or 14, late 60’s or early 70’s. A friend of my mom’s lived just outside of Austin near Buda (at that time it was outside of Austin) and R. Miller Hicks had just constructed the tower and studio next door for what might have been the first commercial FM station in Austin: KRMH-FM, (aka: “Karma-FM” – a lot of folks thought the call letters were for the hippy rock music being played but they were, in fact, Hicks’s initials). It was that rare pioneer in radio at the time of being an “album-oriented” station. Until then you heard the Top 40 single version of any song on KNOW (AM-1490). Of course FM was a revelation. It sounded clean and clear. The DJs were laid-back (read: maybe stoned) and didn’t shout – they spoke to you, they played songs that went together, they created a soundtrack.
Before KRMH the only alternative to Top-40 AM (KNOW), AM Country (KVET) or AM News (KLBJ) was KUT-FM, the station at University of Texas at Austin. Low powered, broad spectrum, lots o’ talk but musical shows that formed the basis for my tastes to this day. They introduced me to the blues. The only FM radio we had in our house was attached to a Nu-Tone intercom system and I’d go upstairs and tune it to KUT then go back down to my room and turn the intercom on. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Freddie King came out of that tinny speaker, along with Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Bubble Puppy, Led Zeppelin. Every night at midnight they would sign off with Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner.
Anyway, every once in a while we would go out to this lady’s house at Buda and spend the evening; mom and she would play cards and visit. They had a pecan orchard. Her husband invented the pecan tree shaking machine. If it got late we would stay the night rather than drive back into town. One night when we were going to stay the night I decided to boldly go over to the station. It was about 10:30pm. There was a lone DJ there, nobody else. He was, what looked to me at the time, an “old hippie” – though he was probably in his late 20’s/early 30’s. He was smoking a joint by the back door when I walked up, a long 16 minute cut like “Whipping Post” was playing through the cracked door so he had time for his smoke. This was not a big deal. He didn’t try to hide it or stop, he asked me if I wanted a hit. He invited me into the studio while he worked, showed me the turntables and commercial carts, how you queued a track for play. He let me do it a few times listening through the headphones for the first notes. I spent a few hours there mesmerized by the magic being created, fetching albums from the stacks – Deep Purple, Yes, Moody Blues, Allman Brothers, Procol Harum – and talking music.
It was so damn cool, being in a real rock-n-roll radio station. Hearing the music we chose – heck, some of it I chose! – going out all over central Texas. I was just a kid. I was hooked.