We didn't take that many pix of ourselves back
in '69 when we started KZEL as a true alternative to the dreck on the
airwaves at that time in Eugene (and everywhere else in the country, for
that matter). Marc Marsh and I were the co-founders and spent much of the
spring and summer of '69 looking for a station that would be a good
"takeover" target, namely, an FM that was losing money and
desperate enough to let us do our thing with it.
We had a couple of candidates, but KZEL was the one we were able to get. It
was half of an AM-FM combo that had programmed country music and right-wing
preachers. The station had been run into the ground by its manager who
skipped town with all the cash. The owner, George Zellner, a local
businessman who owned some timber and a mill or two, was willing to let us
take over the station and get it back on the air. He was about to forfeit
his FCC license because the stations had been dark for nearly 90 days. We
signed on the air in mid-December 1969 (somebody knows the exact date, I'm
sure) and saved his ass. We didn't sign on the AM because of some other
problems it had apart from the FM. Besides, AM sucked, FM was cool, so we
We were looking for financial backing and tried
to line up a buyer who would give us a percentage of ownership and let us
program it as we saw fit. Not asking much, were we? We talked to the Kesey
family, who referred us to some people in San Francisco. Marc and I went to
SF and met with a few hotshots, including the Jefferson Airplane's lawyer.
He strung us along for months while the air staff, who I had recruited
mostly from among my friends who I'd worked with at KWAX, continued to work
It made sense then that a bunch of creative
people would do radio for free and live off of some trade-out meals and
whatever they could scrounge from friends and family. We had a great
engineer in Lee Wood who made it all work with some very funky equipment.
The first staff included Marc and myself (nominally PD), Matt McCormick, Tim
Helfrich, Stan Garrett, Gary "Spud" Palmatier and one or two
others I can't recall.
We later attracted some great talent, beginning
a long tradition of very creative people finding a home at KZEL where they
had unlimited creative freedom. I left in the fall of 1970 to seek my
fortune (and learn from the pros) in San Francisco. I got lucky and landed a
great gig at KMPX, but that's another story.
KZEL lived on without me very nicely, as you
probably know. Back then, I had no idea that Marc and I and our plucky
volunteer crew had created such a durable institution. We wouldn't have
liked the word "institution" all that much.