Monday, July 09, 2007

Latest KCAC Tape News

I finally got the hardware and the software to deal with the tapes Jeff and Jennifer Crawford provided to me earlier this year. Many thanks to Andy Olson for the technical advice! Anyway, I experimented yesterday by grabbing a random tape (from the box of 20-or-so that were provided by the Crawfords), setting up the gadgetry, and seeing what might happen.

The first hour or so of this particular side of this particular tape is mostly public-affairs programming with Bill Compton interviewing peace activists and so forth. But then, lo and behold, the tape also contains BILL COMPTON'S FAREWELL ON KCAC'S LAST DAY OF BROADCAST, AUGUST 14, 1971! This has been a sort of Holy Grail for me, as I remember that broadcast very well but nobody seemed to have recorded it. Well, it turns out that somebody did! Bill talks in very personal terms about what KCAC tried to do, and what it meant to him. Here (in condensed form) is some of what he says:

It's sort of been my wife and my enemy and everything all rolled into one... it's been something that meant a lot to me and something I felt strongly about. I've kind of grown to regard the station as a person rather than a lot of machinery lying around, because it has definitely had a mind of its own throughout the years. In fact, if the old radio station can do something besides broadcast, it can receive a little bit, too.

Then he plays the farewell set of music that has been burned into my brain these last 36 years, even if there was no tape to play it back: "Dear Mary" by the Steve Miller Band, "Slim Slow Slider" by Van Morrison, "Restless Farewell" by Bob Dylan, "A Very Cellular Song" by the Incredible String Band, and finally "Bookends" by Simon and Garfunkle with its very last line: preserve your memories, they're all that's left you. Then it was 7:15 PM, sign-off time, so the music faded into silence, and KCAC was history.

Magic. Pure magic, showing Bill's genius at its brightest. It's a miracle that this tape exists at all, so Jeff and Jennifer Crawford, THANK YOU for preserving it and making it available to the KCAC Lives! community.

I haven't even listened to this side of this particular tape in its entirely (it's 3 hours long) so God only knows what other treasures are on it, or on any of the other 20 or so tapes from the Crawford Collection. Jeff says they were recorded by his friend Lawrence Richardson, and by Lawrence's sister. Lawrence gave the tapes to Jeff in 1983, but his whereabouts are currently unknown, so we can't find out anything more about the tapes except by listening.

(Incidentally, if each of the 20 or so tapes runs 3 hours per side at the slow speed, that's 120 hours of KCAC! That may be too optimistic a prediction, but even if we cut it in half, that's 60 hours of historic Phoenix radio.)

The tapes are not state-of-the-art digital quality, to say the least. They were apparently recorded by placing a microphone in front of a radio speaker, and the tape deck was set to the lowest-fidelity recording speed possible (1 7/8 IPS). But, again, the miracle is that these tapes exist at all. They are perfectly listenable once your ears adjust to the rough sound. Most importantly, based on this one random sample, the tapes convey the essence of KCAC loud and clear. I'll consult with Andy Olson about the best way to clean up the audio and get the recordings preserved on disc in a format that can be made readily available to everyone. Rumor is that another KCAC gathering may happen in September, so hopefully I'll have a BUNCH of the tapes digitized by then. Watch the blog for more news as it develops.

Tom Wright


Anonymous said...

That's great news, Tom! I'm sure we'll all be excited to hear it.
-jimmy m.

Fran Bennett said...

suh-weeeeeeeettttt ! :)

Tom Wright said...

I just finished copying the second side of the same reel of tape. It's late July 1971, with Eric Harris playing Kris Kristofferson, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Jethro Tull, and Leonard Cohen ("Dress Rehearsal Rag", one of the most demented songs ever written - I mean that as a compliment). He also refers to a new album by the Who that was delivered to the station just moments earlier("Who's Next").

At one point Eric waxes rhapsodic about a classical piece by Rachmaninhoff (one of the piano concertos); Eric had played Part 1 earlier in the day and he promised to play Part 2 later on. I KNEW I remembered hearing classical music on KCAC! I swear that one day I also heard Compton playing Frank Sinatra records - maybe that's on one of these other tapes.

The tape also contains plenty of public affairs programming with Compton. And there's more of that weird right-wing stuff showing up on the tape every now and then.

As before, sound quality is wildy variable but listenable. The music is just fragments - the taper usually stopped recording when the music started, and resumed taping only when the music stopped. Unfortunate, but on the other hand it maximizes the amount of tape devoted to the on-air personalities.

Eric Harris is still around, right? Anybody know how to get in touch with him? He might like to know about this.


Jeff & Jennifer Crawford said...

You are just scratching the surface on the tapes. I know that Lawrence and his sister mainly recorded the on-air personalties and commercials.

You have about 17 more tapes to go there..Enjoy

Mariah Fleming said...

WOO HOO! Way to go, Tom, and to Andy Olson for stepping up to the plate to help Tom figure out all the tech stuff (Andy, you are a wizard) Can't wait till we hear the results! And Jeff and Jennifer Crawford, you are so generous with this priceless history...thank you, thank you, thank you!!