I do not need more sound to feed my ears … but I have it, and it feels so good.
Just a night or two ago I discovered the Mike Schweizer Aircheck Collection on archive.org.
The late Mr. Schweizer was apparently a radio/engineering professional in the Bay Area. Between 1966 and 2006, he saw fit for his own reasons to make a whole bunch of tape off the radio — not just of his favorite station, but of all kinds of San Francisco-area stations, plus a few from elsewhere.
All told, the Schweizer Aircheck Collection has 289 examples of straight-off-the-airwaves American (and Mexican) radio.
The airchecks aren’t telescoped, which means you hear everything as it went down — the full songs, the patter, the newscasts, the commercials for now-forgotten but delightfully affordable European wines, you name it. And it’s drenched in That Warm and Misty Radio Sound.
I heartily recommend exploring it if that sort of thing interests you. A few favorite moments from my wanderings:
KYA, July 4, 1970: About 15 seconds in, there’s an ad for the first Hot Tuna album, including a bungled mispronunciation of Jorma Kaukonen’s name. (It should be something more like “YOR-ma KOW-kin-in.”)
This is particularly laughable because Kaukonen, also of Jefferson Airplane, stood among the first rank of San Francisco’s homegrown rock stars; surely a hometown station could have gotten his name right.
KYA, August 11, 1968: Speaking of record-store ads featuring homegrown Frisco rock stars, here’s a trip.
Starting about 15:15 in, this aircheck features a lengthy Tower Records ad touting Cheap Thrills, the then brand-new LP by Big Brother and the Holding Company. The record has gone on to become a classic among garage-rock buffs and Janis Joplin fans, so it’s a pleasure to hear about it upon its moment of arrival.
(Oh, and guess what? Not only was Cheap Thrills marked down from $5.79 to $2.99, the savvy shopper could also pick up the Byrds’ brand-new Sweetheart of the Rodeo for the same price. I bet some folks in San Francisco had a really good day of record-shopping in August 1968.)
KYA, February 9, 1974: (Yes, there are a lot of KYA airchecks in the Schweizer collection.)
Skip forward a few years, to early 1974. Then skip forward in this aircheck to the 23:30 mark. Listen for a few seconds to the nightmarish “Seasons in the Sun” … then rejoice as the thumping drum intro of Al Wilson’s gorgeous “Show and Tell” bumps it out of the way and to the curb where it belongs.
It’s everything that was good about Seventies radio in one segue.
KSFX, August 19, 1973: Speaking of segues, the back-to-back play of Seals and Crofts’ “Diamond Girl” and Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto’s “Girl from Ipanema” recommends itself to the true student of mellow. (Start at about 12:45 in.)
Other back-to-back delights you’ll find in this aircheck include Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” into Tower of Power’s “Sparkling in the Sand;” “Soul Makossa” into “Live and Let Die;” and Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” into Deodato’s “Also Sprach Zarathusra.”
(No doubt there are great segues all through the Schweizer collection. Another one that makes my polyester stand up straight comes from KNEW Oakland on June 30, 1974, which back-to-backs “Soulful Strut” and “Diamond Girl” at about 12:30 in. It sure does shine.)
KKCY, June 21, 1985: Lest you think we only go for classic hits here, we also enjoyed this left-of-center offering, which opens with a great big extended block of Brian Eno (including the rubbery funk of “Kurt’s Rejoinder,” which I enjoy for reasons beyond the obvious).
I didn’t take any of these links for the purpose of this blog post, but the Schweizer Collection also includes several excellent early-’80s airchecks from KUSF. I’m gonna guess wildly that’s the University of San Francisco station — both because of the initials, and because the airchecks are rife with the jittery New Wave that made ’80s college radio so much fun. (Beware: A couple of the KUSF airchecks are oldies shows. They may be fun, but they’re not the most fun on offer.)
KIKX Tucson, August 25, 1972: If you thought “Lola” couldn’t sound any muddier, you haven’t heard this aircheck. It has maybe a bit too much of the vintage sonic patina about it … although, in a weird way, that also makes it interesting, like hearing songs you know playing underwater. Another highlight: The appreciative grunt (“mmm!”) with which the DJ introduces “Mississippi Queen” at the very start.
KSFX, April 24, 1982: I didn’t listen to every second of these recordings, of course; I skipped at random through a number of them, bouncing from one song to the next, five seconds at a time.
This one made me laugh because I dropped the pointer totally at random to 58:54 — exactly perfectly in time to be greeted by the famous feedback-ralph last note of the Jeff Beck Group version of “You Shook Me,” and nothing but. I knew it instantly, like an old friend.
(This is the note about which Beck wrote in the liner notes, with marvelous duende: “Last note of song is my guitar being sick – well so would you be if I smashed your guts for 2:28.“)
KYA, January 26, 1970: The DJ is particularly lit up about a live in-studio personal appearance, that night, by the members of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
But for me, the best part of this aircheck can be found at 37:36, when the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” kicks in. AM radio is this song’s natural habitat; they made it to sound good there, and it always does.
And, to add a little backstory to the mix, this very week was the song’s (and the group’s) first time at Number One … so it’s not only a stupendous single you’re hearing, it’s the very hottest song in all the land. Just makes it sparkle even brighter than usual, if you ask me.
KIQI, March 10, 1974: I’ve devoted the entire post to the sound of music, but of course the ads are classic too.
This aircheck begins with a lengthy spot for a local Cadillac dealer, which assures listeners that the energy crisis is overstated and that, while Caddy prices are deeply discounted now, they’re sure to go back up once this energy-conservation silliness runs its course. (“As a Cadillac man, you have your hand on the pulse of business and economy.”)