Apache Junction, Arizona Summer 1974 – Album tracks by obscure bands like King Crimson and New Riders Of The Purple Sage would crackle out of our radios in the dead of night, interspersed with regional musicians whose music defied easy categorization, Jerry Riopelle, David Bromberg and John Stewart, he lately of the Kingston Trio, not the late night political pundit, to name only a few. The nascent comedy tracks of Cheech and Chong and The Firesign Theater mixed with NRPS’s Panama Red and Led Zeppelin’s Trampled Underfoot. And while many of the nation’s radio stations were banning David Frye’s radical and hilarious Richard Nixon A Fantasy, KDKB was playing it every night, helping put it on the charts in the Valley.
I was a student at Apache Junction High School, trapped in a desert wasteland thirty miles from civilization. We had no town, no main street to drag. Our friends lived miles away and few of us could afford to own cars. We sat in our islands of captivity like castaways with nothing but the handful of local TV stations in those pre-Cable, pre-Internet days, the radio our main link to the world outside that spoke to our restless teenage brains with the music of our times.
The local top forty stations, led by KRIZ, blasted the Pop hits, Billy Don’t Be A Hero, The Night Chicago Died, drivel that wafted away on the same desert breeze that stirred the thunderheads over the Superstition Mountains at night, producing a bit of thunder and lightning, but only a few sprinkles of dry rain that gave off a pungent, musty smell when it mixed with brown dirt of the desert.
I suppose most of the kids were content with KRIZ and its ilk. Certainly there were some classic artists hitting the airwaves in those days, Elton John, Neil Young, Paul McCartney and a host of others, but I came from an oddball family to whom music was considered akin to religion.
My Dad was an itinerant auto mechanic who packed up the family every year or two in search of a better job. His itchy feet had taken us from Iowa to California to Arizona over the course of my first sixteen years. A back injury on the job had locked him into an ever escalating, near psychotic struggle with the Arizona Industrial Commission. He had nearly died after a surgery in March of 1974 and had descended afterward into a haze of alcohol and pain medication. He and my Mom fought like cats and dogs. My older brother was still at home, God knows why. He was an exceptionally talented musician who had no clue how to make a penny with his music and an aversion to regular employment. He’d grown his hair and beard to the point of being a stand-in for either Jesus or Charles Manson, depending on, I guess, a glass is half full or half empty approach to life.
Mom was a devotee of Country Music. I knew them all, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, The Wilburn Brothers, Skeeter Davis, and my Dad was a Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin-Big Band lover. Brother had been turned onto Rock and Roll by The Beatles and discovered KDKB in his late night ramblings across the radio. I had tried listening to KDKB when I was thirteen or fourteen, but it was beyond me, far too obscure for my untutored ear. But as my fifteenth year turned into sixteen, something flipped in my brain.
A late night documentary about Jim Croce, who had died the previous fall, turned me onto his music in early 1974. This wasn’t Rock and it wasn’t Pop. I’m not sure if KDKB ever played any of Jim’s songs, but once you got past the easy ones like Bad Bad Leroy Brown, his album tracks were my first excursion into music that went beyond what you heard on the radio. It also inspired me to buy a guitar. Seals & Crofts were featured on PBS’s Soundstage in May or June and I fell in love their slightly offbeat, eclectic music. When I found their classic Summer Breeze and Diamond Girl albums on 8 track at a local pawn shop for a couple of bucks, I was in heaven.
In July I saw a broadcast on our local Public Television station of David Bromberg hosted by KDKB’s Bill Compton. In the course of the program, Bromberg not only performed his unique blend of Country-Blues, he also talked about life on the road, offering a relatable human face to music that wasn’t covered in the greasepaint of freaks like KISS. By now I was sold. I had to find a regular source for this offbeat music. Turns out, it was only a twist of the dial away from KRIZ.
Sure, I still wandered back to KRIZ for an hour or two to hear the latest hits every day, but KDKB quickly became not only a source of music you couldn’t find anywhere else, but a friend in the night. And those nights were pretty damned hot and lonely. The days were well over a hundred in that summer of 74 and the nights never got below 80. We didn’t have an air conditioner, but a southwestern invention called the swamp cooler, a freaking big metal box that filtered water through straw mats and blew the semi-cooled air into your house. Why? Because it was a hell of a lot cheaper than AC. So the temperature inside rarely got much below 80 day or night. It acclimated you to the climate, but it was just one more misery.
I would lay there in my bed, always sweating, listening to the radio, turned down low so it wouldn’t wake up my Mom and Dad in the next room. I never could sleep at night, even when I was a little kid. And the voices in the night. Nina Joy was the most memorable. That sultry, laid back insinuation of a woman inside your head, invisible, but more real than the girl who sat next to you in class.
And hell, I even got to listen to KDKB in class. In the fall of 74 I took an art class mornings at AJHS taught by a youngish first year teacher who dialed the radio to KDKB. So I got an additional hour of alternative-hippie music five days a week. The class was small, only about ten of us and we would collectively chuckle when Toad Hall played Martin Mull’s Dancing In The Nude or scratch our heads at the mystery of Jesse Winchester’s Gospel Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt, whose political implications were beyond our sixteen year old minds.
The names of the DJs were legendary, Bill Compton, Toad Hall, Hank Cook and Nina Joy were the mainstays. In our minds they were a merry band of hippies, no doubt smoking dope and sipping from a bottle of Thunderbird Wine as they spun their discs. Nina would even bring her pet, Albie The Wonder Dog, into the studio with her and at the end of one epic broadcast claimed to have done the entire show in the nude. I remember New Year’s Eve 1975 going into 76 which Nina spent in the studio with Hans Olson, a bizarre, talented Blues mucisican. In many ways, Nina remained the invisible woman of the radio, a mysterious outlaw who drove off into the night when she left KDKB and disappeared forever after opening all our heads to the weird music she loved. Maybe it’s better that way.
KDKB was more than just an alternative to the Top Forty stations, they were truly a force and a tastemaker in the Valley. In the summer of 1975, their promotion of Jerry Riopelle’s Take A Chance album put it into the local top twenty. Their championing of John Stewart led to sold out concerts, while the ex-Folkie could barely sell tickets elsewhere in the country. Jerry Jeff Walker’s Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother became an anthem. Rising stars like Bruce Springsteen would sit in for interviews and spin discs. They were coloring outside the lines and not only getting away with it, they were making it into a new art form.
Whatever was happening in the Valley, KDDB was into it. In the fall of 1975 the Apacheland Movie Studio, where Elvis Presley and James Garner, among others, had made movies, had fallen on hard times and had been taken over by hippies who were hiring local bands to entertain the kids in Apache Junction on the weekends. A bunch of cowboys came in one night and busted up the joint. The next day, KDKB was on the air asking for the civic minded to provide protection for the hippies.
We moved away from Apache Junction in 1976, back once again to Iowa and like a rubber ball, found ourselves rebounding to Arizona the following year. I was shocked to click on the radio in that fall of 1977 and discover the chirpy sounds of ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky piping out of the hole in the waveband that had belonged to KDKB. All of the DJs were gone.
What happened? I didn’t find out for almost thirty years. I moved, once again in the late seventies, back to Iowa and this time, outside my Dad’s influence, I stayed put until I met a Canadian girl, married and eventually moved north to Canada. One day a few years ago, I decided to try and lookup my favorite old DJs from KDKB. The story that unfolded was intriguing.
Though the aforementioned colorful disc jockeys were the face/voice of KDKB, the station was owned by one Dwight Tindle, a rich kid who while attending Woodstock, struck up an idea with a friend to start a radio station. He headed west and bought an FM license in Mesa, Arizona in 1971 and promptly hired away the entire crew from Phoenix’s hippie haven KCAC AM headed by Bill Compton. Tindle put his stamp on the direction, but Compton was the creative force who assembled the talent and let it run wild.
But by 1978, Tindle had tired of KDKB and sold it. The break had come though, two years earlier when Compton resigned and the rest of the crew wasn’t far behind him as the format went to Top Forty. Compton was in the process of attempting to startup another Alternative station when he died in a bizarre one car accident in 1977 at the age of 31 when he swerved to avoid a bicyclist. From Radio Free Phoenix.
Toad Hall, whose real name was Gary Kinsey died at age 55 in 1998 of complications from AIDS. He was survived by two children and his ex-wife.
Hank Cook, Henry Cookenboo, died at age 59 in 2004 after a long struggle with MS. He went blind in 1974 from optic neuritis while still on the air for KDKB.
Nina Joy died in November 2015 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but her life is a mystery after she left KDKB. Her death was reported to the KCAC Lives Blog by her sister, but a search does not turn up her obituary. Apparently she lived in New Mexico for most of her life after leaving Arizona. Like most DJs, Nina Joy was a stage name, Nina Joy Nadworny had attended the University of Vermont before getting into radio. I always wanted to contact her and let her know how much her broadcasts meant to me and, no doubt, thousands of others in Arizona in the seventies, but I could never track her down. Though it’s been so far impossible to find out anything about Nina’s life after she left KDKB, she had to be in her late sixties at the time of her untimely death. Radio Tribute to Nina Joy on Radio Free Phoenix
Here’s Han Olson performing a song he wrote about Nina after appearing on her all night radio show.
Marty Manning, an original member of the KCAC and KDKB on air talent, is still alive and was on hand for KDKB’s fortieth anniversary in 2011. He has posted a wonderful video of Toad Hall, a talented musician in his own right, performing a traditional song with his mother.
Dennis McBroom interviewed
Lee Powell. Can’t find out a freaking thing about what happened to him.
I can’t remember the guy’s name, but there was a great Sunday morning Bluegrass-Folk show hosted by a local Bluegrass player which was absolutely hilarious.
There were many other DJs whose names I can’t recall. We thank them all.
Dwight Tindle died of cancer at the age of 56 in 2006. Check out these links for more on his life. Little known is that Tindle bought another FM station in Kings Beach, California neat Lake Tahoe in 1975 KSML which was nicknamed the Secret Mountain Laboratory with the intent of creating another KDKB. Apparently the experiment never took off, but it’s remembered in this odd hodgepodge of a page. Click on all the links. It’s worth a look. Tindle also became involved in the management of Rock bands after he left KDKB, but none hit the big time.
Links about Dwight Tindle
Dwight Tindle, the local radio legend who in 1971 co-founded KDKB — at the time, one of the most adventurous freeform FM rock stations in the country — is at first unimpressed when told about all the interest the mysterious commercial-free broadcast is generating.
“A lot of new stations do that kind of thing when they’re changing formats and want to get some media attention,” he sniffs. “In fact, before we went on the air with KDKB, we broadcast a tape loop of all the weirdest stuff we could find: Zappa, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Captain Beefheart. It was mostly a tactic to tune out the old listeners from the bad beautiful music’ station that used to occupy the frequency and draw in the curious new audience, who knew something different was coming.”
Eric Hauenstein was the co-founder of KDKB with Tindle, but worked behind the scenes on the business end of things. He tells the tale of how he and Tindle put on suits and made their presentations to the trustee of Tindle’s inheritance to get the $350,000 it took to put KDKB on the air. In 2016 dollars, that’s about a cool two million.
Rick “Daniel” Muth was the sales manager. Apparently, Tindle, Hauenstein and Muth were all owners, that to what degree and percentage, only they know.
Bill Compton was seen by the staff as the only layer of insulation between the creative side of the business and the suits housed on the second floor of the old Safeway. Most of the old-timers say Compton had almost absolute veto power over the executive branch. When the occasional “upstairs decision” floated down to the control room and jock lounge, staffers often waited to check with Compton before acting on it. TENSIONS APPARENTLY had been mounting for years before Eric Hauenstein asked Bill Compton to resign in November 1976. Staffers at the time believe that management (which was primarily Hauenstein by this time; Tindle left KDKB in 1974 to tinker with freeform radio in Lake Tahoe) perceived the prime-time news block, the wide-open musical outlook and the ultraloyal air staff as negatives. Hauenstein denies that. “The fact that the programs that were on the air remained on the air as long as they did ultimately was a reflection of my opinion of them,” he says. Others who were close to Compton at the time claim he confronted Hauenstein over a promised ownership share of station stock (a third original owner, Daniel Muth, had already been bought out by Hauenstein and Tindle). Hauenstein denies that, too. There was already a generous bonus plan in place, he says. “Bill participated in the profits of the station,” Hauenstein says. “There wasn’t any showdown over equity.”
Says one old staffer, by now an old hand in the business: “Management does what management does. They knew they were going to have to eliminate the plutonium from the reactor. Bill was fucked, which is what happens in a lot of instances. “Radio stations eat people and shit money.”
The ending of KDKB in its original configuration in 1977, was much like the trashing of The National Lampoon when its founders sold their shares in the business and got out. While the name was still on the masthead, the talent who had made it work were, for the most part, left out of the cash out and were eventually canned. That’s capitalism, both the good and the bad. Without Tindle’s inheritance and vision, KDKB would never have existed and all of our lives would have been the poorer for it. That he took the money and ran was his right. We thank him for what he did, but can still feel that just maybe it could have ended a bit differently. From some of the stuff you come across about the clash of the suits versus the heads at KDKB, the old sitcom WKRP In Cincinnati might be used as a history of the station.
Certainly KDKB wasn’t long for this life in its original format. Disco, Punk, New Wave and the Heavy Metal Hair Bands of the eighties were lurking in the wings. If KDKB had chosen to remain true to its charter, the old crew would have been put out on their ear at some point. American Pop Culture waits for no one.
I remember listening to one of Larry King’s old all night call in radio shows a few years later. His guests were radio station program directors. In the course of the discussion, one of them said, rather vehemently, that he told his DJs that they weren’t in the music business, they were in the advertising business; that the music existed only to sell advertising. That ugly statement has come to take permanent root in the American music business, not only in radio, but with the record company themselves. Product has replaced art.
Regardless of whatever KDKB’s bottom line was, the bottom line in what they gave to us was phenomenal. They served up a university level masters class in music appreciation to a generation of Arizona kids who otherwise, would have had their empty little heads filled with the sounds of Donny and Marie. For that, we thank you all, from Dwight Tindle to the business managers and salesman, secretaries and engineers, the DJs and Albie The Wonder Dog. We only knew the on air talent, but every last one of you was important to the mix. We can only hope the rest of your lives after you left KDKB were as enriched from what you did there as ours were from what you gave us.
Note: The KCAC Lives Blog is the wonderful source for much of the information and photos that appear here. We have commandeered the images of Nina and others in the pursuit of remembering and honoring these amazing people.
If anyone has any memories, photos or information about the KDKB crew they’d like to share, please contact us through the comments section and we will add them to the blog.