Literally underground. That’s where the student-run FM radio station was located, in the basement of the Student Union Building (SUB), when I returned to the UNM campus in the fall of ‘68 after serving two years in the Army (drafted).
KUNM’s Kent Ian Paterson has put together another excellent radio documentary marking the station’s 54th (??) anniversary. Host Scott MacNicholl guides you on this journey through the psychedelic caverns of the old studios. “KUNM: Up Against the Wall FM” features rare tapes of the era and exclusive interviews with station veterans (like moi).
I like that when they bring in a song, sometimes from an air check they dug up from that time, they play the whole track and don’t cut it or fade it out. So listening to this doc is a bit like falling back in time and flipping on the radio. Only, no chance of hearing Dave Matthews or Chris Martin, Katy Perry, Iggy or Lindsay, thank you. (Oops, how many readers did I just lose?)
It began as an AM station, and hit the newly hip FM airwaves Oct. 19, 1966, with an antenna atop the SUB. They very quickly abandoned their leftover stodgy AM programming for what the students wanted to hear, all the amazing rock music blossoming at that time. (And folk and jazz and country…) Nine years later they moved that antenna to the mountaintop nearby, Sandia Crest, 10,000’ up, to reach everyone in metropolitan Albuquerque.
THE GOOD HUMOR MAN
A beginning journalism student, I wandered down to the basement to try my hand at reading the news, mostly torn from the newswires, and of course I soon wandered deeper in to finagle a music show. “The Good Humor Man” (from the remarkable “Forever Changes” album by Love) provided the soundtrack for your late Saturday nights, midnight to dawn, oh yeah.
Those were freeform days in FM radio, and several of us did not censor the phrase “Up Against the Wall, _ _,” figuring correctly that the FCC was not listening to us at 3 a.m. In an Albuquerque that was generally three to five years behind both coasts culturally, KUNM was nearly as progressive as some of the West Coast stations I’d heard. We had a great selection of albums at the station, but most of us brought our own LPs from home.
We all took it as a creative challenge to put together sets of diverse genres that hung together, thematically or musically. A few of us were really into segues, choosing a song whose opening fit musically with the previous song’s fade out. Ideally, you wanted listeners to stick with you for a half hour and barely be able to discern when one song ended and the next began. Not easy, but using two handheld turntables at once made it possible.
ERNIE “FLASH” GILBERT
When Paterson discovered just two weeks ago that visionary music director and key architect of KUNM’s underground FM sound, Ernie Gilbert, had died in February in San Pedro of a heart ailment, he decided to dedicate the show to his memory.
What a gift to hear Ernie again, on a show of his that was uncovered, and to see his young face again, the photo of him at the mic. And to hear remembrances of him. Funny how someone you knew only a little, for only a couple of years half a century ago, still seems so close.
I had been trying to track Ernie down off and on for a couple of years. I was excited to find out he might be in San Pedro, just 40 minutes from me, not London or New York or Bali. But also dispirited that there were indications he was no longer with us.
Learning from Kent for certain that he had passed was a big blow, and I am still surprisingly very sad. I would have been so happy to be able to talk with him again after so long, to catch up on our lives and talk music and probably philosophy, economics and religion. Certainly politics.
You didn’t peg Ernie for greatness, or being exceptional, because you didn’t expect to find really exceptional people in Albuquerque, and he was so low key. It was only the occasional remark or conversation that gave you a clue. But apparently a lot of people who worked with him picked up on it. I asked him once where the nickname “Flash” came from, and he just smiled slightly and shrugged. I suspect it was his ironic joke with himself.
He was well liked at the station, but I had no sense of what he was like above ground. A loner, it seemed. When he left the Duke City he went to Denver and worked in radio for a while. Then he moved to the Pasadena area, and on one of my forays out, anticipating my move to LA, I visited him. I remember a nice old house, Pasadena style, and a huge flock of screaming wild parrots. I can’t swear to this, after 50 years, but I think he revealed, or broadly hinted during our visit, that he was gay. Which would explain a lot. Even in the music biz, in the late ‘60s in New Mexico, it was probably the best choice to keep that to yourself.
“KUNM: Up Against the Wall FM” can be found until around Nov. 8 at https://kunm.net/listen/archive/player.php. It’s a little tricky. You’ll see the page for Saturday, 24 Oct 2020, 8 p.m. to Sunday, 25 Oct 2020, 1 a.m., broken into 15-minute segment strips. Click on 10 p.m. and it will begin, and will play right through to 1 a.m. If you wanted to hear my part, including songs by Steppenwolf, Merle Haggard and Spirit, it begins about one minute into the 12 a.m. segment, and winds up about 4:30 into the following 12:15 a.m. slice.
WATCH “AMAZING GRACE” (2018) — the long awaited Aretha Franklin concert film finally got its theatrical release after decades in the can. For the unacquainted, the performance, which was released at the time as a live concert album, took place at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in 1972. Franklin is accompanied by James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir, before an audience of largely black attendees from the community. It is nothing short of transcendent. Regardless of your religious beliefs, this performance feels deeply spiritual and significant, and I feel blessed that it was captured and that we are all able to see it now. As one reviewer put it, “Don’t worry about tissues. Bring a towel.”
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 33 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org