Bill Thayer

One of the founding fathers of KWFM, Bill's tenure at the station was just long enough to hire the crew and set the ship on its course. Bill is one of Tucson's radio legends. His listeners have known him by a variety of air names: "Gene Thayer", "Lester Steven Davis", "Wade Thruitt", "Bronco Birdbath," et al. I caught up with Bill recently and asked him about those inaugural days of KWFM. As an intro, I had mentioned my being a Tucson native and having listened to a few of the stations he worked...

"Ah, Another Tucson native, just like me... how refreshing! (St. Mary's, 1943)

"I was in Toronto, Canada when Alvin Korngold called and asked if I wanted to participate in getting KWFM-FM 'on the air' as PD or GM. It was starting to get cold and snowy in the Frozen North, so I said 'Yeah.'

"[No, I wasn't in Canada to escape the draft. I was '1-Y' due to a hitch in the USMC from 1959 to 1963, and not eligible to be drafted unless the CinC asked for me by name. And, yes, I got shot at by folks I didn't even know, across the big water, but they missed. Semper Fi! In Toronto, I was working at CKFH... the late Gary Palant, also from Tucson, was PD. Palant needed a guy to do his "Open Lid" show and he tapped me...they paid me a s**t-load of money to do... well, not very much... except a three hour air shift four nights a week and a three hour Friday night live gig at the Electric Circus.]

"On arrival back in the Great Stinking Desert in late 1969, I found that KWFM-FM was naught but a bare studio across the wall from its sister station KEVT-AM. It had nothing but a countertop and some wires coming out of the wall. It took the better part of a month to get the studio set up, and I took that time to round up some on-the-air people. The first guy I contacted was Lou Waters (then at KMPX-FM in San Francisco, later at CNN, and now at KWBA TV Channel 58, Tucson). He dropped everything and came to Tucson, bringing Norm Flint with him to be the GM, as I didn't want the job and was happy as a clam with an air shift and the PD position. I don't remember all the guys I hired, but I do remember Peter Bempko from L.A. who I tapped for the late shift. You may remember that the midnight to six slot was automated... what a pain in the ass. But Pete took over the automation duties with good grace, and later I authorized him to do live stuff in the wee hours.

"We began 'test' broadcasting in early 1970, and the response was tremendous! Jerry's [Audio Exchange, a Tucson stereo shop] sold out of FM receivers almost at once, as did the rest of the stores that carried radios."

You may recall that Tucson's FM dial was fairly limited at the time... KCEE (96.1, Easy Listening), KAIR (94.9, Easy Listening), KFMM (99.1, Religious), KUAZ (89.1, Classical). If you had a good antenna and respectable receiver, you could pull in a faint stereo signal from KTAR, KUPD, or KOOL, all Phoenix-area A/C leaning Top-40 stations. Other than that, it was Tucson's KTKT and KIKX on the AM dial. As Bill recounts, KWFM turned Tucson radio upside-down.

"After we went full time, the ratings went off the charts in the 18 to 35 demographic! KTKT and KIKX didn't have a clue as to how to counter our moves, either. We didn't do any promotions; we just sold expensive commercial time and played music. Lots of music. The watch word was 'Shut the f**k up and play the music!' The philosophy being that a DJ can't compete with the massive number of folks with massive talent involved in making the records, and shouldn't even try; I still hold to that philosophy, Imus, et al, notwithstanding.

"It was a constant fight with Korngold from the get go. The man was very hard to deal with — other than that, he was a pretty good guy... for a lawyer/chupacabra. But the 'Korngold situation' came to a head when the man wanted the DJs to appear at Southgate Shopping Center (a favorite venue for KEVT "Radio Mexicana"), sign 8x12 color glossy photos and hobnob with the hoipalloi. I informed Alvin that that was not what we were about (The Tack Room, The Mountain Oyster Club, or The Buckskin Bar would have been better venues, and I might have gone for the idea), but he insisted, so I pulled the pin and quit. It was not my intention, but the rest of the staff also walked off. I wish they hadn't done so, as I was pretty sure that Alvin would come around in a short time to my way of seeing things. Actually, he did, a month later, but as I was involved in other things at the time, I demurred from coming back into his employ.

"That's about it. I have several anecdotes of some interest, e.g., the Federal Marshal's office was right across the parking lot from the station. We could see in their window and they could see in ours. Right into the control room! All of those 'long-haired hippy weirdo disk jockeys' piqued their curiosity and their investigative wiles. In face, we were 'investigated' quite a bit, until the DA's Office told 'em to knock it off. I finally had a chat with the U.S. Marshal, himself, and informed him that the long-haired hippy look was in keeping with the façade of 'underground' radio. He 'got it', and the bravo sierra ceased forthwith. I still don't know why it was called 'underground' radio; the records were all from large corporations and there was nothing 'underground' about it! But the listeners... appeared to groove on the 'underground' outlaw myth, so..."

Bill doesn't have any airchecks from the period, alas, but recalled the format. "Typical air check: Time and Temp, Station ID, Commercials, and another 55 minutes of uninterrupted music... identification of the artists was optional: if the listener wanted the information the telephone worked just fine.

"The DJs did sound off during their shifts, and all were strong, interesting, personalities but the whole idea was to play the tunes unless one had something of world shaking import to impart, as in:

"Oh, Wow! Check it out! It's, like, raining!" — Me. 1970. When it rained in, I think, February.

Or:

"The retail price of dope is out of control! Somebody DO something about it!" — Norman Flint. 1970. When the retail price of dope was out of control.

"It was a short, but fun and interesting episode, and it ain't gonna happen again, things being how they are."