Voices in the Purple Haze: Underground Radio and the Sixties

Voices in the Purple Haze: Underground Radio and the Sixties

Voices in the Purple Haze: Underground Radio and the Sixties

Voices in the Purple Haze: Underground Radio and the Sixties


During the fateful summer of 1966, a handful of restless and frustrated deejays in New York and San Francisco began to conceive of a whole new brand of radio, one which would lead to the reinvention of contemporary music programming. Gone were the screaming deejays, the two minute doowop hits, and the goofy jingles. In were the counterculture sounds and sentiments that had seldom, if ever, made it to commercial radio. This new and unorthodox form of radio--this radical departure from the Top 40 establishment--reflected the social and cultural unrest of the period. Underground radio had been born of a desire to restore substance and meaning to a medium that had fallen victim to the bottom-line dictates of an industry devoted to profit. In this compelling and intriguing account of the counterculture radio movement, over 30 pioneers of the underground airwaves share insights and observations, and tell it like it was.


How did it happen that I became the so-called First Lady of commercial underground radio? Well, let me tell you . . .

I was a student at San Francisco State, and I took some acid one day and decided that being a student wasn't what I wanted to do. So after a year in the classroom, I went to Mexico. When I came back in 1967, I saw this guy on the street, whom I had met while at school, and I told him that I didn't know what I wanted to do. He said they just started this radio station called KMPX, and they were looking for female engineers. I quickly responded that I didn't know a damn thing about radio. He said, "Sure you do, and you can always lie."

So that is what I did. I met Tom Donahue, and I told him that I had a license and knew how to engineer. He told me he would get back to me. He called three months later, and, in the summer of 1967, I started as an engineer at KMPX, knowing nothing at all about the business.

I made horrible mistakes the first day I was at the station. My mistakes were so bad that the on-air disc jockey, Bob Prescott, told me to go home and think about the whole thing before I came back. I was so humiliated that I returned that night and asked the all-night jock what to do. I stayed until my shift the next day, and when Bob came in I knew enough to get by. It was just a process of getting to know the audio board and equipment, and what buttons to push and which ones to leave alone. I pretty much learned by doing.

All the engineers were women--young girls, actually. I was Dusty "Super Chic" Street, and the others were Suzie Cream Cheese and Katy "The Easter Pig" Johnson . . .

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