In the era before public radio was launched, a few commercial stations offered programming that was unique and sounded totally new. One station, KAAY AM 1090, distinguished itself by providing a late-night “underground” rock program called Beaker Street. Now an Arkansas Library brought KAAY back to life for one shining day.
Last Friday (6/22), the Central Arkansas Library in Little Rock [link] staged a multi-media tribute to KAAY. The centerpiece of the daylong tribute was Beaker Street. In additional audio and video clips the event featured a show-and-tell panel that included DJ Clyde Clifford, the guy who created and hosted Beaker Street.
Beaker Street is hard to describe. It was a three-hour weeknight program on KAAY from 1969 until 1973. The essential elements were tracks from hot hippie-oriented albums, a stoned-sounding DJ (Clifford) backed by “space music” that made the show seem ethereal. (Scroll down to hear Beaker Street in a YouTube video.)
The program was influential for radio newbies like us because it demonstrated that radio didn’t need to be formulaic or dull. People now working in public media, who heard it back then, still talk about it today.
Beaker Street showed us we didn’t have to color in-between-the-lines – that we could create new forms of radio programming.
Lots of people heard Beaker Street because it was broadcast on The Mighty 10-90, a 50,000-watt flamethrower that covered a big slice of North America. At night the station operated on a clear-channel frequency that could be heard from the heartland of the US and Canada to the Caribbean and ships at sea. KAAY was said to be so hot, you could use it to light your bong.
Beaker Street became a “common shared experience” for an estimated half a million people that were coming of age in flyover country. Clifford played lengthy tunes like In a Gadda da Vida by Iron Butterfly and Legend of the USS Titanic by Jamie Brockett. Munchies were shared in dorm rooms, bedrooms and in cars on gravel roads. It felt like a club, not unlike public radio today.
According to The Arkansas Gazette [link], the tribute to KAAY and Breaker Street happened because an astute DJ at KAAY – Barry McCorkind – discovered a forgotten stash of reel-to-reel tapes in the basement of a building that housed KAAY’s transmitter.
McCorkind dubbed the tapes to digital and lovingly curated the sounds. According to The Gazette, the recordings will be available to patrons of the Central Arkansas Library in the near future.
In October 2014 Spark News produced this YouTube video about Beaker Street: