Ghost Radio

Who's behind Arizona's nonstop oddball rock time capsule?

"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."

But the curious thing is, KCDX hasn't changed formats, nor has it shut down. Even more amazingly, this baby-boomer album fest has yet to be interrupted by a single commercial for -- how's this for a nonstop music block? -- more than 18 months.

"You're kidding." Tindle snaps to attention when told that little kicker. "Well, then, something really is going on here. Because if someone's operating even a bare-bones automated station, that's got to be costing a minimum of a couple hundred thousand dollars a year."

Details

illustrations by Jo Tyler

Tindle shifts in his office chair and immediately tries to tune in the frequency on his desktop boom box. "He's got to be paying an engineer to maintain the equipment," Tindle says, running down the basic operating costs in his head. "He has to be paying the licensing fees on all the music that he plays. Then, of course, you've got to pay the electric bill, you gotta pay the rent. And if you've got no revenue coming in from advertising, that can all add up to some pretty significant out-of-pocket costs."

Failing to tune in the station on his office radio, Tindle pledges to try it on another receiver and call back later with his critique. "Whoever's doing this has got to be either the most magnanimous music fan in Arizona," he says, laughing, "or totally insane!"


They've had occasional down days," reports Pfeifer. "Sometimes you punch up the station and there's just static, and you think, Uh-oh, that's the end of it,'" he says. "But then you try it again in an hour and, like magic, it's back. And they've been broadcasting that way since at least March of 2002, still without ever playing one commercial."

Like many listeners, Pfeifer has scoured the Web searching for a phone number or location of the station's offices. "Almost nothing is known about KCDX," he marvels. "I've found out they're owned by a company called Desert West Air Ranchers, but good luck trying to find out anything about them. I've also heard that they are operating with an automated CD player out of a trailer near Globe. But that's all I've ever been able to discover about them."

Gary Faulkner, the friendly, suntanned Vietnam vet with a classic rock addiction who runs the Florence Chamber of Commerce, claims he gets calls from people all the time wondering if the mystery station is being broadcast covertly by a couple of incarcerated Blues Brothers out of the nearby penitentiary.

"A lot of people think it's being secretly run by some of the prisoners," chuckles Faulkner. "But I know for a fact that's not true. The station has a license here in Florence, but there's no building. The most I've been able to find out is it's run by a guy up on a mountaintop in Globe."

In fact, some listeners believe there's nothing but a gigantic iPod at the top of that mountain.

"The selection is so random, and some of the segues are so nonsensical, that it sounds like you're plugged into somebody's MP3 player and it's just playing all these thousands of songs at random," says Thurman.

Certainly KCDX's playlist is eclectic enough to suggest it's all streaming from the personal iTunes library of some benevolent hilltop hippie who raided Napster good a couple of years ago and found the perfect old-school way to file-share: over the FM airwaves. At times, the only thing a pair of songs have in common is era. Gilbert O'Sullivan's sunny 1973 confection "Get Down" will inexplicably segue into the ominous opening strains of "In the Light" from Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. Other times the connection is even odder: On KCDX, the Beatles' perennial "Something" can follow Men at Work's 1983 non-hit "Dr. Heckle & Mr. Jive."

Not that that's a bad thing. On the contrary, KCDX's apparent lack of a human program director reshuffles every record lodged in the baby-boomer memory banks and plays them all back without judgment: Hendrix is cool, but so is early-period Chicago. And younger listeners get treated to some of the strangest music they've never heard, without some media conglomerate market-researching each track for hipness and relevance.

Musical snobbery and DJ attitude are not programmed into KCDX. Graham Nash's sublime, topical-again "Military Madness" can immediately be followed by the early-'80s pop kitsch of Olivia Newton-John's "Magic." The KCDX A.I. is esoteric enough to select the kick-in-the-lobes delight of "Kuiama" when it scans for ELO, but it can just as easily pick "Living Thing." Which it will probably do in five minutes.

KCDX, you see, also has a peculiar habit of heavily showcasing a particular artist every few hours. On the classic rock outlets, such artist showcases are usually smartly assembled Sunday night affairs, distilling the greatness of such Rock and Roll Hall of Famers as Eric Clapton or Led Zeppelin and reexperiencing landmark LPs like The Dark Side of the Moon and Tapestry.

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