Ghost Radio

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

On KCDX, you're more likely to hear a reexamining of Billy Joel's An Innocent Man, sprinkling the Piano Man's long-forgotten odes to Christie Brinkley between totally unrelated rarities by the Buffalo Springfield and Foghat. Inevitably, at some point in a particular broadcast day you will find yourself wondering why you're suddenly listening to more early Blood, Sweat & Tears than anyone has in the past 30 years.

Because of this illogical pattern, a lot of KCDX listeners believe the man behind the curtain is actually nothing more than a very large compact disc multi-player.

"At first, I thought it was coming off a big computer server," says Pfeifer. "But the same artists wouldn't be coming up that repeatedly if you were randomly playing from an MP3 library. That's why I think it's one of those large, 500-disc CD players. Because even when you set those things on random shuffle, sometimes they'll hit the same CDs for a while."


illustrations by Jo Tyler

Sure enough, while Pfeifer is talking, the third Rolling Stones song in 30 minutes, "Sympathy for the Devil," comes on his living room stereo. Even if KCDX is just a big CD carousel, there's still the matter of who's loading those CDs, and the lyrics of this particular classic fairly taunt Pfeifer to guess what kind of person would dedicate the time and money to create such a public archive.

Obviously, whoever's providing the Valley with this nonstop classic rock time capsule is, as Mick Jagger sneers, "a man of wealth and taste." But what's puzzling everybody who's discovered this station is the nature of his game.

"I could see if some station owner was just doing this to get a buzz going and get advertisers interested," Pfeifer says.

"But then," he says, smiling, "wouldn't you think there'd be some way to get in contact with him?"

About four hours after successfully tuning in the elusive 103.1 on "the good radio" upstairs in his central Phoenix home, Dwight Tindle is on the phone again, raving all about his brand-new favorite station.

"This is amazing stuff!" says the 52-year-old veteran Valley radio man, who now makes his living in the global telecommunications industry. "I can tell you right now, there isn't another station like this in the country. What this guy is doing is very special. Because this kind of thing never happens in radio. This is one of those great rarities."

A former "rich hippie," according to pal Russell "Wonderful Russ" Shaw, Tindle was instrumental in creating Phoenix's other great radio rarity, the original KDKB. Funded by Tindle and Eric Hauenstein, a radio sales guy Tindle met after the two attended Woodstock in 1969, the first KDKB crew, led by the late, now-legendary program director William Edward Compton, served up a unique hippie diet of folk, rock, jazz, comedy and whatever else fit the mood of the moment. It was an exhilarating, weird mix of music that, save for Tindle's short-lived Sunday night program with promoter Danny Zelisko on KMXP in 1998, hasn't been heard on Valley airwaves since.

Until now, that is. While Tindle isn't sure how much of KCDX's programming is automated, he is certain whoever's selecting the music for the station listened to a whole lot of early-'70s KDKB.

"I'm hearing a lot of songs with a definite Phoenix signature," he says. "Artists that we developed on KDKB who really didn't get played anywhere else. Jerry Riopelle, early Linda Ronstadt. Whiskey Train' by Procol Harum, Dolly Dagger' by Hendrix, Dixie Chicken' by Little Feat. Records that we played to death on KDKB but didn't get much airplay anywhere else in the country. I'm waiting to hear [Little Feat's] Spanish Moon' on KCDX -- it would fit right in."

For Tindle, listening to KCDX is clearly like being visited by a friendly ghost. "The songs aren't being put together the way a 21st-century program director would put them together," he says. "They're being put together the way we used to put them together. Where the music had a certain flow to it."

A onetime master of the musical segue as KDKB's late-night jock ("Dwight could literally match notes," attests Shaw), Tindle has trouble believing the song sequences he's hearing on KCDX are purely random picks of the computer. "Usually when you talk about automation, there's a mindless randomness to it," he says. "But I'm not hearing that here. I'm hearing something a little bit more purposeful in the selection of the songs. I'm hearing a mind behind the music. Somebody is deciding which song goes where."

A few days later, Tindle calls back following a road trip to Nogales, slightly revising his critique.

"We listened to KCDX all the way down and back -- the signal only fades out when you get a little north of Tucson," he reports. "And sometimes it sounded like it was on some form of automation, but other times there was clearly someone behind the controls. Maybe that's how it's done: generally automated with occasional stints by a human mind in the more listened-to day parts."

Plainly, Tindle does not want to believe all the legendary radio magic he created with his whacked-out crew could simply be duplicated today by a well-stocked computer picking out songs willy-nilly. Better to imagine the ghost of Bill Compton is somehow tweaking with the radio waves bouncing around the heavens.

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