Ghost Radio

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

"The curious thing about FM radio waves is that they penetrate the ionosphere," says Tindle. "Sometimes I regret that we never taped anything at KDKB. We looked at what we were doing as a work of art that we were constantly creating every moment we were on the air, and we just let it go out over the airwaves and disappear. But somewhere out in space, all of those radio shows are still out there."

Could some genius have found a way to retrieve those lost KDKB signals and rebroadcast them, creating a kind of permanent museum exhibition in the air?

"Maybe," he says, laughing. "That would sure be a great thing, wouldn't it? It's a remarkable resource for a lot of wonderful music, though -- wherever it's coming from!"

Details

illustrations by Jo Tyler


After a few more days of researching the mysterious station on his own, Gary Faulkner at the Florence Chamber of Commerce finally manages to produce a name of the owner. "His name is Ted Tucker," Faulkner says, "and he apparently owns a few radio stations in southern Arizona." In fact, according to FCC documents, Tucker's Desert West Air Ranchers owns at least four other, more conventional, commercial stations in Winslow, Kachina Village, Sierra Vista and Nogales.

But calls to each of those facilities dead-end at the front desk, where the receptionists have apparently been trained not to give out Tucker's number under any amount of duress. Some of the staffers at Tucker's other stations admit they seldom see the man themselves. "He doesn't come in here every day like all the worker bees," says a cordial but cautious Eileen Kuns, operations manager at KKYZ, an oldies station Tucker owns in Sierra Vista. "I really don't know what I can tell you about him."

At last, after a full eight days of fruitless attempts to locate the mysterious radio man at every other station tied to his name, the call comes in.

"Hi, this is Ted Tucker," says a relaxed, mature-sounding voice. "What do you want to know?"

While declining to meet in person and laughing off a request for a photo session ("Hmmm . . . that would mean being recognized when I walk down the street, wouldn't it?" he says), Tucker nonetheless apologizes for being so evasive.

"I'm just a very private person," he says. "Actually, I tend to hide from the spotlight. But then," he says, laughing, "you've probably already gathered that."

Revealing only that he's calling from "somewhere in southern Arizona" (the call comes in from a cell phone with a Wyoming area code -- Desert West Air Ranchers is incorporated in Jackson as well as Sierra Vista), Tucker admits that he is, indeed, the man behind the music.

"I'm paying for it, and I'm the guy picking the music," he says. "It's pretty much my own collection. A lot of people have forgotten this music. Plenty of stations play classic rock, but not this stuff."

Tucker seems genuinely surprised to hear that people are buzzing about KCDX, and that the station actually made a bump in the last Arbitron ratings, according to current KDKB program director Joe Bonadonna. "What's the scoop out there on the station?" Tucker asks eagerly. "I really don't talk to anybody."

He's amused to learn that baffled listeners have become curious enough about his little experiment to actually go looking for the mystery station.

"There's really nothing to see," he says, chuckling. "There's a transmitter up in the Pinal mountains, but that's all anyone will find. There's no studio with posters on the wall and some guy sitting back in a chair with a ponytail going, Wow, man, did you like that one?' Nothing like that. I wouldn't call it a one-man show. There are people who contribute. But it isn't an operation like you would see at a typical radio station, with an office swarming with people. It's mainly me."

Tucker does go so far as to reveal the mystery behind the machinery. "It's regular radio station automation equipment, and all digitized," he says. "Almost everything you hear on any radio station today is on computers, and that goes for this station, too."

Nevertheless, he remains mysterious about why he's treating a good 70 percent of the Phoenix metro area, and apparently most of southern Arizona, to all his favorite old songs commercial-free.

"I have my reasons for doing this," he says, suddenly shortening his responses. "And they're not all about money."

Tucker won't go into it more than that, only to add, "I'm doing what I want to do. I don't have anybody yelling in my ear, telling me what to play, or what not to play. People are free to listen to it if they want to, but I'm not concerned if they don't. I want the station on the air because I love all this music and nobody's playing it on the radio. It's really that simple."


Tucker doesn't reveal much more to Tindle, either, who calls the same number later to see if the shy radio man will talk shop, in a little more detail, with a comrade. "He was really flattering -- called me a legend,'" reports Tindle. "But he still wouldn't tell me specifically why he's doing this. He said, I'd love to sit down with you someday over coffee and tell you the whole story. It's a very funny story.' But he didn't want to say anything else."

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