For discontented kids -- and later, the hippies -- the commercial freeform format was considered a soundtrack to free thought. These radio stations propelled the popularity of everything from Hendrix to Zappa to Grand Funk, playing the songs of artists that conventional radio wouldn't go near.
The format's popularity peaked in the early Seventies. Eventually, mainstays such as New York's WNEW and San Francisco's KMPX switched back to traditional commercialized playlists.
When President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it lifted the cap on how many stations any one corporation could own, thus encouraging even more corporate homogeny.
In Phoenix the closest thing to radio freeform is upstart station KFNX-AM 1100. Day programming at KFNX runs a colorful talk-radio gamut of psychics and galactic channelers to homeopaths and lawyerspeak. Nighttime programming sees everything from punk rock and wrestling specialty shows to a program called Dead Air, hosted by a guy calling himself Harry Gothic Jr.
Friday nights in KFNX studios, back-to-back radio shows that fall neatly into anti-radio categories bring together a motley mix of transgender sex workers, fetishists, punks and drunks.
From midnight to 1 a.m. it's the skateboarding mayhem of State of the Skate. Airing from 1 to 3 a.m. is the penetrating Playtime Afterhours.
State of the Skate starts off with languid-eyed DJ Jason Stone saying this to sideman Jay Biaz and anybody listening in radio land: "Oh, dude, we gotta plug this into the other outlet in the studio. For some reason this cord is still bunk."
Stone's shaved head and chin pubes afford him a look that contradicts his disarming stoner drawl. But Stone is more aware of his surroundings than he lets on. Tonight, after downing many beers at a skateboard video première across town, Stone still commands the mixing-board and DJ duties like a seasoned radio jock. The amateur antics only aid in making the show more listenable.
Biaz is the more eloquent of the two, a kind of Butt-Head foil to Stone's Beavis. And the spontaneous on-air exchange between Stone and Biaz is like two pals shooting the shit over beers:
"Dude, I did a big fat accidental trek this weekend," says Stone. "I was skating with some cats, and I was trying to be cool and stuff, and I was trying to do like a nollie, and I landed in disaster slide and slid."
"Did you revert?" asks Biaz.
"No, dude, I didn't revert, but I rolled it right in. I was pretty stoked."
Stone and Biaz have been at State of the Skate for nearly five months. A slim roster of advertisers, plus sponsorship from Cowtown Skateboards, now supports the hourlong Friday night slot. Both Stone and Biaz contend that theirs is the only radio show of its kind in the country.
"The [skateboard] pros trip out when they hear about this show," Stone says. "I mean, we also play music and other shit but the basic idea for this show is to help the push to get more [skate] parks. There are only two free concrete skating parks in the city.
"Another reason is to just get skateboarders together and spot-trade."
Spot-trading is usually one guy phoning in to share a newly discovered skating locale, maybe on a loading dock behind some grocery store or in some abandoned backyard swimming pool.
A witching-hour skateboard show is an invitation for a high percentage of whacked call-ins. One guy calling himself Tyrannosaurus Testicles phones almost weekly. He says things like, "It's all about doing the atomic elbow job or panty-gagging your old lady." A group of skaters calling themselves the Scabs are regular callers as well.
"Those guys the Scabs are into super toboggan, dude," says Stone. "They're into big water reservoirs and full pipes, 22-, 24-feet high."
Stone says that if the Scabs get wind of a gnarly full pipe to skate, nothing stands in their way. A recent trip to Colorado in search of such a pipe saw Stone negotiating "psycho beavers" from blow-up rafts and "bee-infested rocks." And this came after hours of car travel and miles of arduous hiking.
"Last I heard, the Scabs were under downtown Phoenix, floating, looking for a full pipe to skate," says Stone. "They probably went down through a manhole. It's insane shit, but that's what those guys are all about."
At half-past midnight, the show's guests arrive, Mike Brink (Brink Skateboards) and his team of skateboarders. One of the skaters takes his penis out and unsheepishly slips it into a mike clip attached to the top of a small mike stand. His cohorts hoot approvingly.
The topical conversation veers from fornication to porn to the "Christian mothers who saw the Today Show" and are now trying to ban Larry Flynt's skater-friendly Big Brother magazine for having adult content.
A female caller complains that there was never any porn in Big Brother.
"No porn, but definitely some stroke-worthy stuff," Stone tells the caller.
When the show ends, Stone and Biaz inform their audience that they are off to skate at some downtown location. As the budding radiomen and fellow skaters make their way out of the studio, fart noises ensue, chased with laughter.
"Look what I have for you, a red rubber enema bag -- two quarts," croons Playtime Afterhours host Mistress Cathryn as she holds up the implement in front of an eager-faced man they call Whipping Boy. "And I got some Dr. Bronner's peppermint oil soap. I'm gonna put a dash of that in there to give you an extra-special anal tingling. Does that sound good?"
Amid fleshy slapping sounds and breathy guttural noises, honey-voiced Mistress Cathryn and her cadre of sex-positive exhibitionists are gathered around a table in the KFNX studio. The femdomme -- who is familiar to this column -- is host for Phoenix's month-old all-sex radio show, the only one of its kind.
The theme of tonight's show is, of course, sex. Sexual motivation and role-playing, specifically: penis piercings, rectal exams, the ingesting of urine samples, bodily restraints, and labia stretching.
"And the Whipping Boy is back in the studio for more punishment," the Mistress continues. "Last week, the Whipping Boy had a lot of fun, crossed dressed, humiliated, whipped, pierced and abused."
Tonight Whipping Boy crawls, barks and whimpers like a dog and will verbally fake an enema insertion.
"One thing we don't do live is give real enemas," Cathryn explains later. "That would be just too messy."
Among the Mistress' dressed-for-the-occasion semiregular guests are Samson-haired Gey Ray, who is intimately outfitted in Army boots, leather jockstrap and ringed chest harness, studded gauntlets and multiple body piercings. The Queen of Everything, meanwhile, sits in a full-length sheer dress and black thong panties. Ebony-haired Princess Quite a Bit is head-to-toe in black: satin bustier, garters, hooker heels and leather miniskirt. The Whipping Boy is wearing a dog collar and feminine purple briefs. In tee shirt and jeans, full-figured blond Nurse Nasty is the only one dressed for Bashas'.
Without all the ribbons and bows, this collection would look like your average group of faceless suburban liberals hanging around a Starbucks.
Sporadically throughout the show, Princess Quite a Bit -- who reckons herself a smart-ass masochist -- and the Queen of Everything yank on each other's hair, slap each other's faces and twist each other's nipples.
"I want you to know I am the Queen; I didn't become the Queen," says the Queen between hair pulls. "It means the Queen of elegance, the Queen of trash."
Eddie Detroit and his Live Sex Show Band provide ambient beats and melodic percussion from various drums, shakers and tambourines. Gey Ray displays a large collection of dildos with a brief explanation of their uses.
An older, conservative-looking gent elaborates in the dry monotone of a seasoned insurance salesman on the anal tendencies of his favorite submissive, Princess Quite a Bit.
Transgender adult performer Juliet is the night's special guest. She is slender with charcoal eyes, dark lips and long black hair. She wears a beret. With a markedly low-toned voice she touts her various Web sites with names like shemailyum.com and tslovers.com
"All the boys that used to like me as a boy, hated me as a girl," she says.
The show's climax is a group-participating, 20-minute symphony of beats, saxophone, yelps, screams and the inescapable sound of tightly wound rawhide flogging bare flesh.
"I brought another whip for ya this evening," the Mistress barks at Whipping Boy, her lip locked in a perpetual curl. He is on his hands and knees, and his normally milky-colored back is seven shades of crimson.
"This is the one I call the ripper because it breaks the skin."
She lifts the flogger and drops it yet again and again and again.