Ghost Radio

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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.

"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!"

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."

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern