Ghost Radio

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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."

Tindle does discover that Tucker did in fact live in Phoenix during the early days of KDKB and later worked in Tucson as an engineer at KWFM, "which was sort of the KDKB of Tucson," Tindle says. "The fact that he was an engineer would make it possible for him to operate that station pretty much by himself."

Tucker's engineering background -- and the geekiness that comes with that territory -- also hints at what may be Tucker's real reason for creating KCDX.

"There are engineers who work on equipment and do that exclusively," says Tindle. "And then there are engineers who get up in the morning, make a cup of coffee and sit down with plat maps, figuring out what they can do. Now, from what I saw on the FCC documents, he originally had two stations. And I don't know if he took the other station dark or moved the frequency of the other channel to boost the power on the KCDX channel. But something was done to boost the signal on KCDX. There's some reason he wants that station to reach all the way south from Phoenix."

In the end, Tucker may well have created KCDX just to give himself something to listen to on his frequent trips to his other stations around southern Arizona. It's the one theory he comes closest to confirming on the phone.

"It always fascinated me, the thought of being able to put music on the air and drive around and hear it," he says at one point. "The whole physics of radio and how it works. How it bounces off mountains and spreads across the landscape. So that's one of my loves. Music is the other. You marry the two, and this is what you get."

Certainly, what Tucker is doing is what every radio-alienated baby boomer busily burning CDs and loading up iPods to take in the car would do if he had the skills -- and the funds. "There are costs involved," he says. "But right now, I'm not too concerned about that."

It also explains why he hasn't glopped up his own portable CD collection with commercials. "I have some improvements in mind," he says. "But when I say improvements,' it's not in the classic radio sense of hiring a funny morning team and loading the day with commercials. I don't consider commercials an improvement."

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern