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KDKB AT 20IN THE HANDS OF BILL COMPTON, THE STATION SHAPED A GENERATION--THEN FELL VICTIM TO ITS OWN SUCCESS

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AND, SOMEHOW, it worked. The staff created musical magic. The small-but-growing counterculture fed its head. Even the Valley's straights somehow noticed. Eric Hauenstein says he realized his ragged partnership was onto something when KDKB was invited to attend the regular lunch meeting of Valley broadcasters at Phoenix Country Club. "It was Homer Lane and those guys," says Hauenstein of the former boss at Channel 10. "And they all gave us the time of day. It was remarkable."

Scott Niccolson saw the light when KDKB began to get bomb threats, presumably from the more conservative elements of East Valley society. "I realized very seriously that the radio station was a lot more than a very hip psychedelic music machine," he says. "It was starting to affect some traditional ideals and norms that maybe people didn't want to be affected."

Dwight Tindle's eyes were opened when KDKB issued its first bumper stickers. When the station's call letters (wrought in brown and yellow in a Peter Max-inspired appropriation of the typeface used on Sugar Daddy candy bars) began appearing all over the city, Tindle began to believe his investment was going to be a pretty good bet.

For sure, KDKB's future as a commercial entity was assured almost from the very beginning. Predictably, however, not everybody in the "movement" cheered the station's fiscal prospects.

Before even a year had passed from start-up, a local underground newspaper ripped the station for running a national Certs ad. KDKB staff members attuned to issues raised by the new feminist movement objected to the station's running ads for wet-tee-shirt night promotions at local bars. Though an internal debate over the commercialization of KDKB would rage for years, to station management the point was moot. "There was a whole lot of passion associated with every single issue," says Hauenstein, who ran KDKB's business side. "Everybody had a view, and at that time everybody felt that every situation was virtually life or death. The future of the planet was on the line with every decision we made."

To some of the staff, Hauenstein says, "the very commercial viability of the radio station was somehow, in their minds, offensive."

But Hauenstein, one of the few members of the local counterculture who wore three-piece suits in 1973 ("I had hair down to my shoulders," he says in self-defense. "I also rode a motorcycle to work."), was determined to have KDKB succeed as a business. "I didn't want to see the station become financially insecure," he says. "We had payrolls to meet. I saw my role as somehow keeping this thing from self-destructing. Inevitably that meant taking on the curmudgeon role."

Bill Compton was seen by the staff as the only layer of insulation between the creative side of the business and the suits housed on the second floor of the old Safeway. Most of the old-timers say Compton had almost absolute veto power over the executive branch. When the occasional "upstairs decision" floated down to the control room and jock lounge, staffers often waited to check with Compton before acting on it. TENSIONS APPARENTLY had been mounting for years before Eric Hauenstein asked Bill Compton to resign in November 1976. Staffers at the time believe that management (which was primarily Hauenstein by this time; Tindle left KDKB in 1974 to tinker with freeform radio in Lake Tahoe) perceived the prime-time news block, the wide-open musical outlook and the ultraloyal air staff as negatives. Hauenstein denies that. "The fact that the programs that were on the air remained on the air as long as they did ultimately was a reflection of my opinion of them," he says. Others who were close to Compton at the time claim he confronted Hauenstein over a promised ownership share of station stock (a third original owner, Daniel Muth, had already been bought out by Hauenstein and Tindle). Hauenstein denies that, too. There was already a generous bonus plan in place, he says. "Bill participated in the profits of the station," Hauenstein says. "There wasn't any showdown over equity."

Whatever the motivation for the move, taking away Compton's creative platform crushed him. "He lost his `voice,'" says one of Compton's jocks. "It was the most exquisitely designed pain you could possibly think of."

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Dave Walker