News

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

Page 5 of 6

In the hours after Compton's firing, a staff mutiny was a real possibility. But Kathy Radina, Compton's girlfriend at the time, remembers him quelling discontent. He had, in the words of several of his close friends, "a Texan's sense of honor," and knew that no point would be made if his people abandoned their careers. Compton spent hours on the telephone trying to talk the staff out of quitting. "What it came down to was, Bill had too much influence," says Scott Niccolson. "If Bill Compton had said, `We're gonna walk,' they would've fuckin' walked right out of that place. Management wasn't really partial to having a department head have control of the radio station. Which he did."

Says one old staffer, by now an old hand in the business: "Management does what management does. They knew they were going to have to eliminate the plutonium from the reactor. Bill was fucked, which is what happens in a lot of instances. "Radio stations eat people and shit money."

COMPTON ALMOST immediately began looking for ways to build a new station. According to Radina, he got close a couple of times, but Bill Compton's radio days were over. Compton and Radina were driving on 48th Street near Osborn in June 1977 when the car swerved to pass a bicyclist. Compton died in the wreck at age 31. Now you know who Compton Terrace is named for.

KDKB did not exactly fade away with Bill Compton. In fact, the opposite is true. The station's greatest ratings successes and financial growth occurred in the years directly following Compton's departure, during a period in which the station employed a canned "superstars" rock-music format very similar to the programming heard on the station today. The station gained ratings by gaining listenership outside the small culture it originally served. "The audience that KDKB was built on was not really aware of issues like families, mortgages, life insurance and car payments," says Niccolson. "It was a party generation, very much drug infested. Drugs were one of the predominant influences. That culture started to change. People said, `Sure I like to do drugs, but man, they're expensive! I better get a job.'"

A few of the old listeners weren't happy with the changes--one actually drove up to the station's entrance in the middle of the night and heaved his car radio through the glass door--but many more new listeners evidently were. Tindle and Hauenstein sold KDKB in 1978, when it was the No. 1 station in town, to a Midwestern communications company. The original owners, who paid each other $867 a month in the early days, pocketed millions on the deal. The partners say today that they didn't get involved in KDKB as an entrepreneurial venture, that it just turned out that way. "We bought the station with the idea that we were gonna get to do the most fun thing in the world," he says. "We didn't have a clue."

Hauenstein stayed on to manage the station for a while, before moving on to many more radio jobs. He now runs a country station in Richmond, Virginia. Tindle still lives in the same house high on Camelback Mountain he bought when he first moved to town in 1971, and dabbles in entertainment career management. "I'm not here to change anybody's image of Bill Compton," says Dwight Tindle. "He was an incredible guy, really good on the air. He did a really great show, but beyond that he really didn't have a whole lot to do with the station."

THE FIRST HALF-DECADE of KDKB's life was the best radio Phoenix might ever hear. The local stations are mostly one-dimensional now, separating the music into one category, separating out the diversity. Boomers, scared of hip-hop and desperate for melody, are heading for country music. Kids have their droning alternative at KUKQ. All the other radio programmers have bought research data that tell them to play more Phil Collins. Radio stations are so costly, and debt services are so high, owners have to think big. Some cities have college stations to carry on the eclectic-radio tradition. Arizona State University's little student-run station sounds something like such an outlet, but it can only be heard in a few of the school's public buildings. In times like these, a KDKB song log from the months before Bill Compton's departure reads like the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the space of 24 hours in September 1976, KDKB's deejays, Compton included, played music by Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, Boston, the Beatles, the Moody Blues, the Who and Bruce Springsteen--all of which sounds a lot like the music that KDKB's computer has been picking for the deejays to play ever since. But they also played the Band, Judy Collins, Flying Burrito Brothers, Arlo Guthrie, the Supremes, Bob Dylan, Tom Rush, Randy Newman, Van Morrison, David Sanborn, Jeff Beck, Firesign Theatre, the Temptations, Freddie Hubbard, Burning Spear, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Captain Beefheart, Joan Armatrading and Jesse Winchester. John Giese came aboard KDKB not too long after Compton's departure, to work the top-rated morning shift with Bill Andres. He and Andres would get occasional calls from old-time listeners, complaints about format changes.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dave Walker