Sunday, March 27, 2011

KCGL - "Modern Music" Radio Station
in SLC (1983-86)

I was thinking the other day about KCGL, an FM radio station in Salt Lake City that was a cutting-edge "modern music" station circa 1983.  (I vaguely remember the call letters "KABE" and thus believe that KCGL may have been preceded by KABE as the "alternative" station in the area; however, for present purposes I'll lump them together.)  I first became aware of KCGL when I went and spent a few days in August 1983 with my friend Bob Maes and his parents and siblings in Sandy, UT.*  Bob was always more informed than I about popular music, and he had me start listening to KCGL while I was there.  The station was a revelation, as I'd never before heard such interesting music, and from such obscure artists, on commercial airwaves -- and it seemed to be a going concern and very popular with young people on the Wasatch Front.  To give some context to this phenomenon, I try to imagine a radio station today, virtually anywhere, playing nothing but the newest, hippest indie-rock music; it just couldn't be, because any business-feasibility study would predict failure due to lack of advertising revenues.

Anyway, for the next couple of years Bob periodically recorded bunches of songs off KCGL and sent them to me on cassette tapes, and I was always grateful to get them.  Ultimately, however, KCGL did fail; I'm not sure when or precisely why -- although the rise of hip-hop and grunge-rock, together with the growing popularity of "classic rock" formats, probably contributed to its demise.  (I'm not sure how it maintained a core of advertising clients as long as it did, when its ever-changing playlist was so far out front of the usual crap one heard on the radio.)  It's common to look back now on the 80s and laugh about what was popular then -- I chuckle when I remember how Bob's younger sister Monica and her friends wore men's pajama bottoms, with the flies sewn shut and the legs tucked inside stockings, in lieu of pants -- but some of the "modern music" from that era is still very interesting.

The foregoing Youtube embeds contain songs that I like even now, all of which I first heard on KCGL during that stay with Bob and his folks in 1983: (1) "The Animal Song" by the Europeans; (2) "All Lined Up" by Shriekback; (3) "(If You Ask Me) I Won't Say No" by Pete Shelley; and (4) "Guitar, Talk, Love and Drums" by Gary Myrick and the Figures.  I like the two live performances (which thankfully sound very different from the studio versions of the songs) a lot better than the two execrable music videos -- the latter "art" form being one of the truly lamentable fixtures of the 80s music scene -- but it's all good.

* Bob grew up in Albuquerque and, though we hadn't known each other previously -- having grown up on opposite sides of town and in different stakes -- we roomed together as freshmen at BYU in the 1977-78 school year, and, later, for an additional semester in 1981 after our missions. Bob left on his mission to Argentina in December 1978 from the Albuquerque 5th Ward (which at that time took in the entire North Valley and the West Side north of I-40, an area that now encompasses 2+ stakes by itself); however, shortly thereafter his father took the job of postmaster of Sandy, and thus Bob went "home" from his mission to Utah.

[Update 3/31/11: It appears from information available on the Internet that KCGL passed from existence as a New Wave station, and adopted a "Christian rock" format, sometime in 1986.  (Apparently another SLC-area station, KJQN, then picked up the "alternative music" gauntlet for a few years, but that's beyond the scope of my experience.)  I'm sure it was a decision primarily driven by finances, but it's difficult to say which was more incongruous with being located in the demographic/political center of the Mormon Church (KCGL's broadcast facility was apparently located in Bountiful/Centerville to the north) -- a gritty "modern music" radio station or a schmaltzy "Christian rock" radio station.]