In the 1970s and early 1980s, Doubleday Publishing had a broadcasting division. They owned stations in several cities: Denver had KHOW, Minneapolis had KDWB, Detroit had WLLZ, Washington D.C. had WAVA, New York had WAPP, and St. Louis had KWK (which, by the way, had been a prominent St. Louis R&B station in the 1960s).
Doubleday had purchased KWK in 1976. At the time, their frequency was dark. A flood had damaged the transmitter three years earlier. When they did sign on in November 1978, they began as Top 40. One year later, they (as well as other Doubleday stations) shifted their format to AOR, and added an FM. KWK’s tightly focused format proved very popular for several years, until CHR regained popularity in 1983.
What was unusual about this station was that both KWK AM and FM had separate AOR formats (not to mention the fact that AOR was a rare AM format anyway). They did a morning/afternoon drive simulcast, but they had different jocks at other times of the day.
KWK-AM featured a two-hour program called “Freeform,” which aired six nights a week. The show included a mix of new wave and progressive rock cuts.
I had been a fan of KWK in the late ’70s/early ’80s and listened to it probably more than I listened to KSHE-95. I was aware they were also broadcasting on the AM dial but I didn’t mess with that much since the signal was pretty weak and it sounded so good in FM, anyway. Why bother with AM, right?
Well, sometime in early 1983 my world was turned upside-down by the discovery of a nightly radio show on KWK’s AM side called “Freeform” that was hosted by a British DJ named John Hutchinson (“Hutch” would later go on to be the board op for David Lee Roth’s shortlived syndicated morning show in 2006). I stumbled upon this show one night while I was bored and flipping through the AM dial, just goofing around, basically. The funny thing is, I had the tape running while I was doing this…
But before getting more into that, a little background: Prior to hearing that show, I was your typical teenager listening to typical teenage rock and pop of the era, mostly the stuff that I’d hear played on the FM side of KWK… my favorite band throughout junior high (ya know, “middle school” as they call it now) was ELO and I also had records (and 8-tracks!) by bands like Foreigner, Queen, Blue Oyster Cult, AC/DC, REO Speedwagon, Rush, Judas Priest, Bowie, ZZ Top… you name it. I also loved ’50s and ’60s rock’n'roll and would often listen to (and tape record) songs off of the oldies station. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Creedence, Kinks, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Doors, Monkees, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc. I’d listen to Casey Kasum on the local Top 40 station and would make my own lists of songs that I liked, and run out to Peaches and buy the 45s… mostly early ’80s new wave pop hits by bands like Bow Wow Wow, Felony, J. Giels Band, The Vapors, The Waitresses, Wall of Voodoo, Missing Persons, The Tubes, The Fixx, Thomas Dolby, The Stray Cats, The Romantics, Romeo Void, Berlin, Blondie, The Cars… you name it. Looking back, I’m not sure why but I just never seemed to be exposed to any of the really early punk or new wave music that was making such waves internationally from around ’77 through ’82. It’s probably because I had other interests (baseball, girls, my silly coin collection, etc.) and I’d be one of those late bloomers when it came to going headlong into music.
Once I did get clued into the fact that there was something else out there aside from the bland and predictable AOR that I’d been listening to for so many years, I could usually find some of this stuff at Peaches, and would take chances on full-length LPs that had that new wave look about them (Devo, Adam & The Ants, Sex Pistols, Robert Gordon, X, B-52s, Joe Jackson, Fabulous Poodles, Gary Numan, XTC, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Ramones, Elvis Costello, The Polecats, The Knack, Split Enz, The English Beat, etc.). This was before the days of challenging college or independent, public radio (for the most part), there was obviously no Internet and it was also before we had MTV. Jet Lag Magazine and a few other local punk & new wave fanzines had been in print for a couple of years, but it would be a while before I would know of their existence. Luckily, I didn’t live very far from KYMC, and I discovered that station (at the time with a power output of just 10 watts – barely covering a ten-mile radius around the West County YMCA) around the same time and that, combined with the aforementioned discovery of “Freeform,” greatly increased my interest in this exciting new music and also my desire in wanting to host a radio show of my own, and it wouldn’t take me long before I was on the air myself at KYMC, spinning, of all things, ska and reggae! (It wouldn’t be until my senior year of high school that I would hear hardcore punk for the first time, thanks to friends introducing me to bands like the Circle Jerks, Fear, Minor Threat and the Germs.)
Anyway, so here I was, a very musically curious 17-year-old kid hungry for something, ANYTHING different or unusual. I was already sick to death of the typical ’70s arena rock that I’d grown up listening to, so I would turn on the radio on my Zenith boom box and go up and down the radio dial, first FM, then AM, in search of whatever interesting stuff I could find. That’s how I discovered this show on KWK AM 13.8 with a host that was playing this great mix of new music without regard to your typical radio format boundaries. Punk, pop, new wave, rock… all on the same show, and a commercial station at that. Talk about a breath of fresh air! I was hooked. I made many tapes of this stuff that I’d hear on the radio, but unfortunately only kept a couple of them. I still have several tapes of my shows on KYMC and may put together a couple podcasts of that stuff in the near future… we’ll see.
Below I have a link to an MP3 that was ripped from a cassette tape I recently unearthed in my basement. I had obviously stuck the tape in the deck, hit record, then started scanning the dial for something worth taping. That is when I happened upon “Freeform”… you can hear it right there on the tape, flipping through some stations, then settling in on KWK, fuzzy static and all (the station had a pretty weak signal). The first song I heard was Sting’s version of “Tutti Frutti” from the newly released Party Party soundtrack. It sounded decent, so I kept the dial on the station and continued to record much of that show. After that I listened religiously. John Hutchinson was responsible for introducing me to a lot of artists I’d never heard before, and played others that I’d only heard on KYMC, heard about from friends at school, or had seen the records in the shelves at Peaches. Within a few months I had been transformed from being your typical ’80s teenager into a full-on punk/new waver.
So with that, I present for you, KWK Freeform, circa January or February 1983. As I mentioned before, KWK’s signal was a little rough when I recorded it, but I think you’ll enjoy this one:
I did some further digging online recently and found a couple of other recordings of the same program from a few months earlier that someone else had put online. I downloaded them, re-ripped the files in mono (for a much faster download) and added them to my Blip account, too. These are from October 22, 1982: