For many years, I subscribed to the conventional wisdom that freeform radio got its start on KPFA in Berkely, the first non-commercial radio station in the country, and the cornerstone of the Pacifica Radio anti-empire. In the mid-Fifites, story has it, some late night DJs at KPFA began to experiment with formats, techniques and illicit substances, even going so far as to do the occasional audio collage!
Then I heard Jim Hawthorne, and I had to rewrite the history of freeform radio, at least in my own head.
In 1947 at KXLA in Los Angeles, Hawthorne was doing radio which was spontaneous, funny, eclectic and personal - in short, freeform radio, not two years after World War Two ended. Hawthorne has a roster of characters and catch phrases, but it wasn't all goofiness - he would play records backwards, at the wrong speed, and insult his sponsors, even going so far as to remix his station's commercials - a subversive practice you could never get away with on commercial radio in 2005.
WFMU stumbled across a tape of a 1947 Hawthorne show from KXLA and aired it on the Aircheck show in July of 2003. You can hear that show in Realaudio here. But even after airing that show, Hawthorne remained a mystery.
No longer - I recently found an entire site devoted to Jim Hawthorne. The man worked with some of the greats - Ernie Kovacs, Stan Freberg, Slim Gaillard, and The Three Stooge's Curly Joe. He cut numerous novelty records, one of which (Serutan Yob) went down in Novelty Record history.
But perhaps the most astounding find (second to the fact that Hawthorne is still alive!) is that he participated in one of the great psychedelic kiddie records of all time, Bozo Under The Sea (click for realaudio of it from Kenny G's August 20, 2003 show). Hawthorne played the role of the swordfish.
Aircheck returns to WFMU's airwaves this summer. Can't wait.