When Liz played Pastor John Rydgren's Rinky Dink last Tuesday, I was reminded of just how great and weird Rydgren's radio spots were, and what a strange confluence of events created the country's only Psychedelic Christian format back in 1967.
Heading into the Summer of Love, Rydgren was the crafty head of the TV, Radio and Film Department of the American Lutheran Church. Years before the words "Jesus" and "Freak" became joined at the rib, the straight-looking Rydgren created a daily radio show called Silhouette in which he became the reassuring, resonant-voiced Hippy for God. Rydgren wrote, announced and programmed Silhouette, taking his musical and cultural cues from The Electric Prunes, Herb Alpert and the cover of Time (Is God Dead?), with a vocal delivery that was straight out of the Tom Donahue / Scott Muni / Ken Nordine school of breathy baritone radio seduction. Silhouette dropped all the counter-cultural codewords of the day into a heady mix of Peace, Love, Sex, Drugs and Jesus. Not to mention Fuzzy Guitars.
New York's WABC-FM picked up Silhouette on a daily basis after the FCC forced them to stop using their FM station to re-transmit WABC-AM, their Top 40 powerhouse. Faced
with an immediate need for a new format, ABC signed on to Rydgren's
Psychedelic Christian thang, at least for part of the day.
The FCC rule in question - the non-duplication rule
- sent stations all over the country scrambling for formats at a time
when youth counterculture ruled the zeitgeist. Yes, the same rule that
created the Psychedelic Christian format also gave birth to the
commercial freeform radio movement in the US.
ABC quickly dropped Silhouette from its lineup, and flailed around for three more years before finally changing the station's call letters to WPLJ in 1970 and finding their calling as one of New York's eminent Album Oriented Rock stations throughout the 70's.
But Rydgren and the American Lutheran Church aggressively syndicated the show beyond New York, and in that effort, they issued a double LP in 1967 called New Life Radio Spots and Cantata,
which distilled Rydgren's swinging message of redemption
into bite size bits for other radio stations to play. If they liked the
Silhouette segments on the New Life LPs, they could pick
up the whole show, as American Armed Forces Radio did in 1968. The 2-LP
set was issued to radio stations only, but the segments were later
reissued a few years ago on a single LP called Silhouette Segments.
That reissue wisely omitted the LP-length Cantata, which was along the lines of (but far
worse than) The Electric Prunes Mass In F Minor, as I recall.
But Rydgren's Silhouette segments are stunning. Here are all 19 of them: