(The LA radio show that kick-started the ’60′s)
From an exclusive LA FREE PRESS interview with Bill McIntyre.
by Chili Mac
“Sure we got sponsors. Lots of companies want to sponsor Radio Free Oz. They’re calling me! The problem is, can they take the comedy heat? Just because you’re a sponsor doesn’t mean that Peter Bergman won’t make exquisite fun of you. That’s what hip satire’s all about. It’s what got the Firesign Theatre fired off most of LA’s finest rock stations – their integrity. When they see bullshit they destroy it with laughter. It’s their thing. They can’t help themselves. With Bergman and the Firesign nothing’s sacred, not even themselves. I know. I was there. I saw the laugh-a-minute media carnage. And the good ole LAFreep was there every bazaar existential step of the way.“
Bill McIntyre was there. He produced the Firesign Theatre’s two ’70′s national radio syndications DEAR FRIENDS and LET’S EAT. On one particular LA night, in March of 1972, he produced the National Surrealist Light People’s Party convention to elect George Papoon for President. This staged put-on became the Firesign Theater album MARTIAN SPACE PARTY. AKA NOT INSANE!
McIntyre: This unknown guy who called himself George Papoon wore a brown paper bag over his head with two little round eye holes, campaigning for the presidency. The Firesign did a bit about him on a Dear Friends show and suddenly Papoon was popping up everywhere at once, all over the country, giving stump speeches for President with the brown bag over his head. The gag had caught on nationwide. So, naturally, the Firesign had to host Papoon’s national political convention at KPFK. Where else?”
The convention and stage show was recorded live by Columbia Records for the album, filmed by Steve Gillmor, and networked live by McIntyre to Pacifica Stations from Portland to Houston. All this evolved out of Peter Bergman’s Radio Free Oz broadcasts with the Firesign from KPFK six years before in 1966.
McIntyre: So, now, out of the blue, Pete calls me and asks if I want to produce Radio Free Oz. He’s just moved up to an island on Puget Sound where Ossman and Austin are residing. And, he’s found a pier with a funky FM radio station on it . ‘It’s time for Oz again Mac – it’s time’.
On Radio Free Oz, Bergman gave voice to the closeted LA Beats and Hipsters and budding Sunset Strip Hippies turning on to Pot and LSD; while he turned them on to San Francisco Rock, Delta Blues, Jazz, Funk, Folk, Alan Watts, Aldus Huxley foreign films; all things Hip – and Phil Austin, David Ossman and Phil Proctor, who, along with Bergman, became the infamously renown FIRESIGN THEATRE. Bergman coined the phrase ‘Love-In and, on Radio Free Oz, invited all of LA to the very first; a sunrise to sundown affair, in March 1967, which he hosted in Elysian Park. It was just over the hill from the Dodgers ball park. Twenty thousand amazed Angelinos rolled into the big grassy meadow, out of the morning mist, astonished to find so many kindred soul mates of the stoned and psychedelic secret society.
McIntyre: The LA Times, the radio and the TV stations lied about the crowd size trying to play it down to please the media zombies paying their checks. But, Art Kunkin published a big front page shot of the sea of freaky people, in the FREEP, and once again busted establishment media big time. Kunkin single-mindedly sparked the free press movement in this country.
The principles of that movement continue to this day – here at the LAFreep, now with Steven M. Finger as its Publisher, and at the hundreds of other ‘alternative’ newspapers that began from its inspiration. In fact, via and because of the ‘net, the movement grows daily, ever bigger as an even larger ‘establishment’ tries again and again to hide its true motives.
Bergman’s speech from the make shift bandstand where Jefferson Airplane had just blown the crowd away, was a personal confession of the loneliness one feels in such emotionally dicey times. He, like all twenty thousand awed faces shining back, had shared the misgivings of living revolutionary visions with only the weapons of love to defy the darkness.
McIntyre: And I agreed with Pete. It is time. The shit’s coming down all over the place and nobody with a brain can honestly say revolution’s not in the air. Just like the sixties. If fun-house surreal satire is ever a necessity of life, it’s in times like the ones were headed into.
Radio Free Oz is back, this time worldwide on the digital commons at http://www.radiofreeoz.com. The pier radio station turned out to be the Harbor Master’s office with a non-stop ship to shore radio. A hunt for a quieter studio turned up Blue Ewe Studio, built and run by Islander David Malony.
McIntyre: Blue Ewe is impossible. It can’t be there nestled in the forest, but it is. And, it’s log-cabin, state-of-the-art recording heaven. It’s putting out the best audio on the web. Bergman’s on with a new show every day. Dave Ossman is co-hosting and Austin and Proctor are doing their typically hilarious guest shots. We’ve only done twenty-some shows and we’re number ten on Pod-cast Alley, which I’d never even heard of, and, number eighteen, overall, out of eighty thousand Pod-casters. With those numbers, somewhere out there is a sponsor or two who has a sense of humor and wants to be part of the smartest comedy there is - if they can stop laughing long enough to make the deal.
McIntyre is producing two of the Firesign Theatre’s June concerts, along with Mo Weston who is producing the rest. They start in Portland June 11 & 12, then June 13 in Eugene Oregon. On June 25 they play Southern Oregon University in Ashland, and on the 26th Redding’s historically-restored Cascade Theater.
McIntyre: It’s still amazing to see how bright, and far flung the Oz Firesign audience is. They’re in their fifties and sixties now for the most part, educated and affluent, though some are thirty and forty something’s, like Richard Metzger’s gang of Dangerous Minds. You can see the love and admiration and thanks on their faces for the laughter that got them through it back in the day. And now, just when you thought it was starting to get way too serious and scary again, you’ve got Peter Bergman and Oz in your ears. Pete’s motto for the show is right on. ‘We’re all going to get through this together’... And we are.
***This is the first in a series of articles on Radio Free Oz and The Firesign Theatre, and their long association with The LA Free Press. For more frequent news, join us on Facebook at the ‘Fans of the Los Angeles Free Press’ http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=173751580168&ref=ts