Portland was a big change from Roseburg. It was a welcomed change too. It was the early 1970s and the war in Vietnam was over and people were generally happy. The music was great too. I was listening to the Blues Image doing Ride Captain Ride as I headed down to the music store with my friend Gary. Gary had been the program director at the radio station I worked at in Roseburg. He hired me in fact. We met in a coffee shop. Don’t think Starbucks, back then a coffee shop was where the hispters hung out, drank coffee or tea and solved the world’s problems with our intellectual largess. After chatting for an hour or so Gary offered me an on-air job as a disk jockey and news director saying I was the first person he’d met in town that spoke actual English. When we left Roseburg we did it together, pooling our meager resources.
We found an apartment just outside of the city in Beaverton. We had enough money to swing getting in with enough left over to pay for gas and a few weeks of food if we were careful. We both immediately set out in my trusty Corvair convertible to see about work. We applied at the radio and television stations in town, receiving polite rejections for having no medium market experience. While I had a First Class FCC license and could work as an engineer legally, I had no experience at all in those realms so I didn’t even ask. Over the next few days we visited a lot of places looking for jobs, and we weren’t all that fussy, but weren’t having any luck. We did, however, meet a few guys as we sat in a bar one evening having a beer to celebrate another day of employment failure. What we had in common was that we were all musicians. So to speak anyway. All of us had worked bands and played live and so we decided to try to get work as a house band for one of the many bars in town. Sebastian was a bassist. Marcus played a mean lead guitar and Sammy was happy playing rhythm. Gary was a keyboardist and I played drums. Tranquility Base Five was born. Now all we needed was for Gary and I to get instruments and for the band to get a job.
It was all meant to be. We went into a little music store where Sebastian had a friend in the owner. He sold Gary a Fender piano and concert amp and sold me a six piece set of Pearl drums for no money down and at least fifty bucks a month. Like I said, it was a great time. We started practicing covers in Marcus’ house until the neighbors called the cops. We hadn’t given much thought to how loud we were and we didn’t give anyone a hard time over it. In fact, the whole band took a case of beer over to the complainer’s house and apologized. It was the right thing to do, turned out he was a part owner in a downtown dive called the Shalimar. He gave us the name of the owner/manager/bartender who was his partner and we went down to see him. Ta da! We had ourselves a gig. The money wasn’t great and so Gary and I still struggled with bills and stuff, and now, of course, a bar bill that managed to suck up a chunk of what we were making. So we both were still on the hunt for a day job, preferably one that would be part time in the afternoon . We played from 9pm to 1am with Sunday and Monday off, so an afternoon job would be just the ticket. We weren’t exactly beating the bushes to find the second job, but our hearts were in the right place.
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and Gary and I were sitting in our living room and listening to this excellent AM radio station Gary found. KVAN played great tune after great tune and rarely paused for advertisements. Nor did it often pause for any kind of station break. We looked the station up in the phone book and discovered it was located out on the marshlands up where the Willamette and Columbia Rivers met. This was a station we’d overlooked in our search for radio work, but then again, like our previous radio employer in Roseburg, they were a tiny kilowatt daytime AM station. But they played excellent music, we had to admit. As we listened and watched the drizzle outside our front window, the station was playing a whole side of the Beatles’ White album. Cry Baby Cry played out its 3 minutes and thirteen seconds and then we heard …nothing. No, wait, there was a tssht, tssht, tssht, tssht –the sound of a 33 1/3 album that had played its all and now the needle ran in an endless circle waiting for someone to lift the stylus. We listened to this for maybe five solid minutes when Gary looked over at me and said, “You know, I think there’s a rule in FCC law that says if someone leaves a license transmitter unattended, someone discovering it can lawfully take it over. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had our own radio station?” We looked at each other for a long second and then we jumped up, went out into the rain and hopped into my Corvair.
We listened to the radio station continue its metronome-like end of record noise as we drove from Beaverton through the tunnel and into the city, then up I-5 to Delta Park by the Columbia River and hooked over to North Portland Road. We drove along looking for the radio station. We found it as a small clapboard house. There was no antenna, the station’s aerial was a long stretch of wire strung between two trees. Called a longwire, it was a center tapped full wave antenna, and as we could attest, worked just fine. We pulled into the dirt driveway and made our way to the door. It was unlocked and so we let ourselves in. To the left of the door was a large glass partition and behind it was the control board with it’s dual turntables, stacks of cartridge players and a young woman face down on the board with a large puddle of drool next to her mouth. Gary and I let ourselves into the studio and saw immediately that she wasn’t sick. The empty wine bottles and the loud snore now erupting from her showed she was passed out. Hardly a fatal condition. We rolled her, chair and all, into the corner of the studio and I found a chair to use at the board. It took a couple of paper towels from next to the coffee urn to clear up the puddle of saliva. Once this was done, I sat down and performed a station break and cranked up Janis Joplin. Gary pulled up a chair and lit a joint, his head bobbing to the music.
At around 6:30 the girl gave a loud snort, opened her eyes and saw us. She gave a large Cheshire Cat grin and asked if we’d like to make a request. Gary and I giggled over this and explained that we’d been running the station through the afternoon. She looked at her watch and said “Wow. I’m here totally alone, seven days a week. I guess I got tired and fell asleep. So, either of you two want a job? We can only afford one of you. t’s $1.60 and hour.”
Gary said that I’d be happy to take the job and smiled beatifically. The girl, who we found was named Adah, told me I was hired and to be back at sunrise. I explained that I had to work the afternoons. She said okay, but I had to shut the station down and lock it up at sunset. I agreed. It was six days before she thought to ask me my name.
Gary later got a job at a booking agency, placing bands with gigs. The both of us played in our band at night. Life was pretty cool in the 1970s.