Phat Pig Flies Like Phoenix

Originally published in ESP Magazine

They called it “the Fat one, from Gilroy.”

Gilroy, California that is, a little town on the northern edge of the Salinas Valley in John Steinbeck country. I don’t know how it is these days, but in the late 70s and early 80s, when I was hanging out and making a fool of myself on the Monterey Peninsula, about the only thing that Gilroy had going for it was the dubious distinction of being “the garlic capitol of the world.” They even had an annual Garlic Festival, where the locals tried to attract tourist dollars by offering such delicacies as garlic flavored ice cream.

But this was also the home of KFAT, one of the most incredible radio stations that the planet had ever laid ears on. The station, which went on the air in 1975, claimed to be country, but they definitely weren’t your mother’s country radio station. To begin with, the country music they played was in the vein of old Hank Williams or Patsy Cline, with a heavy dose of bluegrass thrown in for good measure.

What made this station so unusual, though, was the other music they played alongside this country flavoring. One minute you might be listening to Kitty Wells’ Honkey Talk Angels and the next you were wailing to Big Brother & Holding Company’s Ball and Chain. It was radio-anarchy, and you heard whatever the DJ was in mood to hear, which made for some pretty exciting listening. Unfortunately, the station was sold in 1982 to a conglomerate that adopted a soft rock format.

Yet, even in defeat the Fat boys and girls kept that spirit of anarchy alive. “The DJs and managers were ordered (by the new owners) to shut down operations in 1982,” Glen McGlothlin remembers on his web site dedicated to the station, “but no one actually came to Gilroy, California. So they simply kept playing the songs and carrying on until forced out in January 1983.”

On KFAT’s last day, I listened to them as I tooled through Monterey in my yellow ’69 Barracuda. It was a warm January day and I remember vividly that every DJ played Arlo Guthrie’s saga of the massacre at Alice’s Restaurant for one last time. As the Klingons would say, it was a good way to die.

That would’ve been the end of it, but there’s a “rest of the story,” the story of KPIG, located (unlikely enough) in Freedom, California. They’re the heir apparent to the old KFAT legacy, and many of their DJs are old Fat heads. However, this isn’t some experiment in retro rehash. The station’s roots may be in the past, but their feet are planted firmly on twenty-first century soil. In other words, they’ve taken something old and made it new again.

KPIG is a modern day version of the old “free form” Progressive Rock format that flourished in the major markets from about ‘67 to ‘75. This was radio that didn’t just play the hits, and didn’t just play the hit artists either. It was also a format that never made it to America’s boondocks.

“We’re an anachronism,” the KPIG folks say of themselves, “a throwback to the days when real DJs picked out the music, and listeners expected something more from a radio station than just a couple of hundred songs repeated over and over, with some ‘big voice’ guy yelling about how great it all is.”

Oddly, in this day and age when out-of-town consultants program most radio stations, they’ve been amazingly successful and they’ve done this by doing everything “wrong,” according to the experts. A recent sampling of a half-hour of their music attests to the fact that they break all the rules. Included in the mix was material by Delbert McClinton, Steve Earle, Tracy Chapman, The Indigo Girls, The Stones, Dr. Hook and John Prine, hardly your regular radio fare.

In addition, they offer daily commentaries by Travus T. Hipp, an underground radio legend, who’s too outspokenly “politically incorrect” to be believed. For example, in a commentary about the ERA, he said, “It’s a red herring that Richard Nixon invented to remove the thrust of feminism from the revolutionary counter-culture. All the women who’d been running bomb factories and robbing banks were now chasing after a meaningless piece of legislation, which, if adopted would gut the 14th amendment.”

Despite Hipp’s musings and an eclectic playlist, this little station holds the position as the most listened-to station in the Monterey/Santa Cruz area. Again breaking rules, they’ve done this with a signal that’s so weak it can’t be received by many radios in the area, a shortcoming they’ve overcome by becoming pioneers in the field of Web radio. While most stations regard their online presence, if they have one, as an “also ran,” KPIG offers online technical support and three ways to receive their broadcasts. These days, one of the main reasons to buy a computer if you live in Monterey or Santa Cruz is to be able to listen to KPIG.

Which is great for the rest of us, since the web is world-wide. If you’re tired of the pabulum that passes for music on local radio, go to KPIG.com, click on “mono” (stereo is always busy and hi-fi requires a high speed connection), sit back and enjoy.

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