The radio program Beaker Street, which debuted 45 years ago playing progressive rock on Little Rock powerhouse KAAY and had regular listeners around the country, could be coming to an end. It's being canceled by its current broadcast home, KKPT, The Point 94.1.
Things haven't changed much over the decades. Listeners of Beaker Street still hear records fade out, strange background sounds come up and then the mellow voice of Clyde Clifford.
But while doing his show Sunday, Clifford acknowledged the end is coming, at least at the show's current home. “Beaker Street apparently is going away from The Point,” Clifford said. “I was given notification several weeks ago that February 6th will be the last show. So we've been preparing for that.”
The show was created by Clifford, whose real name is Dale Seidenschwarz, at a time when the culture was changing and music was becoming more experimental.
“I started doing Beaker Street in late 1966 at KAAY. It started out as about 30 minutes and was kind of a nod to all of the long haired, weird music that was coming in from the west coast. And it just took off like a house of fire. It was amazing the response we got and it expanded very quickly," Clifford explained.
At that time the 50,000 watt signal at AM 1090 could be heard in much of the U.S., as well as other countries. While most of the disc jockeys did their shows from the station's studio in Little Rock, Clifford did his from the tower site in Wrightsville.
“That was my claim to fame,” Clifford said. “I was a disc jockey who had a first class radio telephone license and from midnight to about 6 AM I was the entire thing. I was the disc jockey, the news man, the transmitter engineer. And for a 50,000 watt radio station with a directional array you have to have a first class licensee operate the transmitter. And there I was.”
He began using strange sound effects in the background when he spoke on the air to mask the sound of the nearby transmitter. It ended up becoming an immediately recognizable trademark for the show.
Clifford hosted Beaker Street for about eight years on KAAY, before quitting it when he changed jobs. In the 1980s he brought the show back, hosting it first on short-lived rock station KZ95. He then moved it over to the more established KMJX, Magic 105, where it continued until that station changed formats two years ago.
The program then landed at The Point, which has a tight playlist of classic rock hits. But for his show, Clyde Clifford delves deep into album cuts, many played directly from the original vinyl albums.
How does he select his music? “I just pick it out on the fly,” Clifford explains after starting another record. “It sounds artsy as Hell to say this, but it really is a stream of consciousness. I really never know what I'm going to play when I walk in the door here. And I find something and it goes from there and that suggests something else and that will suggest something else.”
But Clifford is disappointed to know that it will be coming to an end, at least on its current home at The Point.
Station general manager Randy Bush said Monday that his decision “was strictly a business decision.”
He said Beaker Street is not generating revenue to offset what the station pays Clifford to host it. “There is a substantial fee that we are paying for the show, which we are not recouping,” Bush said. “Yes there is history with the program, but this is a business.”
About a thousand fans have joined a Facebook group called “Keep Beaker Street Alive,” which urges people to contact The Point to express their displeasure. There has also been a lot of talk about this on a blog devoted to the history of KAAY, as well radio industry web sites, with speculation about where the show could go next.
“I'm looking for another station that would be interested in carrying Beaker Street,” Clifford said. “Its gotten to the point where it's sort of become an Arkansas institution. It's bigger than me I guess is what I'm trying to say. There are so many people who enjoy the show. It's become sort of a staple for a lot of people and I feel like I need to keep trying to be on the air for them.”
He says he has a few prospects, but nothing definite at this time.