Opinion: The Love of Low Watts & High Vibes

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There’s a hidden treasure in Laguna. No, it’s not a chest of gold bullion at the bottom of the sea, or a cache of drugs and cash buried on Woodland Drive. It’s not your lost Amazon package in the bushes, or even Michael the Greeter—he’s out there in plain sight. No, it’s that little radio station on Pearl Street, KXFM. Now nearing 10 years old, it has survived the vicissitudes of community, nonprofit, radio. Three anachronisms that were mothballed by the powerful forces of greed.

But never underestimate the resilience of true radio savants. The people who quietly toil away on their massive music collections, scrape the depths of the internet and work tirelessly bringing their weekly sonic journeys to you, the listener. I’m not talking about the three paid staffers who steer this ship with no ballast, navigating egos, micro budgets, tech (and on-air) fails, plus the Sisyphean task of never-ending fundraising. I’ll talk about those mutants later.

For now, just marinate in the goo of community radio, where volunteer jocks answer to no one—except the artists themselves. DJ’s are the vassals in the court of high art, the worker ants bringing the music on their backs to the colony. Ask any of them what fuels their passion to sit in a booth alone, staring over the traffic on Coast Highway, speaking into a machine, introducing a song to an invisible and unheard audience, and not getting paid for it. They’ll tell you it doesn’t matter if it’s a million listeners, or just one. Not. One. Bit.

Because whoever has sat in that chair, cans on their head, adjusting the knobs, knows that out there is the magic. Somewhere, in the dark of night, in the mysterious transmission of sound waves, someone is being transported by what you’re putting down. And feeling what you’re feeling. It’s a communion. And it makes us feel less alone. And if a few friends and longtime listeners across the galaxy are streaming and grooving to what you’re putting down too, that’s just frosting on the cake.

I had no idea how fully loaded the station had become until I attended this year’s holiday party, that annual gathering where everyone asks each other, “Who are you?” Followed by, “What’s your time slot?” We don’t get out and mingle much. But radio is powerfully collegial. If you’re at least my age, listening to a single station was how our collective consciousness was formed. But then the art of music discovery was splintered into a million fragments, served up by faceless algorithms tracking your every click and playing what it thinks you want to hear to hold you captive. Instead of an impassioned human playing what they want you to hear to keep you captivated.

Here in Laguna, radio is performed by carbon-based life forms, 45 of them spinning weekly on weeknights and weekends. Where on any given day you might hear jazz, blues, country, funk, swing, electronica, African, and even Canadian rock and roll, peppered with local news and some cosmic conversations. Here are just a few of those tasty purveyors:

Bob Goodman worked in radio all his life, first in New York, then Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and finally reaching the pinnacle of his craft in Laguna. Bob was “going through withdraws from his broadcasting addiction” when he learned about the little station that could. So “Sunday Morning Jazz” was rebirthed. And because Bob has true radio freedom, he delved deeper into his love of vintage jazz. “As a child, there was always music in our home just as it is today,” Bob told me. “That passion for music has kept me going up to my upcoming 70th birthday! The best feeling I get every Sunday morning is when I flip on the microphone and begin with ’Broadcasting live from Laguna Beach California, you are tuned in to Sunday Morning Jazz’ and the whole town and myself are once again together in harmony for an hour. It’s magical!”

Steve Reid has been with the station since the start with his Sunday morning Coast Highway Shuffle. “After all these years, I still pinch myself every Sunday when I drive down from the Top of The World to the station to play live radio in this amazing town!”

Then there’s Randi Lavik, a radio veteran from KROQ, KLOS, and KRLA, dating back to 1987, who now spins electronic music with The Drop on Friday nights from 9 to 11 p,m. She’s grateful because “Programming freedom is a rare gift.”

See what I’m getting at? Precious in life is the gift of finding your path, your purpose, your dharma, and KX creates the container for so many music connoisseurs to express theirs.

I’ll share more in the coming weeks. But I’ll leave you with a quote from my favorite radio personality, Ms. Cindy Obrand, and her spitballin’ roadhouse altar ego Ida May, serenading us with bluegrass and country every Saturday morning on the way to the farmers market. “DJs on the air at KXFM express themselves with a naturalness and sincerity that reflects their true personalities. Radio touches people in a powerful and magical way. I’m inspired to preserve some of the adventure, the wonder, and the power of grassroots radio.” Now that’s a treasure worth savoring, Ms. Ida Mae. And so are you!

Billy hosts Laguna Talks on Thursday nights on KXFM radio. He’s also the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an E-bike and ocean sports tour company. Email: [email protected]

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