Album Oriented Rock – Full Circle?

[l1]B[/l1]ack in 1968, the year before I moved to San Diego, a guy named Mike Harrison transformed a local radio station, and through it, radio as we know it today, with a concept he called ‘album oriented rock.’ Mike’s idea was to play all the good tracks from albums, not just the singles promoted by the record companies. If you’re under the age of 30, you don’t even know what I’m talking about, do you?

Long, long ago, radio stations played singles. They played what the record companies wanted to sell. And, for the most part, people listened like good little sheep. But by the end of the sixties, music had changed forever, and radio hadn’t followed suit. That is, until KPRI.

When my family arrived in San Diego in 1969, I was eight years old, and wasn’t even sure what rock music was. (My bio attempts to explain this idiosyncracy.) Almost immediately, my older brother Brett discovered KPRI, which was then considered ‘underground’ radio. Playing music unheard of even by many of those more familiar with rock than I, KPRI’s mission was to play what was good, not just what was already popular. I’d be lying to say I remembered any particular song from those days, but I do remember laying awake at night for as long as I could, afraid to fall asleep for fear I’d miss something amazing.

KPRI had competition. KGB, still a San Diego staple, was a much more interesting station back then. Unfortunately, they’re still playing the same 40 songs they played in the early 70s, but I seem to remember a few less weary tracks interspersed among the current playlist during my summers on the beach.

KPRI and I left San Diego the same year, 1983. At that time, I had started listening to a new station at the opposite end of the dial from the mighty 106.5 FM. But just before I moved to Texas, my new favorite station startled me by changing formats. Suddenly, I was hearing cacaphonous howling by things called ‘The Psychedelic Furs‘ and ‘The Cure‘ and who knows what else. Having listened to nothing but KPRI and KGB for almost 15 years, this new stuff the kids were listening to didn’t make sense to me at all.

That’s all changed, of course. In Texas, of all places, I was forcibly acquainted with The B-52s, Adam Ant, The Thompson Twins, OMD, and a host of singers, songwriters, and performers who might never have gotten airplay on the old KPRI (including The Furs and The Cure.)

And that’s another change. The old KPRI is dead and gone, but the call letters were recently resurrected. The last independent local station in San Diego, formerly Sets 102, has taken the call letters KPRI. They’ve long been one of the two stations in San Diego to play anything truly interesting. 91X, calling themselves ‘the cutting edge of rock’ is almost always the first to play whatever’s new, and I listen often, especially if my daughter Cheyenne is with me. But the personalities tend to cater to a younger crowd than I understand, and the music tends toward a harsher and more discordant section of the spectrum.

KPRI, on the other hand, plays a little of everything. Not a truly free-form station, all their offerings fall into the rock genre; they’re just not always easily pigeon-holed at a more granular level. It’s not surprising to hear Jonny Lang and Johnny A. followed by Deep Purple and Delirium. The jocks; um, personalities, are knowledgable for the most part, and obviously have a passion for the music they play.

It’s not underground by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the only really intellectually driven radio station in San Diego these days.

Let’s hope someone decides to give them some competition. San Diego could use a little interesting radio.

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