"The time had come; radio listeners could hear sounds in high fidelity!..."

Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media headquarters building.

Greg R. Barron

You could argue that my radio career started in an act of thoughtlessness. Driving to a Bob’s Big Boy in a 1955 Chevy, a high school buddy in L.A., Don Kent, said he’d decided to go to college and get into radio. I think he wanted to be a DJ. Who didn’t? Great idea. That’s the ticket! It was that simple.

At Los Angeles City College, in the heart of Hollywood and renowned at the time for its broadcasting curricula, we learned classic technique, history and in-studio broadcasting taught by demanding, often legendary L.A. radio men.

Later, after four years at LACC and California State University (and a stint at a tiny radio station in the boon docks), the General Manager of KPFK-FM, the educational radio station located in North Hollywood, gave me a chance to prove myself. He offered no salary. He wanted proof.

I’d been a fully-credentialed, youthful slacker. But KPFK and radio changed my life.

I became the station’s public affairs director at 20 years of age. I explored sound like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia. I mixed all kinds of sounds together into sound montages. I created stories that flashed forward…and back. I talked to people on the streets, in City Hall and in prisons. I recorded the sounds around them. 

KPFK was an FM station, one of the few…and listeners could hear sounds in high-fidelity. My father a few years earlier had proudly purchased a gleaming high-tech Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder/player and it filled our home with something new—music that sounded real—so I knew all about that. Sweet!

After a culturally obligatory sabbatical in Oregon as a wanna-be-hippie-back-to-the-earth-off-the-grid-ist, I pulled myself together and got back to reality…

I accepted an invitation to join the then-fledgling Minnesota Public Radio, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) demonstration project to encourage a new idea on the taxpayer’s dime: exceptional public radio news and public affairs programming. The CPB had also just started NPR.

MPR wanted me to produce documentaries. I had a knack for that. So I did. I worked with an enormously talented crew, and later MPR became the nation’s single largest regional public radio system, ultimately producing even more public radio content for stations around the country than National Public Radio itself.

For nearly a decade, I pursued my craft. I did it as a personal passion. I have no idea why. All I know is that I wanted to tell stories as I explored the world around me and I wanted to tell them in a way that involved more than old-school talking heads. I aspired to make something beautiful as well.

Much of my work received national recognition, I got to hob-nob with highly acclaimed European radio producer swells. I even won two Peabody awards. Groovy. If you don’t know what they are, never mind. I worked in a world that likes to recognize its own. I remember hoping it would help me get girls, or maybe a higher-paying job.

Sadly, it did not.

So it goes.