By Rev. Jon Turner
Ten years ago, The Sound, KSWD, began playing classic rock on FM 100.3. Their vision was to buck the trend of nationally syndicated radio stations that featured only a homogenized playlist. In 2008, Andy Chanley was they first voice we heard. On Thursday, November 16, at 1:00 pm, his was also the last. The Sound was signing off. Andy counted down. Three, two, one then white noise. Fifteen seconds later a Christian song began to play. The new owners of 100.3 took to the air. KSWD had been purchased by a Christian contemporary station.
I didn’t realize how hard this was going to affect me. I was on my way to OCBC after officiating a funeral. It was 12:15 pm. I had hoped this had all been a hoax. That it was a publicity stunt for ratings. But then Andy came on to say that they would close out the show and station the same way KMET 94.7 had done 20 years earlier. Andy was going to play side two of Abbey Road by The Beatles on vinyl. I knew what that meant. The last song would be The End. Ending with The Beatles was just too much for me to handle emotionally.
I ended up crying. It seemed like the end of an era. My era and my music. I am afraid radio stations are ultimately going to disappear. Podcasts and Spotify are disrupting FM radio the way iTunes disrupted the record business. These are the pressures that forced The Sound to abandon their vision early on. They began to sound more like KLOS 95.5 in order to compete. That was a mistake. I thought they should have tried to sound even less like KLOS in order to differentiate themselves and not have to compete in the same market that KLOS already dominated. I thought going more independent and playing a more eclectic playlist would have really made them unique in the market place.
After years of experimenting with the lineup and many different DJ’s, The Sound was going to be no more. It is unusual, but The Sound announced that it was going to go off the air months in advance. That is one of the reasons I thought it was a hoax. Most stations disappear without any notice. One day they are just gone. The Sound wasn’t even sure what day they were going to stop transmitting. This went on for about two months. But this also gave them a very unique opportunity.
They had over two months to do anything they wished. No management or ratings to worry about. They now had nothing to lose. What happened was amazing. They turned back the clock to that first day in 2008. They finally realized their vision by playing whatever song they wished. They would play six in a row by The Beatles then every song from A-Z. They would play the best song off of an album even if it was never released as a single.
They also began playing songs about time or funerals. The end was near. This was very meaningful. Almost spiritual. They played Funeral for a Friend by Elton John. Great choice I thought but then I realized there was a deeper meaning. A true friend was dying.
In this two month period, The Sound had become its authentic self. It was the very best radio station I have ever heard. For two months, I was stunned by their brilliance. These were experts in music that really had a deep love for their medium. It is a cruel twist, but I think if they would have embraced their vision in this way five years ago – they might have actually survived. It is hard to say but it is certain that it was their only real chance at success.
And failure when being true to your self is still a very rewarding thing. I am not sure succeeding as KLOS-lite would have been very satisfying for the founders of KSWD. When they signed off there was an overwhelming sense of pride and dignity to it. They went out the way they started. Honoring the music.
This experience reminded me of another sound. The Sound of KNAB, KNamuAmidaButsu. I think we have to always ask ourselves if we are really living as our authentic selves. Are we honoring our vision? The KSWD experiment taught me something very important. There are many different ways to measure success in life. Certainly, one is monetary but there are also many others.
I will never forget how great KSWD was once they quit trying to be something they were not. In the end, I think Andy Chanley had won. He stuck it out for ten years and was able to sign off his way. He promised that there would be no crying but during the live stream you can see him looking down at Abbey Road, tearing up with 25 minutes and 22 seconds left to go. In the end, his experiment was a success. When things got hard, he fell back on what he knew. It had always been about the music for him. It was the sound of those songs that transmit the heart of the artist that ended up being played for those last two months.
For Buddhists, that sound is Namuamidabutsu. It is one’s true heart making itself known through sound. We too have a short time to live our lives and we do not know exactly when we will sign off either. But until then we can live a life of authenticity and meaning for both ourselves and others. I want my life to be like the last two months of KSWD. I will always be thinking of KNAB as my spiritual station. I want to live a life where I too do not have to calculate.
Rev. Jon Turner