Barbara Birdfeather with String Driven Thing – Live at KPFK – May 1975 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Free-form radio was still very much alive and kicking in the 1970s. It was the place you made discoveries and it was safe-haven from the endless barrage of top-40 which was creeping on to FM.
One of the biggest practitioners of the form was Barbara Birdfeather. She was a lot of things to a lot of people. She was a dee-jay – but she was also a writer, journalist – the one who, like clockwork every year had published The Bedside Astrologer for Mademoiselle Magazine. I knew her as a Music Journalist – we were writing partners for a pile of magazines in the early 1970s. We interviewed hundreds of bands, published mountains of articles and all of that fed into her semi-regular radio stints for a number of different stations during the late 60s and early 70s, turning L.A. on to music they would either hear a lot of later, or never hear again. She was a champion of the up-and-coming bands and made friends with all of them. Her main interest was in the bands which didn’t crack the top-40, the bands that were just a little ahead of their time. Most of the time, when a band was coming in to L.A. for a gig or a press junket, Birdfeather would grab them for her show and spend a few hours with them, talking music, which they were always happy to do because Barbara Birdfeather had a reputation as the go-to person to support your band. She was a treasure trove of knowledge and had one of the best record collections on the West Coast most all of which were imports.
Birdfeather was an inspiration – she was always looking for what was new, what needed desperately to be heard. Her taste in music was eclectic but it was always excellent. I often wondered would have happened if Barbara Birdfeather became Music Director at one of the FM’s in L.A. – how that, in all likelihood could have changed a lot of musical tastes – certainly would have made things interesting.
I wasn’t aware I had this tape. The record company wanted a copy, so they got a cassette and I kept the reels – it is the only example of Barbara Birdfeather’s tenure at KPFK. It was the midnight to four slot and I always thought L.A. deserved much better – but no matter what time slot she got, she always made it hers.
I look back on the years we spent writing and interviewing together with a lot of fondness. She was one of a kind – and she made the best White Russian’s of anybody.
Sadly, she left us in 2009. We lost touch in the late 70s – people just get busy lives and rarely do they overlap. But I do regret not checking in every so often. I can blame the 24 hours days that came with Music Videos for that. Still, best of intentions and all . . .
Here’s a reminder that Radio in L.A. was a quilt of many patterns. It was vibrant and adventuresome and Barbara Birdfeather was right in the middle of it.
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