NPR logo Garage Rock and FM Radio

Garage Rock and FM Radio

The Electric Prunes were the first band I can remember hearing on the FM dial, WOR-FM at 98.7. It was late 1966, and my dad had bought a stereo with an FM tuner. No one else I knew had FM back then. It wasn't in cars or on your transistor dial.

The FCC ruled that any broadcaster with an AM license had to have separate original programming for the FM dial, so FM underground radio was born. DJs with eclectic tastes ruled the new airwaves, as did a wave of garage bands. Bands with names such as The Velvet Underground and The Electric Prunes began to overtake my habit for commercial AM pop radio in New York.

"I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" was a fantastic song, and in stereo on the huge white Koss headphones, it was a sonic boom. I still remember the guitar panning around, my head reeling as the drums panned hard to one side.

This was truly a garage band, in that their practice space was in their home garage in the San Fernando Valley. That's where they were discovered.

Now, more than 40 years later, the band is touring. The Electric Prunes played the Black Cat in Washington, but I missed it. I'm curious what they sounded like. Has anyone gone to see them?
And do you remember the early days of FM radio?



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My earliest radio memories are of listening to the Beatles, Stones, and other British Invasion bands on WMCA-AM & WABC-AM from NYC (on a tinny, pink transistor radio).

WBCN-FM in Boston was my first underground/progressive radio station. Psychedelic music was all the rage, but they played everything from CSN&Y to Jethro Tull. I remember crying when the DJ announced Duane Allman had died in a motorcycle accident...(gimme a break -- I was only 14).

After that, there was 'HFS in Bethesda, MD. By then, psychedelia had given way to other influences (Little Feat, Bruce Springsteen, etc).

Sent by Betsy | 9:37 AM | 5-7-2008

I'm far too young to have any memories of that time..that must have been so exciting. I must say the wonderful Nuggets boxes that Rhino have compiled were a revelation to my Gen X ears 30 years on--I can only imagine how wonderful and alien these tunes were against the pop music of the day.

I can relate a bit to your story however, as it reminds me of the early days of satellite radio. All of a sudden there was this massive alternative to terrestrial radio, playing a wide range of sounds that no FM format would ever accommodate. This diversity has progressively diminished over the last few years. Seems to be a natural progression that once enough people are paying attention to a format, and there is money to be made, the whole thing becomes a bit more...homogeneous.

interesting point on satellite radio. I didn't know that. I listened to it for a while a few years back and was disappointed by the lack of personality. But it sure does beat a lot of what is on the FM dial in so many towns and cities.


Sent by ~~Matt | 11:34 AM | 5-8-2008

As a kid I used to listen to WCMF - progressive radio out of Rochester NY, between 1972-75. They played lots of prog rock and leftfield stuff, as well as the CSNY, Stones, etc that their public demanded. These were after all, commercial radio stations (as we knew them then)! The sets would ramble on for twenty or thirty minutes, then the stoned DJ would methodically backtrack - "..before that. We heard. Emerson Lake and Palmer, from the album Brain Salad Surgery; Karn Evil 9. Before that, Todd Rundgren..."
They also had regular radio dramas from the BBC, I remember Sherlock Holmes, and the Hobbit.
Even the ads were cool. I would lie awake in the dark for hours listening. It made a change from AM pop radio, I can tell you!
They're just another run of the mill, Clear Channel type classic rock nightmare now.

Sent by schlep | 1:40 PM | 5-8-2008

The term 'garage band' came later. There were no garage bands in the 60's. Bands that played in the garage? Yes. But the term itself was a later addition to a former history.

Sent by Tom Hendricks | 10:55 AM | 5-9-2008

I saw the Electric Prunes with Strawberry Alarm Clock(!) in Hollywood in December. The Prunes' set opened with Jim Lowe soloing on a Theremin. I was impressed that both bands managed to still sound simultaneously precise and garage-y (SAC had as many as four guitarists at once, but held together miraculously).

very cool, thanks for letting me know. Hadn't thought about Strawberry Alarm Clock for a long time!:

Sent by Lucas | 5:26 PM | 5-10-2008

My first intro to FM radio was in the mid-seventies when the first of what is now the standard on the dial came into being. There was a station in NYC that went by the name of 99X with a DJ named Steve "smokin'" Weed and that played Stairway to Heaven at least once an hour. I remember being stymied as to what the big deal about FM was? 99X was just 77WABC with a better stereo sound.

Later on (about two weeks) I discovered WNEW which was very radical at the time and WLIR out on long island; a decent little hippie station that had great live studio sessions broadcast from some studio in Hempstead. I wonder whatever happened to those sessions since many of the acts involved were of national and worldwide fame.

Believe it or not kids, radio used to be fun and interesting and it actually mattered at one time what station you listened to. Now, I don't know what to think since it has all been so completely and decisively wiped out except, since when was Foreigner deemed "classic" and why?!

Sent by dan mccormick | 9:22 PM | 5-18-2008