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KOMA

KOMA is a radio station in Oklahoma City, where John Peel worked (as John Ravenscroft) in around 1965, after he had left Dallas, where he had worked for KLIF, and before his move to San Bernardino, where he worked at KMEN. His period at KOMA is less well documented than his other US radio work, but it was his first full-time radio job. On the station he was co-host, with DJ Paul Miller, of The Paul and John Show, which, according to Margrave of the Marshes (p.213), became extremely popular with teenage high school students. Although no recordings of the show have come to light, it seems to have included an element of comedy, in the style popularised by other DJ duos in the US and copied in the UK by Kenny Everett and Dave Cash; their Kenny and Cash Show on the pirate ship Radio London was similarly successful in 1965-66.

During his time in Oklahoma Peel also claimed to have branched out into management, with two improbably named and obscure groups, Dann Yankee & The Carpetbaggers and Jay Walker & The Pedestrians, who apparently performed on Indian reservations, with Peel also serving as their driver.[1]

One surviving clip from Peel's time at KOMA shows him promoting the attractions of a couple of other groups with unlikely names:

John Peel's KOMA

John Peel's KOMA

“For the very latest information about the Beatles, Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and all of the other English groups, in addition to exclusive recordings by these groups and lesser-known but magnificent performers such as the Hollies, the Mighty Avengers, Spencer Davis Group, Snotty & The Nosepickers, and the Boys Blue, listen for me, John Ravencroft, when I have the honour of joining Bobby Davis and Kay nightly on KOMA, the only station with its finger firmly on the pulse of the English scene.”[1]

Continuing to benefit from his Liverpool background at the height of the "British Invasion" of the US pop charts, he also travelled to Minneapolis on behalf of KOMA to meet The Beatles:

Can you imagine your own letter or message personally delivered to Paul, Ringo, George or John? This is John Ravencroft, the newest member of the KOMA good guys, and I will be able to deliver your messages to the Beatles in Minneapolis on Saturday, when I attend their press conference and show.[2] I will report directly to you from Minneapolis on KOMA. On Monday night I will be with Bobby Davis and K to tell you all about my recent month-long holiday in my hometown of Liverpool and play you many exclusive records from the English hit parade. If you have a message for the Beatles, please send it to me, John Ravenscroft, c/o KOMA, Box 1520, Oklahoma City, and stay tuned to hear the Beatles’ reactions to your letters. Cheerio until Monday.
(transcript of KOMA clip, from: Radio Radio)

But the trip was a disaster; not only did he not meet the group, but, as Sheila Ravenscroft puts it (Margrave of the Marshes, p..215) "John was thrown down a flight of stairs by a friendly policeman at the Beatles concert". She adds:

He did, though, get to meet the Supremes, who joined the ever-expanding list of bands who refused to speak to him. Conversely, The Lovin' Spoonful went straight to the top of the then-meagre list of bands who not only agreed to converse with John, but even invited him to the cinema with him (they went to see The Greatest Story Ever Told, by the way).

John proved to be unpopular with a political group named the John Birch Society, which at the time was notorious for claiming that pop music, Sixties fashion and long hair were part of a Communist plot to subvert America. He recalled receiving death threats from right-wingers in neighbouring state Colorado whenever he played the Turtles' version of Barry McGuire's anti-war anthem Eve Of Destruction: the song gainsays that 'Red China' is a threat to the country, and thus John was believed to be a Communist sympathiser. ([2]). (Another song he played that apparently provoked similar reactions was P.F. Sloan's Sins Of The Family.) Due to failing ratings, KOMA decided to change its DJ team, as was common practice in US commercial radio, and in autumn 1965 Peel/Ravenscroft lost his job. In the Radio 1 documentary Radio Radio he recalled:

But then the station KOMA, although it had a freak signal that could be heard on a good night they reckoned in 26 states – I mean, it was very well known over most of the eastern side of the United States – but locally it really didn’t do terribly well. It was never, in the whole time I was there, the Top 40 station in Oklahoma City. And I think in the market it came something like fourth. So they got into a panic and got rid of a lot of people, and because I had been the last to join I was the first to go, and also the English thing was beginning to lose its impact.

Yet despite this setback Peel soon found work at KMEN in San Bernardino, where his DJ career continued to develop.

On 25 February 1995 Peel played a modern day jingle for KOMA

References

  1. Margrave Of The Marshes (Bantam Press,hardback), p.212. Both groups apparently did exist. Dann Yankee and co can be heard online here. For background on Jay Walker & The Pedestrians (not the modern-day Australian outfit of the same name), including the KOMA connection, click here.
  2. These appear to have taken place on 1965-08-21. See the Beatles Ultimate Experience site for further details. In a 1986 Observer article, reprinted in Olivetti Chronicles (hardback version, pg152), Peel said that at the press conference he asked George Harrison one question that made him "die a little as I asked it" and would "remain locked in my memory, unshared and unloved."

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