Five Decades of Clyde Clifford’s Beaker Street

April 8, 2020

As I write this, I am listening to the Beaker Street radio program, hosted by Clyde Clifford. Younger readers are probably wondering “Who?” Those of us in our 40s and beyond are asking “Didn’t that show go off the air YEARS ago?” But the true Radio Geeks among us know that Beaker Street has been going strong for five decades. What a long strange trip it’s been!

Beaker Street began on KAAY-AM 1090 in Little Rock, Arkansas, all the way back in 1966. KAAY was and still is a 50,000 watt clear channel station with a huge nighttime signal footprint. The directional “figure 8” pattern beams north/northwest and south/southeast. KAAY had listeners as far north as Manitoba, Canada and as far south as Cuba. By day, “The Mighty 1090” played a straight Top 40 music format. But during the overnight hours, KAAY aired a blend of progressive album rock. Back in the 1960s, this was often referred to as “acid rock” or “hippie music.” Beaker Street actually began as an experiment. Clyde Clifford (his real name is Dale Seidenschwarz) was also an engineer for the station. In those days, AM stations with directional antenna systems had to have a licensed engineer on duty at all times. Clyde was the overnight engineer, doubling as the late-night DJ. Since he was the engineer on duty, he did his show from the transmitter in Wrightsville, rather than from the main KAAY studios in downtown Little Rock. Because his was the “graveyard” shift, station management allowed Clyde to experiment with this music and basically play whatever he wanted. His unique mix of music caught on with the listeners and Beaker Street was born!

Clyde Clifford left KAAY in 1974, but Beaker Street continued with other hosts until 1977. By this time, FM stereo with it’s superior audio quality had taken control in many markets. The days were numbered for Rock and Top 40 AM radio. Despite being cancelled, the memory of Beaker Street lived on for listeners in Little Rock. It was one of those things that never really went away. Several years later, Clyde resurrected Beaker Street in Little Rock on KZLR-FM 94.9 (KZ-95.) Beaker Street was now a weekly program, airing on Sunday nights from 7PM-Midnight. Later still, the show moved up the dial to KMJX-FM 105.1 (Magic 105.1) where it remained for many years. In 2008, Magic 105.1 changed format and became Classic Country 105.1 The Wolf. Beaker Street again disappeared from the airwaves, only to return just 3 weeks later on KMJX’s crosstown competitor, KKPT-FM 94.1 (The Point 94.1 FM.) This is where it remains today, still occupying the 7-Midnight time slot each Sunday. What a long, strange trip it’s been!

As a young kid growing up in Minnesota, Beaker Street was my introduction to both progressive music and the joys of listening to distant AM stations at night. In 1970, I was given a General Electric AM clock radio for my 6th birthday. I already had a few pocket transistor radios, but this was my first “big” radio with decent sensitivity and selectivity. Tuning across the dial at night, I quickly found KAAY and became interested in the “weird” music they played which I couldn’t hear on any of the local stations. My earliest memories of Beaker Street involve ‘the white bird song’ (“White Bird” by It’s a Beautiful Day), ‘the captain of the Titanic song’ (“The Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic” by Jamie Brockett), and the strange music which was played underneath Clyde Clifford as he spoke (“Cannabis Sativa” by the band Head.) I was much too young to understand the meaning of the lyrics, but I loved the music. I spent many nights listening to KAAY while my parents thought I was sleeping. I find it amazing that 40 years later, the same DJ is still doing the same show in the same city. The music as well as Clyde’s laid back personality are exactly the same now as they were then. Some things never change, and that’s a good thing.

If you get a chance, check out Clyde Clifford’s Beaker Street on The Point 94.1 FM. If you’re not within range of the signal, they stream online at kkpt.com. This is a piece of living radio history that everyone should have a chance to hear. As for myself, I’m off to bed so I can catch the last 20 minutes of Beaker Street before I fall asleep. Just as I did 40 years ago as a boy in the first grade, beginning to develop an interest in radio.