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Happy Birthday, KLPX 

Classic rock station celebrates 40th anniversary with 38 Special concert

click to enlarge 38 Special is celebrating KLPX’s special 40th.

Courtesy photo

38 Special is celebrating KLPX’s special 40th.

On July 4, local FM radio station KLPX (96.1) celebrated its 40th anniversary. That's four decades since they first signed on the air in 1979, and they've been broadcasting in the classic rock format ever since.

Programming boss and institutional memory Larry Mac has been with the station for 12 of those years, having answered a blind ad when he was between gigs.

"A blind ad is when you don't know where the job is at," he says. "All I knew is it was somewhere in the southwest. A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from the program director Chita [Hoopla]. She called me up and asked me to interview. So I drove down, did an interview, and about a month later I came down as midday and assistant program director."

Mac had previously worked at numerous stations in Vegas and nearby in Phoenix, though he says that he used to listen to KLPX as a boy in Chandler.

"I could get it in certain parts of Chandler when I'd be our partying in the desert with my friends," he says with a laugh. "I love Tucson, though. It's a great place to raise a family. It's a big city with a small town feel. It seems like everybody I know here knows somebody who knows somebody. You don't see that in the bigger cities. One thing I've noticed about this station—they grew up listening to it and they're very passionate about it. They let you know when they're not happy and they let you know when they are."

The entertainment industry has changed beyond all recognition in the past couple of decades, and radio hasn't been exempt. Still, Mac says that for a commercial FM classic rock station, the changes haven't come too fast.

"When I first got into it, you could only own one AM and one FM per market," he says. "Maybe a TV station. Now, big companies have come in and can own a ton of stations. We do now, but we're a small company. Lotus Entertainment is, if I'm correct, the last privately owned radio station group in the country. I could be wrong on that, but we're at least one of the last. So we're not iHeartRadio or Cumulus Media. One guy owns us all [Howard Kalmenson]."

That's heartening, especially when you consider how little has changed at a base level at KLPX since Mac joined the ranks.

"You know what, we still have a lot of the same staff," he says. "Beth [Simmons] has been with us for the last eight years. Frank [of The Frank Show] has been with us almost 10 years. Before that, Frank was on KFMA for 10 years so he's coming up on 20 years in the building between the two stations. Our night guy is Alice Cooper and he was here when I got here. So there hasn't been a lot of turnover on the station. Even some of our part timers have worked here forever."

What has changed, not just at KLPX but at every classic rock station, is what "classic rock" even means in 2019. Like "indie" and "pop," there's always a battle between the true definition and the accepted genre. "Indie" means "independent," but nobody will classify Taylor Swift as an indie artist if she puts out an album on an independent label, because the tag carries with it an accepted sound. "Pop" is the same—not all "popular" music is considered pop. Ditto "classic rock."

"I had people asking why we're playing Poison on classic rock, and this was 12 years ago," Mac says. "Back then it was a 20-year-old song, now it's a 30-year-old song, so now we're touching a little bit of the Nirvanas and Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgardens, Pearl Jams and Green Days, because heck, some of those songs are over 20 years old now and some of those bands are even in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Nobody likes to hear that their music is classic rock."

Mac broadcasts between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and his popular "Music Grill" sees him serve up three courses of themed playlists from noon.

"Sometimes if I can't figure out a theme, I'll make it all requests," he says. "Maybe 'This Day in History.' Maybe it's a classic rocker's birthday so I'll play a course of their music. Maybe the third is songs with cowbell, or songs that use the violin, or great guitar players, or some of the most famous drummers."

The DJ says that, as the station continues to evolve, he expects more '90s music to be introduced to the playlists. There'll always be space for Led Zeppelin, though.

"Some of the music is timeless, which is great," Mac says. "I think the recording quality of some of the older songs still holds up today. When I was a kid, I didn't like a lot of my parents' music and I think a lot of that was the way it was recorded. I grew up with FM radio and they grew up with AM radio. A lot of stuff from the '60s, '70s and '80s holds up today because it was recorded so well."

On Thursday, September 12, the KLPX crew will celebrate their 40th birthday with southern rockers 38 special. Of course, Mac will be there.

"I'll be out there hosting the event along with Beth Simmons and Frank," he says. "We're looking forward to it. Beth will be broadcasting her show live. We'll do a rollout of a big birthday cake. We're doing a 38 Special meal with the casino, where two people can eat for $38. So we're looking forward to it. It's very rare for stations to make it 10 years with the same format, let alone 40 years."

38 Special co-founder Don Barnes saw his "lost" studio album Ride the Storm finally get a release a couple of years ago, and he says that the band will be playing songs from that and the unfinished new 38 Special album in Tucson alongside all the old favorites.

"It's everything you want to hear through the history of the band," Barnes says. "We unfold that history. It's all intact. Everything sounds just like the record. We've taken painstaking efforts to improve on the audio and sound, so it's powerful and clean. We've got it all there, and a couple of special surprises too."

Barnes says that the band has manic fans in Tucson, and they always have fun here. He also tips his hat to the team at KLPX.

"They were trendsetters back then," he says. "It's a great thing, to still be around. I definitely relate after all this time. We were proud that they put 'Hold On Loosely' on the radio—one of the first stations that started with it. It definitely launched our career, so we're happy to be back and hopefully we'll see some old friends."

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