Guru of Goodness and Good Music – Bill Compton
By Mariah Fleming
Originally from Texas, William Edward Compton’s impact on radio began in 1969 when, with only 5 years of radio experience under his belt, he set out for Los Angeles. It is our fortune that he only got as far as Phoenix.
In 1969 Phoenix Top Forty AM Radio ruled the dial. Rival stations KRIZ and KRUX were locked in a continual battle to be number one. In the late 1960’s, hoping to win the ratings war, KRUX took a chance on Bill Compton. That’s when Compton began forging his own path to fame. A show called the KRUX Underground was featured on KRUX. Originally conceived and hosted by Ray Thomson, the station engineer, when KRUX hired William Edward Compton, Thomson seemed to know that KRUX had taken a bold step enlisting Compton. He turned the 'KRUX Underground" over to Compton and Phoenix changed forever.
Under the moniker "Little Willie Sunshine," Compton crafted a unique, ‘open format’ music show, which was previously nonexistent in Valley radio. Something completely different was happening. On Sunday nights, “Little Willie Sunshine" brought KRUX head long into the ‘Age of Aquarius’ with his engagingly diverse sets. Rock, folk, jazz, R&B, blues – simply any music that spoke to him came floating through the airwaves. But at KRUX, his open format radio was only a hint of what Compton wanted it to be. So he grabbed an opportunity to become program director for a little 500-watt daytime only AM radio station called KCAC.
First, KCAC broadcast out of an old house that would now be designated as "historic." It sat on the south side Camelback Road, between 7th and 15th Avenues. The presence of a bunch of hippies running a radio station not far from the quiet family streets ruffled some feathers. One day Compton walked into his station to find that KCAC had been burglarized. The station’s entire library of LP’s had disappeared. He and his air staff appealed to listeners to loan the station records while KCAC rebuilt its library. In no time, the faithful were streaming in to the little house, balancing their unwieldy stacks of LPs. The station happily accepted listener’s LP’s, talked to several of the generous listeners on the air, and offered ‘herbal compensation’ to those who came to the rescue.
KCAC later moved from the house on Camelback to inside a big music store housed in Tower Plaza, near 40th Street and Thomas. At that location, Compton broadcast live from the display window of Wallich’s Music City. The booth faced a sidewalk filled with curious teens, inspired listeners and anyone else who happened by. That kind of set up would probably result in chaos today, but Compton already had a reputation as one of a kind, Arizona’s musical pied piper. Compton respected his listeners and received nothing less in return.
Broadcasting from Wallich’s had another big upside. Compton had access to all kinds of albums and undoubtedly was partly responsible for the store’s great selection of records. At Wallich’s, would be customers were invited to listen to records before buying them. If the store didn’t have an “open copy” they’d open one. Customers were shown to private, glass enclosed “listening booths” where they could lovingly place records on the turntable and decide if they liked the albums enough to buy them.
By l971, KCAC was in financial straits, so Bill Compton joined forces with Valley newcomer Dwight Tindle, who with a partner, formed “Dwight Karma Broadcasting.” On August 23, l971, Dwight Tindle signed KDKB on the air. He hired Compton as KDKB's first program director, and KDKB began broadcasting from a two story red brick building on Country Club and First Avenue in Mesa. Tindle recognized Compton's exceptional talent and charisma, and gave Compton free reign to create a radio station that would transform the dial. Both William Edward Compton and Dwight Tindle were inducted into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame.
Just like at KCAC, Compton told his hand picked KDKB crew of passionate music connoisseurs to do their own thing on the air. And they did. KDKB (affectionately called ‘Krazy Dog Krazy Boy radio’) regularly featured local artists performing live, in-studio. KDKB played local artist's records. Compton was a tireless champion of the local music scene. KDKB even made a yearly “Arizona Sounds” compilation of local music that was culled from hundreds of submitted tapes.
KDKB listeners always knew they had a surprise or two in store for them. On the air there were hilarious live comic sketches, ad promotions for non-existent products and services, and award winning radio commercials that were created in house. A riotously fictitious ad campaign for the “First Women’s National Credit and Trust Bank,” (”run by and for women only!”) landed KDKB in hot water.
The fake First Women's National Credit and Trust Bank ads promised ‘interest free car loans for women,” and “free sperm from the bank’s own sperm bank” for women who opened accounts. Calls from women lit up the KDKB telephone lines asking when the bank would open its doors. The station received a “cease and desist” letter from the state warning them to end the promotion. The Arizona State Fiduciary Board feared listeners might expect a branch to “open soon near them.”
The station also broadcast “The Love Workshop,” a “radio theatre” segment known for its peculiar trademark of tasteless hilarity. There were no sacred cows at KDKB. 93.3 FM became a kind of pulpit, preaching fun and the musical dogma of the cutting edge. One of the sketch writers even landed a job at the irreverent, iconic National Lampoon Magazine. The Love Workshop tapes have been painstakingly researched and compiled by Radio Free Phoenix creator and longtime valley radio personality Andy Olson. The tapes, once thought lost to history, are on sale through radiofreephoenix.com
Compton generated listeners for nationally touring acts like Jerry Riopelle, Buckingham Nicks, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison, among others. Compton’s support affected the careers of Stevie Nicks and John Stewart, who is best known for a hit record with Stevie Nicks (made after the release of Stewart’s many critically acclaimed solo albums.)
It is next to impossible to pare down a biography about William Edward Compton. When you talk to people who knew Bill Compton you know you missed something that won’t ever again happen in radio. A picture emerges of a man whose beliefs in the power of music, community action, tolerance and non-violence were evident in the way he lived his life on and off the air.
For example, under his charge, KDKB featured comprehensive daily fifteen-minute newscasts, and a weekly show devoted to political and social issues, Valley culture, music and arts. In addition to his stewardship of KDKB, Compton was an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, occasionally performing marriage ceremonies.
Music lovers and musicians both locally and nationally are forever in Compton’s debt. Bill Compton turned the Valley from a ‘cow town’ into a ‘cool town’ with his visionary approach to radio, along with his laid back, unpretentious personality. Born in Tyler, Texas in 1945, his vision for Valley radio was cut short when he was killed in Phoenix in a one-car accident while trying to avoid a bicyclist.