Commercial underground radio and the sixties: An oral history and narrative

Michael Curtis Keith, University of Rhode Island


This dissertation is a study of one of contemporary American culture's most unique developments--commercial underground radio (also known as freeform, counterculture, and alternative radio). It is an examination of the events which led to the emergence, implementation, and ultimate reformulation of what was cynically referred to by its industry detractors and members of the mainstream establishment as "hippie" radio. The oral narrators of the study (all former underground radio practitioners) provided their listening audience with a new brand of audio discourse, one which aired for little more than a half dozen years during one of the country's most turbulent and transforming periods.^ From 1966 to 1972 underground radio broke the mold and shattered the conventions that had kept the medium in a state of blandness and conformity as a means of fulfilling the bottom-line aspirations and dictates of industry profit seekers. At a time when the nation was shaken by widespread social and cultural unrest and reassessment, the frustrations of a few broadcasters, disturbed by the bleak status quo so deeply embedded in the radio industry, bubbled over in a sudden burst of creative rebellion. Underground radio was born and for the next few years listeners were offered a form of broadcasting whose innovativeness and boldness brought a new golden-age to the audio medium.^ This study locates itself in two literatures: cultural studies and oral history. Through these it analyzes the counterculture radio phenomenon. Its insights, observations, and anecdotes are drawn from the professional experiences of over thirty of the programming format's foremost practitioners, as well as from the criticism and commentary of scholars and historians devoted to the era in which commercial underground radio was offered to the public. ^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Cultural|History, United States|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Michael Curtis Keith, "Commercial underground radio and the sixties: An oral history and narrative" (1998). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9902567.