A radio station that launched inside a former grocery store near downtown Mesa and became a staple for generations of Valley listeners soon will reach a milestone: KDKB (93.3-FM) turns 40 on Aug. 23.

It’s no surprise that the Mesa-based station’s catchphrases “KDKB Rocks Arizona” and “We Will Rock You” still live up to their name while waking up listeners in the morning as Valley radio personalities such as Sludge and Jenny Brooks of “Sludge Nation,” Ruby Cheeks, “Neander” Paul Marshall and Hippie Dom share their exploits for a station that has become a regional favorite by continuing to play classic rock.

While countless stations have come and gone and our favorite disc jockeys who woke us for school and later work often become sweet and distant memories, KDKB — considered the Valley’s original rock station — has survived the test of time in an era of frequent “format flips” when stations change their content. KDKB is the sixth longest-running rock station in the nation, continuing with the same format it had when it was founded.

Although there have been countless personnel changes throughout the decades, the radio station still features a music request line, concert ticket giveaways, Ruby Cheeks’ “Valley Focus” show on Sunday mornings with local charitable organizations, and longtime concert promoter Danny Zelisko’s Sunday night program, “Danny Zelisko Presents,” which airs music and interviews with some of the top names in the industry.

And for more than 20 years, Dennis McBroom has remained a fixture at the station, first as an on-air personality and now as an employee of Metro Traffic, helping motorists navigate Valley streets.

Last weekend, many of the station’s former personalities returned to the station for an “alumni takeover” that let them again lend their familiar voices to the airwaves and played old commercials. On Aug. 23, the station’s current staff will mark its 40th anniversary show with contests and giveaways.

Marshall, a Boston native and program manager for KDKB whose high school guidance counselor told him that his desire to enter a radio broadcast career was “wasted potential personified,” said the station has survived just by staying true to its history, audience and mission of providing good entertainment between the music.

“Radio is the true island of misfit toys,” Marshall said. “There have been so many stations that have gone away, it is a testament, quite frankly, to our audience that we’re still here. Radio has to listen to its audience. If you listen to them, they will listen to you. You can get the music anywhere, but not what’s in between it.”

Since January, station managers at 1167 W. Javelina Drive in Mesa, where its offices have been for 30 years, have been busy preparing special events for the big year with a staff of about 40 under Ohio-based Sandusky Radio, owned by brothers David and Norman Rau. The Raus own five stations in Phoenix and some in Seattle.

According to industry website radioinfo.com, KDKB is younger only than Cincinnati’s WEBN (102.7 FM), Philadelphia’s WMMR (93.3-FM) and Boston/Worcester’s WAAF (107.3 FM), all founded in 1967, Cleveland’s WMMS (100.7 FM), founded in 1968, and Detroit’s WRIF (101.1 FM), founded on Feb. 14, 1971.    

KDKB, a Peabody Award-winning station for outstanding public service reporting, has had just two owners in its 40 years and remains in the Phoenix metropolitan area’s Top 10 in the 25 to 54 age range, according to Arbitron Ratings.

The size of KDKB’s staff is quite a contrast from the group of 13 who launched the station on Aug. 23, 1971, in the former Safeway grocery store at 146 S. Country Club Drive near First Avenue.

“When it’s all said and done, it all comes down to entertainment, and we have a lot of dedicated people here who provide it with a passion,” Marshall said. “Our listeners have stayed with us like a comfortable pair of shoes, and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.”

The early days

KDKB was founded by Philadelphia native C. Dwight Tindle, who died in 2006, and Toledo native Eric Hauenstein. They got inspired at Woodstock, the 1969  music festival that defined a generation on an upstate New York farm. While drying off from the rain and wiping off the mud at Tindle’s family home in Philadelphia the day after Woodstock ended, the pair forged a formidable business partnership after becoming better acquainted through their close mutual friend, David Fenimore.

Tindle was attending college in Ohio, and Hauenstein was working as a part-time sales rep for WEBN in Cincinnati. Together, they decided to head West and open a radio station like no other. Phoenix and Mesa were much more conservative then and such “underground” markets didn’t exist — but the baby boomer generation wanted to hear the music.

After persuading a bank in Philadelphia to give them a loan and living together in Cincinnati for two years while they saved a little more money, Tindle, 21, and Hauenstein, 23, purchased KMND, a struggling easy listening station inside the old Safeway building for about $200,000.

When Tindle opened the radio show’s first program with Buffalo Springfield’s “On the Way Home,” he closed his eyes, said a prayer and didn’t look back. The station took a stranglehold on the Valley’s No. 1 ratings for most of the 1970s and ’80s, when song playlists were written by hand and razor blades were used for splicing tape or cutting a commercial.

The station’s early format — “free form” and “improvisational” which was classified as “underground” and album-oriented — had a reputation for helping to launch somewhat-unknown musicians to rock stardom, such as Jerry Riopelle, Roger Daltrey, Peter Frampton, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen. Much of the station’s early success also was credited to legendary radio personality Bill Compton, often remembered as the “architect” of the station who was given free reign to play the music listeners came to love. Compton died in a car crash in 1977.

Other original staff members who have died include morning voice Toad Hall, mid-day personality Hank Cookenbo (2004) and Tindle, who died of cancer in 2006. That year, Tindle’s mother accepted his posthumous induction into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Linda Thompson, who was an original member of the staff from 1971-77, began working at the station as a secretary and later was its music director from 1974 to ’77. Thompson said the blend of talent at KDKB then was the strongest she had ever worked with during her radio career. Tindle and Hauenstein sold the station to Sandusky Radio in 1978.

“I never ever would’ve thought the station would’ve been around this long,” said Thompson, who now lives in Silver City, N.M. “We were such upstarts. It wasn’t easy. No one wanted to give us any credibility, especially the older radio people Eric (Hauenstein) had to deal with at conferences. We were taking over a station that was liked in the community and people were not happy. Mesa and the rest of the area was a much more conservative place then. We had the freedom to play anything we wanted, and when we did, people would call, complain or protest. Every morning, you just couldn’t wait to get to work. Did you ever have a job like that?”

Hauenstein, who had a 45-year career in radio and retired last year from Citadel Broadcasting after managing a number of stations in Salt Lake City, Utah, now lives in Denver.

“A lot of things had to come together in a positive way for the station to happen,” Hauenstein, 63, said. “We were very lucky. It’s hard to say it modestly, but the fact that the station is still there, in the same format, is something I’m very proud of. Hundreds of people have gone through the doors of that station, and I’m glad I had a small role in it. The on-air talent there was among the best I had a chance to work with in the business and part of the magic was taking chances and trying new ideas.

“We wanted to get a jump in a market that didn’t have that kind of a station, and the Phoenix market had nothing like it,” Hauenstein added. “We figured we could be successful there. Lucky guess. During that time, whenever I would pull up to a stop light around Phoenix on a hot summer night, I would see a car with its windows rolled down and hear the station blaring. It was really a good feeling.”

It was in KDKB’s studios where Bruce Springsteen once served as a guest host a day before his epic concert at Phoenix’s Celebrity Theater in March 1974 — his first show west of the Rockies. In 1975, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham announced on air they were joining Fleetwood Mac, the day Mick Fleetwood and John McVie brought in their new album, “Fleetwood Mac,” which the station played in its entirety.

In the mid-1970s, Marshall said, music legend Frank Zappa also offered KDKB management the use of his attorneys and any resources needed to combat people who were trying to censor the station from playing his music.

Other early KDKB radio personalities such as announcer “Wonderful Russ” Shaw and Tim Scott, who was part of the “Tim and Mark Morning Show” with Mark Derringer from 1989 to 2005, have moved on. Russell Shaw, who did numerous commercials for KDKB, now is a prominent Valley real estate agent, and Scott works at Save the Family in Mesa, which helps homeless families find transitional housing. The station produced and sold albums and CDs of Tim and Mark’s famed prank calls, with more than $700,000 in proceeds going to children’s charities throughout the Valley.

Rock, radio here to stay

Television, videotape, CDs and the Internet all were viewed as the death knell for radio and its local personalities, but station managers adamantly believe the medium is here to stay — and so is rock ’n’ roll.

Ruby Cheeks, who is entering her 10th year at the station, said radio can’t die.

“What would I do? I’m not qualified to do anything else,” she said. “We’ve definitely had some roller-coasters through the years. You just keep chugging along and hope technology doesn’t supersede you.”

In fact, 93 percent of the American population 12 years old and older turns on a radio in the morning, according to consumer research firm Arbitron.

“The Internet can’t talk back to you or keep you company in your car,” Marshall said. “Music is not a tangible product.”

Matt Spaetzel, promotions director for KDKB, said he too believes radio will never go away.

“We just need to adapt to the digital age more and make sure we’re available on iPhones, iPads and Blackberries,” Spaetzel said. “It’s nice we’re still owned by a smaller company that cares about the history of the station and the listeners’ love of the station and that makes us stand out.”

Chuck Artigue, vice president of Sandusky Radio and general manager for KDKB, said, “We have stayed pretty consistent to the original concept, and considering how much radio has changed over the past 40 years, the lasting legacy generated by KDKB is truly remarkable.

“I give a lot of credit to the people behind KDKB who have a passion for rock and devoted their lives to bringing great music to their listeners.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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