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KPIG, 107 “oink” 5 FM

It’s a bit like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. The music and voices comes through the car radio, but where does it really come from?

In my mind’s eye I envisioned a tall building with radio towers crowning the roof and an expansive studio on the top floor where a large staff puts together playlists and commercials while the DJ speak to their devoted listeners, taking requests and forecasting the weather and traffic patterns.

While I’m down in Santa Cruz, my radio is often tuned to 107.5, which is the frequency of the legendary radio station, KPIG. KPIG plays Americana (and other worldly music) music: rock, folk, blues, bluegrass, western swing, country, reggae, and everything in between.

The radio station identifies it’s location as Freedom, California but in reality the station is based in an unassuming building in Watsonville, across Main Street from Ramsey Park. Freedom does have a much nicer ring than Watsonville!

What brought me to Main Street was a bumper sticker. For years, I had seen the KPIG sticker on numerous cars and plenty of trucks. The other ubiquitous sticker in the Monterey Bay Area is for the Mystery Spot. I have always loved the design of the sticker,( by John F. Johnson of Teapot Graphics) of a sunglasseted swine dolfing his black hat. I wanted a sticker for my sketchbook but I have never seen it sold in local stores or on KPIG’s website. I thought maybe KPIG has a business office and I would be able to buy a sticker there. So off I went towards Watsonville.

As I drove out from my cabin, my radio was tuned to 107 “oink” 5 FM. Through my speakers was the Slickers song, “Johnny Too Bad”, a song I had first heard while watching film The Harder They Come. This is the film that introduced reggae to the world. I loved the eclectic variety of KPIG. Pig music, really, is just good music, no matter what genre. You can’t put your finger, or cloven hoof, on it, but it just seems right.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled off Highway 1 and drove down Main Street. As I neared KPIG Central, to my left, there was no tall building, crowned in tall radio towers, just a collection of businesses and a strip mall. I made a left hand turn and drove through the Dollar Tree parking lot. I came upon a complex that looked like it had once been a hotel. To my right was a single story long building that might have once been the hotel’s office. On the other end of the parking lot was an L shaped building which, at one time, housed the hotel rooms but now where businesses.

There was no sign, no ostentatious display proclaiming the business behind it’s twin brown doors, that this was the epicenter of one of the most beloved radio stations around. Somehow this seems just exactly right. The only reason I knew this was KPIG studios was that there was a sticker, the one which I was now seeking, one of the two doors. Also the sign in the window, “Beware of Attack Pig” was a swine giveaway.

What’s behind the brown door?

I parked and walked over to take few pictures of the door.

To my surprise, the door to the right opened. I was greeted by Vicki, the Saturday morning DJ. This was the woman behind the wizard! She invited me in. On the door was the phrase: “Real People, Real Music, Real Radio”. This rang true as I stood before the “real” DJ that I had just been listening to a few minutes earlier.

To my left was the studio, lined with shelves and shelves of music. In the center of the room was a deck with computer screens, a chair, and a microphone.

“So this is where the magic happens.” I said.

She gave me a few stickers and I thanked her for the music. I returned to the car and sketched the studio with the antenna rising above the former hotel.

On my ride back to Santa Cruz, I listened to the PIG and as I pulled off Highway 9 towards my cabin, Neil Young’s title track from his legendary second album came on, “Everybody Knows That This is Nowhere.”

This seemed somehow a fitting soundtrack to my KPIG morning adventure!

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Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum

For my southlands adventures, I stayed in the artist’s enclave: Topanga Canyon.

The town of Topanga, situated northwest of downtown Los Angles, has been a magnet for artists, musicians, free-thinkers, bohemians, “lefties”, and filmakers for many years. The area still maintains a funky, laid-back vibe. When you are in the canyon, you feel a million miles away from the largest city in California and second largest city in the United States: L.A.

The area has had a long history with musicians. In 1952, folk singer Woody Guthrie moved here. A partial list of musicians that at one time made the canyon their home are: Neil Young, Stephan Stills, Jim Morrison, Randy California, Taj Mahal, Billy Preston, Gram Parsons, Mick Fleetwood, Marin Gaye, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell. It was in at his Topanga Canyon house that Neil Young wrote and recorded his masterpiece, After the Gold Rush in 1969-70.

A reminder of the Topanga’s artistic past is alive at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Will Geer is perhaps best known for his role as Grandpa Zebulon Walton in the successful television series The Waltons (1972-1981).

Before his success in the 1970s, Geer was a successful actor of the stage, screen and radio. Then came the McCarthy Era and Geer refused to testify before the House of Un-American Actives Committee (HUAC). As a result he was blacklisted by the committee and he could no longer find work in Hollywood. Geer was forced to sell his house in Los Angles and bought land in Topanga Canyon where his family relocated.

At this time Geer had a chance to seize upon two of his passions: theatre and botany. He created a band of artists and actors and he was able to employ other of his blacklisted friends and he created the Theatricum Botanicum in 1973. On this property in Topanga, folksinger Woody Guthrie had a small cabin where he lived for many years, it became known as “Woody’s Shack”.

In my sketch of the area, I added Woody’s Shack as an anchor to the left (of course Guthrie was always to the left) of my panoramic spread.

Woody’s Shack. I incorporated the font of the sign into the sketch.

One thing I really wanted to sketch at the Theatricim Botanicaum was the bust of Will Geer, sculpted by local artist Megan Rice. The bust was in the garden created by Geer himself. In the the garden, now called “Will’s Garden”, he planted every plant mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. He clearly loved this place and the flora and fauna in it, that he is buried in the garden itself.

The bust of Will Geer created by local sculptor Megan Rice. This really seems to capture the essence of the man.

The Theatricum Botanicum is still a thriving theater company. Today the company’s artistic director is Will’s daughter, Ellen Geer. The company performs the works of Shakespeare as well as contemporary plays and musical performances ( some have included Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and Burl Ives). They also have an educational program promoting youth theater and also supports learning through field trips.

The main stage at the Theatricum Botanicum.
Art seems to infuse ever inch of the Theatricum Botanicum. Exhibit D: the culvert of the creek. This place is alive!