Annual Manby Award Goes To…KTAO!

By: Bill Whaley
14 July, 2010

Each year, on Arthur R. Manby’s birthday, July 14, the Chicano Chamber of Commerce commemorates the Godfather of Taos Realtors, Developers, and Paper Shufflers. This year’s Manby Award goes to Harvey Cedars of KTAO. “KTAO sells air and air jockeys fly high above us earth-bound pedestrians,” said a chamber spokesman. “We salute the Spirit of Manby and Manby salutes Hockmeyer.” The award dinner, which coincides with the Maury Calvert Commemorative celebration for developers, was held last night in El Prado. (The Outlaw Garage finished second this year and the Blackstone Ranch, third.)

More News: Hock Sells TCC/KTAO stock To ASKK Media

Solar Center and Liquor License Included

According to confidential documents obtained by Taos Friction, Young Brad Hockmeyer is selling the controlling interest in Taos Communication Corp/KTAOS to ASKK Media, Inc (Kate Black, Shannon Black, Katherine Speirs, Aidan Bain) for a cool half million. ASKK will pay extra for the Solar Center real estate and liquor license the Stock Purchase and Sale Agreement filed with the FCC says. The principals are anxiously awaiting final approval from the FCC.

The Hockmeyer shares, 81% of the company, will be purchased for $545,000. At closing ASKK Media will drop $100,000 into Hock’s pocket and assume $130,000 in liabilities and accounts payable for the Broadcast portion of the deal—including equipment, inventory, goodwill, etc. The Seller will finance the buyer’s payout with four promissory notes. Buyers will secure the Seller’s interest with life insurance policies, deeds of trust and second mortgages on their real estate. 9They ain’t getting’ out alive!)

The Hock will remain on the board member and consult with the newbies at $25 per hour. A non-compete clause will keep the famed Harvey Cedars personality from joining DMC Broadcasting, like Sister Nancy, for three years. (Singer wouldn’t have it any other way.)

In a sidelight, affecting Taos County, the Upper Las Colonias Neighborhood Association, and Philip Bareiss, the “Stock Purchase and Sales Agreement for “Controlling Interest,” Section 6, paragraph (h), claims “The Corporation’s offices and equipment are in good condition and repair, and either grandfathered or in conformity with all applicable ordinances and regulations, and building, zoning, and other laws.”

The facility’s conformance to county regulations–if problematical–may have been “grandfathered” in under prior planner Allen Vigil—during the “Outlaw Garage” and “Blackstone Ranch” period. The KTAO Solar Center et al has never submitted an application for a Special Use Permit and is allegedly in violation of numerous state and local zoning regulations, including but not limited to: New Mexico Environmental Department standards (liquid waste) and construction industry guidelines (temporary outdoor tent).

We don’t know whether KTAO received “a verbal approval” for a temporary building but state CID regs don’t allow indefinite use for the “temporary.” The Performing Arts Venue cannot be “grandfathered” since it is separate from the prior and long defunct dance hall. Apparently the new structure violates performance standards i.e. Spanish Colonial or Territorial style for new construction. KTAO’s new solar array in the front yard contains no wall to block the visual assault or for parking behind the wall. Among other complaints neighbors say, there was no notification of pending construction. A local activists says KTAO has yet to suffer through sewage and water permit reviews for the increased use; traffic reviews and public safety” vetting; fire suppression and water storage regs are ignored as are noise restraints and solar energy utilization protection, not to mention bare bulb visibility and etc.

KTAO’s bad neighbor policy has rubbed off on the next-door pizza parlor, Pizanos: allegedly illegal tents. But who’s watching? Or listening? –Except for Philip Bareiss (we assume). Outlaw garages and outlaw air jockeys fill up the coffers in Taos County and make hey for politicos.

Taos Pueblo, which property abuts the KTAO Solar Center, has objected to a 150-foot plus “Morrison Memorial” Cell Tower, erected without either FCC or FAA approval across the highway. The application for the Cell Phone tower has been stalled for several years. The violation itself landed on former FCC Chief Michael Powell’s desk. Similarly, the FAA/Taos Pueblo have yet to concur—publicly–on the “cross-wind” runway at the airport, eight miles west, due to alleged concerns over “sacred air space.” Monday night’s “Moccasin Wire” probably solves any P.R. problems with Taos Pueblo regarding the “sacred sound.”

In the run-up to the sale, much has been made of the fabled solar FM station, born as KXRT, according to the press, then going off the air and magically re-appearing as KTAO. The missing link between Hock’s magnificent KTAO and the moribund KXRT was known as TCC/KVNM for several years. At this rubber band and band-aid affair, Hock began life—secretly—as Harvey Cedars. Think of the following as something  George Santayana might have said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Here’s the rest of the story.

(Gringo Lessons: Radio Days, Part I)

By Bill Whaley

Among the Smugglers

Battle of Chicago

The Radio Deal

While we negotiated to buy the FCC license issued to Taos Communications Corporation d/b/a KXRT-FM, a number of tangled issues came of age during the winter of 1982. We needed 25 grand in cash to make the deal. Young Brad Hockmeyer, the proposed program director, had $15,000. Mick Rothman, proposed general manager, owned a tiny bit of stock in the company. Both of these fine fellows had worked at the movie theatre for me but dreamed in stereo about spinning discs. When they came to see me in the winter of 1982, I didn’t have a job, an income, or own an automobile.

The last ten grand in cash evaded our grasp for months.

On paper, I was worth $300,000, mostly in real estate, notes, etc. I owned most of the Plaza Theatre Building, or held parts of it as a go-between mortgagor and a few promissory notes signed by an Española movie mogul on a snow seal. Rothman worked it out with the hotshots from Chicago who owned the station so that I could sign a couple of promissory notes worth $40,000 or so and purchase a majority interest in the stock. They said they’d take back a fourth and fifth mortgage on the PTB. I could purchase but not take ownership of for full value, due to “The Dreaded Burns Agreement.”

I agreed to buy the stock based on the potential value of an FCC license and projected ad revenues. “Potential” was my middle name. Ponzi might be a an apt synonym for potential. Ask the women in my life who bet on the come line. At press time, I was still searching for fulfillment.

The Dreaded Burns Agreement

We knew that we would have been better off starting from scratch and re-capitalizing the station but we were stuck with the Taos Communications Corporation because of the “dreaded Burns agreement.” Mr. Burns, if I remember correctly, owned a radio station in Los Alamos and tried to buy KXRT from its majority stockholder, Danny FastTalk, who also owned WXRT in Chicago. Burns offered to pay bottom dollar but Danny wanted to salvage his pride. He needed a sucker like me who was also trying desperately to salvage his identity from the maelstrom of the demimonde. I was desperate to play one more entrepreneurial hand at the big table in Taos…

Mr. FastTalk inherited Chicago’s WXRT, which played polka music. A new generation of sharp programmers convinced him to turn on windy city listeners with a progressive radio format or synthesis of pop, rock, blues, etc. The station became a great success. He thought he had found more young geniuses when he sent engineer John McDermott and manager Mick Rothman out to Taos, New Mexico, along with their good ideas, their savings, and their hopes. But as Governor Lew Wallace used to say, “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” That first version of FM radio in Taos failed due to lack of capitalization, community support, in-fighting, and premature timing. Back in the 70s, I though the initial debut of FM was 20 years too early. By 1982, we were 18 years closer to the mark.

While KXRT was off the air, Mr. Burns got his claws—a right of first refusal–into the contract with the FCC. If a single person acquired fifty percent or more of the stock in the company that owned the station, the Burns agreement kicked in and we knew that “easy listening music”–meant for retirees from Euclid, Ohio or Long Island, New York—would be our fate.  To evade the Burns’ agreement, I consented to shoulder more than 50 percent of the stock and thus the debt inherited but unknown from TCC, the company. But I would only get 49% of the voting stock in return for three years.

The FCC about which I knew little, changed the rules sometime during this murky period. Prior to our purchase of the license, someone could buy a station with a guaranteed frequency on the dial, wait three years, and sell it at a profit, due to the limited number of licenses (call it a monopoly) and captive revenue. The asset was sure to gain in value because of exclusivity. By the time we took control, the FCC allowed folks to buy and move their stations around the state to new locations. The assigned frequency of 101.7 in Taos–no longer bound by place–was worth less the day we acquired it than the day we made the offer. We were officially members not of TCC, Inc. but of Pendejos, Inc.

The Vision

I bet double-or-nothing on FM radio in Taos just like I did one summer day in 1965, when I bet my check for sweeping up cigarette butts at the Sahara Tahoe on red or black over at Harrah’s on the roulette table. I figured we could make the station solvent by selling advertising, while also promoting box office revenue for movies, theatre, and concerts. Show biz, baby, show biz.

My vision included broadcast booths perched high above Taos Plaza in the PTB.. Build it and they will come; give them good stuff to see or watch or listen to and they will buy advertising. The vision worked for the movies and at the TCA.

While Hockmeyer, Rothman hustled every hustler and potential savings account owner they could find, I focused on the local smugglers whose pockets bulged with loose change. For that winter I was living with a minor dealer in street sweets. Our primary activity focused on late-night reruns of “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners: on television that winter. Each evening or morning before going to sleep, I thought about the hundred dollar bills I’d seen change hands among my new acquaintances, a crowd of semi-retired smugglers.

Michael Sheary, R.I.P.

These smugglers and street peddlers fascinated me. Their business acumen could be confirmed by the hundred dollar bills that they threw around like wood haulers during the annual fall harvest of piñon, old pine, and green Aspen. But through the magic of mixing, the peddlers could double the size of a cord and quadruple their profits. Theses traders and sharpies reminded me of the Comanches, mountain men, and card sharks who used to haunt the Taos Mercado during the nineteenth century when Kit Carson was the ascending action figure.

A local mechanic, Monkey, who, sans license, fixed and sold cars, delivered sweets to customers at local bars for years before getting caught and hauled away by the federales.  Rehabilitated, he finished his life at a 7-11 in Florida, according to a friend, who stumbled into the convenience store clerk.

“Monkey,” said Wagner.

The clerk slipped a finger across his lips and whispered, “Doug, Doug Hadley,” referring to his real name, a name unknown to most Taosenos. RIP, Monkey.

Peddler Michael Sheary stumbled into smuggler heaven when a partner died of a heart attack and left his sidekick holding a bag of goodies, which included a string of first-rate storage yards. Michael eventually died, courtesy of cancer, a decade after serving four years in a federal lock-up. His band of outlaws set a record for an inland pot bust—81/2 tons—in St. Louis, Mo. Lo’ these many years ago, long before our contemporary swindlers made the transition from the street to the banks, where the real money is.

Local yokels in Taos like Ma and Pa Kettle had a back channel to the AG’s office, which kept them safe from searches by the DEA and soundly solvent. The folks who survived that dark time became legitimate local realtors, custom home contractors, husbands of respectable school-teachers, home and hospitality salesmen, horse fanciers, and developers during the boom boom years. Like the mob in Vegas or the gangster emigres of Hollywood, these irregulars and ex-hippies gave up the peddler’s unregulated life for the sake of middle class amenities: running water, private property, and good schools for the kids, and the world of developers and contractors.

I spent more than I could afford on values closely associated with escapism and adrenalin: drink, drugs, drama, sex and love, risk and remembrance. I helped one or two of these fellows turn a ten spot into hundred dollar bill. In turn, I swore to myself that one of these guys ought to make a contribution to community radio. For all their freewheeling ways, these peddlers spoke in racist terms about the locals and their ideology was right of center as was their chauvinism. Still, I said to myself, the bank can’t tell the difference between the good money and the bad.

Mr. Sheary discussed the potential of radio with me several times. Rather, he talked. With Michael, a conversation meant you got in a sentence or two at two am before he closed his eyes and launched into a six-hour tale about folks, who lived in New York or Missouri. He was alert during a bridge game or while pounding nails  on his house. His general psychological state was as unpredictable as the number of $100 bills he could pull out of the pockets in his jeans.

The night before Mick and I were scheduled to leave for Chicago to negotiate for the Taos FM station, we still didn’t have the dough to make the deal.  Michael showed up, early that morning, about six am and began talking. I listened.

“I’ll think of something,” I told myself.

The Battle of Chicago

At 8 am, Mick and I got in the car and began driving to Albuquerque. My coat was hung on the back of the driver’s seat. We were planning to spend the night in Skokie, Illinois, just outside the windy city, at Mick’s parents’ house. We figured to drive from Skokie to Chicago and meet with Danny FastTalk. Mick had a certified check from young Hockmeyer for $15,000. He asked me, not really wanting to hear the answer, “Do we have the rest of the money?” My eyelids grated against my eyeballs. My nose, filled with phlegm and smoke, required much blowing.

I sighed, reached behind into the pocket of my jacket, and drew out a green bundle tied up with a rubber band.  “Count ‘em,” I said and threw the C notes in Mick’s lap.

Though the bank didn’t care about unregulated dollars, I learned later how karma concerns itself with cause and effect, the moral and immoral manner of acquiring money. I couldn’t read the oracle’s signs or hear the voice of my Socratic daemonion at the time. Stress and chemicals interfere with the action of the intuition and nullify the reaction of the instincts.

In Chicago, FastTalk maintained a neutral expression when we handed him the dirty dough. He stuck the bundle of green banknotes in his pocket, and the check in his wallet. He signed. I signed.

Blueberry Hill

Once we had license in hand and sound emanating from the Blueberry Hill studios, I borrowed $25,000 from a friend. He got another mortgage on my building—and actually collected on the debt a decade later, when I sold  my unroofed airy asset. In short, I invested 65 grand in the radio station—mony I didn’t have. And the project decimated my credit and assets. At the broadcast studio–a rented 28 foot trailer—we didn’t have running water or even a working toilet.

When Mick and Brad showed up with the old KXRT equipment—turntables, tape players, microphones–which had been housed in local storage units for several years, the miscellanea looked like dead car parts strewn around Levi Cohn’s junkyard behind the Red Arrow Café in midtown Taos  (Plaza de Colores, home to Shadows, a mid-town sports bar today.) The antenna for the station was set down in an arroyo just below the mesa’s rim. Our signal couldn’t get into El Prado or parts of downtown Taos.

We had returned to Taos, ecstatic and were congratulated by our motley crew of supporters and a few small investors—who threw down five grand each. Sure enough, the task before us tarnished decades, nay, generations of DJs, owners, announcers, investors, employees, and listeners. Though a popular success, nothing but dirt and grease, band-aids and bunglers worked beneath the hood. The sleazy side of FM life was lived in full public view.

We won the Battle of Chicago that week but I lost the war and to this day—regardless of appearances—the KXRT-KVNM-KTAO show is suspect in terms of gold invested and the return. Properly understood, it still possesses all the characteristics of an enduring Ponzi scheme.

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