with Eric Flaherty

30 Years On Air & 18,000 Singles: How Brian Lee Defines A Radio Era

Back in June of 1987, volunteer broadcaster Brian Lee's love for a particular era of oldies found his radio home on KVMR 89.5 FM. 

Thirty years later this very month, it's still there, "Color Radio," Saturdays 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., a veritable "Rhythm & Blues Revue" (its original series title.) 

"No, I never would've guessed I'd still be on," muses Lee. "But I continue to discover new old music and new old stories about the music so I feel like I still have fresh things to talk about each week." 

Then there's the music collection he's gleaned over nearly 50 years:  1500 CDs, 1000 LPs, a good number of vintage 78s and more than 18,000 45s a/k/a singles. 

18,000? Whoa... 

Lee credits all the "revival"  shows on Los Angeles radio back in the late '60s as his ear -- and interest -- turned from current music to oldies. 

"I'd go to all these swap meets and garage sales, finding all this older music I'd been hearing and music I hadn't been hearing," he notes."I just zeroed in on the oldies. The more I dug into them, the more interested I got." 

Brian lives for and plays bands, groups and singers from the '50s and early '60s who had Billboard hits, rhythm & blues hits or records that didn't hit or only hit in a few markets. 

"(19)64 is pretty much the cutoff," he explains. "Maybe it's the style -- the music was changing, doo-wop was disappearing." 

"Most of the guys I play...by '64,  they couldn't get a job in music anymore." 

And how did he come to play them on KVMR for 30 years? 

Well, Brian had moved here in 1986 and first listened to the Nevada City radio station when he was building a house. 

One day, he heard Len Gorsky and Deborah Teague on the air. A light bulb went off in his head. He had this album that this show was missing. 

And he brought it in. 

Another show with Deborah, bringing in more of his record collection, and the radio bug hit. 

"When you have this kind of passion (about music), that's what you do." 

Well said. 

As Lee's show went on air three decades ago, and then year after year, well... 

"I'd literally fill my jeep up with records, later with CDs, boxes and boxes, you know...so I could fill requests. It was good exercise," he says with a smile. 

Now his entire collection is on a hard drive that doesn't even fill up a seat. 

One thing Lee does that few others do is "authentic radio." 

Brian sounds like the Los Angeles disc jockeys he grew up on. The shows include jingles, sound bytes, deejay banter and just feel almost exactly like the oldies stations of a radio era long gone by. 

"He's the real deal," notes KVMR Program Director Steve Baker. "Plus he adds the history and the footnotes of the music, where the bands are from, how a song charted, what happened to the group or label, things like that." 

It didn't take long for his colleagues to recognize the value of his work.  In fact, Lee was the second broadcaster ever to win the John Nichols Music Award for Excellence in Community Radio in 1990 -- just his third year on the air here.  And he's one of few broadcasters to win it a second time as well. 

"My goal is to expose people not only to the music they heard from the period, but the music they didn't hear as well," according to Lee. 

"It's been a pretty amazing ride. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I can see it,  but I just don't know when it'll be." 

Besides, somebody's got to keep this music and radio era alive and well. 

KVMR's Brian Lee on the air