We've decided to tell you a story. The ZBS Story. Who we were and how we got started. We were a little different than most organizations. We were a commune. The story is pretty weird and wacky, but it's true.

We interviewed one of the founders, Meatball Fulton and pieced together the past from his perspective.

The Early Years

Meatball Fulton arrived at Berkeley in 1960. Inspired by Jack Kerouac's On The Road, he and old buddy, Pernish, left Michigan State University and caught the first ride West. In 1963 he wrote and produce his first radio play, Ha! Fat Chance, for Pacifica station, KPFA. Bill Raymond directed and played the part of The Dirty Old Man. Ruth Maleczech played the lead role. They got together again in the early 80's for Ruby, with Bill doing Professor Teru and Ruby as one of the Android Sisters.

After six years of peace marches, sit-ins, love-ins, Haight Ashbury and rock and roll, Meatball decided it was time to move on. He had been corresponding with an old friend of his from a past life, Karen Grassle, who was attending drama school in London. In the spring of 1966 he left the Berkeley scene for London.

Meatball said "few years later I'm sitting in a bar in Portugal and I noticed the TV had some American western playing, with Portuguese subtitles, and I said, 'Wait a minute, I know her!' It wasn't a western, it was Little House on the Prairie, and Karen played the mother on that series for God knows how many years."

In London, Meatball met Laura Esterman and decided he also knew her in yet some other past life.

"It was when I was a painter in Paris around the turn of the century. I knew Pernish then, too. Funny how these people keep popping up, isn't it?"

Eventually he went on to write a part for Laura as the Madonna Vampyra in The Fourth Tower of Inverness, and then as Ruby, the Galactic Gumshoe.

Meatball Meets Yoko

While in London, he had been doing documentaries for KPFK back in Berkeley. One night, he decided to see an American performer from New York by the name of Yoko Ono. He did a documentary and later gave a copy to Yoko and her then-husband, Tony. At that point in their lives Yoko and Tony and their child, Koko, were so broke they were living in an unfurnished flat, sleeping on cots and had no money to get back to New York. When they heard the documentary of her performance they loved it. They raised money to do a film and asked Meatball to do the sound track. Yoko called it Number Four. She later renamed it Bottoms.

"A film of 365 bare bottoms, was a pretty funny film. It caused quite a stir. I left London when Yoko met John."

He also did a lot of interviews while he was there, with such people as Donovan, The Who, T-Rex, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Shortly before leaving, a friend in Philly asked him to interview Paul Bowles, the American expatriate writer living in Tangier. He flew down to Gibraltar and hopped a boat to Tangier. He was very impressed by the sounds of Morocco, especially the music Paul had recorded over the years. Meatball returned again in the early 70's to gather sounds for Moon Over Morocco.

"In 1968, I ended up in Philadelphia, and stayed there for another two years." He was working at a public radio station, WUHY, later renamed WHYY. He had his own show Sunday night called Feed. His favorite engineer was Bobby Bielecki. "Engineers can be real jerks. You ask ‘em to do something they've never tried before, and they'll spend the next hour explaining why it can't be done. Bobby was the opposite, he loved trying the untried." Meatball would start his show by playing loud Tibetan horns followed by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. It was a winning combination that blasted away the usual public radio listeners. Then he could do what he wanted without their complaining to the management - which they did do now and then. "I figured, maybe I had a hundred listeners, but it was perfect. I could push the edge with out it pushing back." The show had little music, it was mainly satiric things he wrote and interviews with people like Abbie Hoffman "... to bring a little 60's consciousness into the 50's mentality of Philly."

California Dreaming

But all Meatball really wanted to do was get back to California. He'd look out across the leafless Philly trees of winter and play the Mommas and the Papas' California Dreaming, and his heart hurt. One evening his friends, Crazy Max and Miles, who ran a boutique in Philly, walked in, saw how sad he was, carried him out to their old Desoto, drove him to Kennedy airport and put him on a plane to San Francisco. He was there for a week, sending night grams back to the station manager saying, "Having a wonderful time, wish you were here." And received one back saying "Good. Stay there. You're fired." But, he had to return to Philly to pick up all the tapes he'd been recording over the years.

Crazy Max and Miles were both graduates from the University of Pennsylvania. Max had worked for Bobby Kennedy in Washington. Max & Miles bought a converted school bus and since Meatball was out of a job and the boutique was driving them nuts, they all climbed in the school bus and headed out across America. "That's what Americans did back then, climbed into converted school buses and hit the road."

Meatball ended up in Los Angeles, staying with Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Frank Zappa would stop by to jam with them, and Meatball and Beefheart would have talks that started in the afternoon, went through the night and to noon the next day. The good Captain, Don Van Vliet, had quite an influence on him. One day, a friend of Max & Miles, Larry the Lawyer arrived and asked Meatball to come to New Orleans to do television.

While in New Orleans (the TV never happened), news came down that the FCC, Federal Communications Commission, had cited WUHY for obscenity. It was Meatball's Sunday night show. Because of complaints (he'd play a dangerous word now and then) the FCC started monitoring the show. A friend of his, Steve Hill, filled the Sunday slot and one night played an interview with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Jerry had something like 16 F's and 32 S's. Steve, apparently inspired by Meatball's courageous freedom of expression, didn't edit out one. Nicholas Johnson, the only enlightened FCC commissioner at that time (or perhaps anytime) disagreed with the finding, saying Jerry Garcia did not say anything obscene. It was just a natural use of the language. It was true. But, to top it off, the second half of the show was Crazy Max's F--c the System. Bobby was the engineer. They had a warrant out for Crazy Max. It was the first obscenity ruling ever stuck on a station. Steve went on to found his own record label, Hearts of Space, out in San Francisco. He and Meatball get together over pasta now and then and laugh their heads off. They never did catch Crazy Max. The station was fined $100. (Max is now treasurer of ZBS).

Northern Exposure?

In New Orleans, Meatball met Shanks, a DJ who did some amazing music mixes. "... like nonstop for an hour and so intricately mixed you couldn't tell where one song ended and another began." Max, Miles and Meatball wanted to set up a recording studio in the country, with Bobby as the engineer. They discussed it with Shanks and brought Bobby down to design a studio in New Orleans. The backer backed out, and back on the school bus they went. While traveling across Arizona, Meatball met a friend of Max's, Jeff Sterling, an eccentric millionaire that owned TV & radio stations in Canada. Jeff needed someone to write commercials for his station in Montreal, CKGM. "I had never written commercials, or worked at a commercial station, but I thought - so what? Besides, CKGM sounded interesting. There was no station manager. The DJ's decided what they wanted to do and did it. My kind of radio. So, on to LA in the school bus, stayed with Beefheart and his Band and then on up to Montreal."

"I arrived in Montreal in February and I figured it should be spring in a few weeks. Ha!" He was awed by the size of the snowdrifts. "We had a big, funky, falling apart apartment in Montreal a block from the station. Friends would stop in and stay. Strangers avoiding the draft back in the US would stop in and stay. People were sleeping three to a bed, sleeping on the floor. Those were the days." Meatball asked his friend from Berkeley days, P.J. Orte, to do the Saturday morning show at the station. Bobby came up from Philly.

"Some nights at three in the morning, after doing a show, we'd all go out and lie in the grass in the park and talk until the sun came up. Montreal felt like the safest city in the world. The only thing that was a little odd was, now and then the French Separatist Movement would set off a bomb. One night, they blew up a building half a block away. Boy, was that loud!" He still thinks fondly of Montreal. "Good sounds in that city."

Fort Edward, New York

Larry the Lawyer met Rango Durand in New Orleans. Rango was a journalist, he had recently received an inheritance, he was fond of radio and he wanted to raise a little consciousness. Since the studio was already designed, Larry the Lawyer showed Rango the figures. Rango said looks good and they set off to find a place in the country. Since some of the people were from New York and others were in Montreal, they decided to find a place midway between the two cities. They found an estate, located on a man-made island near Fort Edward. The Lake Champlain canal is on one side of the property, the Hudson River (kind of narrow this far up) is on the other side. It looked like a nice place to play.

"Rango bought the property and Bobby built the studio. People began pouring in from all over the country. The Roach's, Michael and Terry came up from New Orleans. There was Larry the Lawyer and his wife, Betsy. Charlotte and Hank, who I know from WHTT-TV in Philly. There was Crazy Max's girlfriend, Stormy; Miles, P.J., Bobby... About 14 people in all, sharing a big old Colonial house built in 1790, a tenant house and converted barns."

Meanwhile, Meatball won a wife in a contest CKGM in Montreal was sponsoring a contest ... Free tickets to the opening of the film, Woodstock. The station had tickets for the whole theatre for opening night; Meatball designed the contest. "Marcus, who was a sort of program director, kept all of the contest entries in a giant wastepaper basket on his desk. Well, one night the cleaning lady comes and dumps the basket and that's it, all the entries are gone. The film is about to open in a few days. So, round the clock on the air people are told, if they had sent in an entry, they'd get a free ticket. Just stop by the station and pick it up." One afternoon, Meatball sees someone wandering around the station, obviously lost. Somehow she'd found an unlocked door, came up the back steps trying to find the reception to get her ticket and ended up in the studios. Her name was Ferd. So he gave Ferd a tour of the station, took her to the reception for her free ticket, took her to lunch, took her to dinner and so forth. Years later, they parted, still friends. Ferd (Gail) is now married to Bob Ludwig.

A Presence in the Bathroom

Now, eccentric Jeff, the owner of CKGM was doing an experiment to see what would happen if he allowed the DJs to do whatever they wanted. He was losing thousands and thousands every month. Still that didn't stop him from renting a farm outside Montreal, a place for the station staff to play among the pines and cool out. The name of the farm was Inverness. Apparently the house was designed after a house the original owner had in Inverness, Scotland. It had been abandoned for ten years, but a caretaker kept up the old mansion. "There's a funny feeling about a place when no one has lived there for a long time. And one of the bathrooms upstairs (which did not function) had the strangest feel about it, as though there was a presence that simply didn't want you there." One afternoon, Meatball is lying on the bed thinking about recording the cuckoo bird outside the window, when the bathroom door slams shut with a sound that shook the upstairs. "I thought, that's odd, there's no one else in the house." He checks it out, "No breeze, no person, nothing up here except that weird hostile presence in the bathroom." And his mind begins to work.

He starts to sketch out a radio play. He creates characters that can be performed by the DJs and others working at the station. But, in June 1970 ZBS Media is formed in Fort Edward (ZBS Foundation, the non-profit organization, was formed later in 1973). He leaves Montreal to help set up ZBS and the radio play is put on hold.

Meatball, PJ and Shanks, with Bobby engineering, began writing and performing radio commercials - the first Billy Joel commercial, Little Feat, the Jefferson Airplane (Starship), Captain Beefheart, and so on, for about a year and a half. "Old friends would stop by and say, what have you been doing and I'd proudly play our latest commercial. One day, in the midst of doing this, I thought, ‘What am I doing?'", and never again does he write another commercial.

The Fourth Tower of Inverness

Meatball finds his old yellowed notes scribbled up at Inverness, sat down in a reclining chair every morning with a board on his knees, a cup of Darjeeling tea, and begins to write The Fourth Tower of Inverness. The characters slowly evolve...Little Frieda was written for PJ, Valerie Mamches, an actress Meatball knew from Philly, was written in as Lady Jowls & Eenie Meanie, and her husband played Jives, the butler.

"Dave Herman was an old friend from Philly, he was THE big DJ back there and he had a wonderful, smooth DJ voice I admired, in fact, envied. So, I wrote Dave in as Doctor Mazoola, the hairlip." The Madonna Vampyra was written for Laura. But who would do Meatball's alter ego, Jack Flanders?

"Valerie had a friend who used to act but was now writing Broadway musicals. I auditioned him on the phone. It wasn't the voice of Jack Flanders I had in mind, but he was good, cheap and available." So, Robert Lorick came in and Jack's character became a blend of the writer and the performer.

Meatball played a couple of small roles...Old Far Seeing Art and Chief Wampum.

"Whenever I had a few more episodes written, we'd bring the actors up from New York to record. Just as we reached the point in the script where Lord Jowls makes his appearance, and we were wondering who would play that character, into the commune wandered a friend of Max's, Murray Head. Murray's hit single, Jesus Christ Superstar, was being played everywhere and he'd just completed a movie with Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson, Sunday, Bloody Sunday. And he was English...the perfect Lord Jowls. Murray was also pretty wacky so he fit right in."

Larry the Lawyer Buys a Car

Meanwhile, changes were happening at ZBS. "Rango is a very special guy. He bought the property, built and equipped the recording studio, fed the gang, and never once told anyone what to do. But, one day, Larry the Lawyer, our business manager who also signed the checks, went out and bought himself a Ferrari so he could drive down to New York to do business. It's a 3 1/2-hour drive and whatever Larry does, he always does it with style. Now granted, it was a used Ferrari but to some of the Zeebers it seemed like maybe a little extravagant." A few weeks later, the engine blew up, all 12 cylinders, and Larry the Lawyer was asked not to do ZBS business anymore. Larry leaves. Moskowitz, an old friend of Max & Miles, joins ZBS. "It took him five months to straighten out the checkbook. Really." Larry the Lawyer eventually becomes a Jaguar dealer.

"Roach had a vision. He wanted to form a network of college radio stations. He was trying to interest sponsors in the Fourth Tower to launch the network, but fat chance. One day, Augie Blume, promotions man for Grunt Records, the Jefferson Starship's record label, dropped by and stayed the night. Augie asked, ‘What have you guys been doing lately?' So, I played him a few episodes from the Fourth Tower and Augie loved it and said ‘Hey, maybe we can help each other.'" Augie got Grunt to back the series, it came out as a daily, about 7 minutes each episode, and also as half-hours for weekend play. Each station gets 26 boxes of tape. It was played on 350 college stations, and was a hit. "Even to this day we get calls from people who heard the Fourth Tower back when they were in grade school. It left quite an impression." You see, Meatball threw in almost everything he could find, Sufi sayings, Zen koans, bits of Tibetan Buddhism, Gurdieff, you name it. Even his own past life experiences. And, what was once called ‘college stations' did eventually form into a network - National Public Radio. "Nice dreaming, Roach."

Bhagavan Das Arrives at ZBS

Now, back at CKGM they played a lot of Baba Ram Das. After Jeff fired everyone at the station, some of the DJs wandered off to India to study at the feet of Ram Dass' guru. Meanwhile, Bhagavan Das arrived at ZBS. Bhagavan Das was a blond, Laguna Beach surfer who went to India, met his guru and stayed. Richard Alpert, famous for the Timothy Leary/Alpert early experiments with LSD, visited India, met Bhagavan Das, was taken to Bhagavan's guru, and Alpert became Baba Ram Das.

"Bhagavan had been in India for seven years. Unfortunately, his visa was good for only 3 months, so when he left the country to visit Africa and tried to get back into India, they went ‘Whoa, wait a minute here.' And, poor Bhagavan had no place to go... Except ol' ZBS, which was willing to try about anything. When he arrived at ZBS, he had been speaking only Hindi for so many years that no one could understand him. Believe me, it's true. But that's okay, he doesn't like to talk. He only likes to sing." So, Bhagavan's voice ended up singing in the background in the Fourth Tower. And ZBS releases his record, Ah. And Ram Dass winds up in the Whirlitzer of Wisdom.

One day, while Ram Dass is at ZBS working on a six record set, Love, Serve, Remember, he says to Meatball, "I hear you've used my voice in one of your stories." Meatball remembered, "You know, I never asked him if it was okay to use his voice. I always thought of him as sort of public domain. So I looked Ram Dass in the eye and I said, ‘Yes.' He slowly smiled, nodded, and that was it. He's still in that jukebox."

Back to Bhagavan. The neighbors, who thought they saw everything with the commune nearby, suddenly were shocked to see this 6 foot 5 apparition, dressed in saffron robes, walking barefoot down the road at dusk, long beard blowing in the breeze, hair to his waist all knotted like a Rastafarian, and singing holy songs to the birds.

"Whenever anyone got a knot in their hair, they'd call them ‘bhagavans.'"

Bhagavan Das Gets a Trim

Meatball said, "Bhagavan Das had taken a vow not to cut his hair for seven years, or was it eleven? Anyway, not far away in Vermont, was ‘Tail of the Tiger', founded by the Tibetan master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. One night, Bhagavan and Trungpa get drunk together and while Bhagavan is asleep, Trungpa cuts off all of Bhagavan's hair. He wakes up in the morning looking like Bart Simpson. Trungpa is this little guy and Bhagavan is this Big Guy. Bhagavan is so blind with fury he reaches out to grab Trungpa and shake him like a little Tibetan rat when Trungpa up and pops Bhagavan right in the nose. It really hurts. Bhagavan told me later, ‘I realized he could've killed me right then, driven the cartilage right into my brain. Sobered me up real quick.'"

And so, we now leave Bhagavan, walking around with his brushcut, and put our story on hold until the next thrilling newsletter and Chapter Two of the continuing ZBS story, the early years. Like we said, it's all true.

Go to Part Two