Early days of “The Pitch”

The Pitch was first published in July 1980 as the Penny Pitch, a music sheet handed out by Penny Lane, the erstwhile Westport record store at 4128 Broadway. The first 13 issues were printed under the early banner before undergoing a series of name changes – including KC Pitch and Pitch Weekly – beginning in January 1982. Since then The Pitch has expanded into an alternative weekly newspaper serving the greater metropolitan area and covering music, film, arts, entertainment, news and investigative reporting.”

The above quote is from a 2010 online exhibit made by LaBudde Special Collections to commemorate thirty years of The Pitch. Now, as the paper changes back to a monthly format, we thought it appropriate to revisit that exhibit. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the historical, insightful, colorful, and even unusual stories that made the pages of The Pitch in the 1980s.

This back page contains a letter to the editor and an promo for the record store.

The first issue of Penny Pitch came out in July 1980. Clearly the paper had a long evolution ahead of it. The two top headlines were a tanning contest sponsored by KY102, and an interesting story by editor Warren Stylus about Penny Lane’s unique stock of records (Stylus being either a pseudonym, or a perfect last name for a music writer). The tanning contest seems to have been underwhelming, a fact the writer attributed to ash from Mt. St. Helens still blocking out the sun over Kansas City. For those who may not remember, Mt. St. Helens had erupted just a few weeks prior in May, 1980. Stylus’ story is more interesting. He chronicles the story of The House, an important distributor of small independent record labels – over 350 according to Stylus. The House had a colorful history, first occupying an actual house in St. Louis, then the limestone caves around 31st St in Kansas City, before finding a home in the same building as Penny Lane. As with any first issue, the writers were finding their feet. Still, the paper established some columns and segments that would become stalwarts over the next decade. One example was the music review column known as “Ridin’ With the King” written by Leroy “LeRoi” Johnson.

By 1984, the paper (now the KC Pitch) was a more serious piece. In contained interviews with major musicians, advertising for Penny Lane, and an extensive music calendar. With Stevie Ray Vaughan, Van Morrison, Robert Cray, and the Grateful Dead all coming to town in 1984, it was a good time to be a music fan in Kansas City.

LeRoy “LeRoi” Johnson kept Kansas City music fans well informed on both the good and the bad of newly released records.

LeRoy Johnson continued to write music reviews as well. In his reviews he put a (literal) stamp of approval (“WOW”) next to records he liked, and a stamp of dis-approval (“FLY ME”) next to those he did not.

The cover story for April 1984 was an interview with Jazz legend-in-the-making Ronald Shannon Jackson. Jackson was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where he roomed with piano legend John Hicks. Shannon had formed his own band, The Decoding Society, in 1979. Shannon and his band had just returned from a tour of Asia. Of the tour, Shannon said “we were invited to do the Singapore Jazz Festival and the Malaysian Jazz Festival…most of the crowds we played for were two, three, four thousand. They have a total thirst for western music.” Shannon also theorized that Asian audiences were more likely to dance to his music because the unconventional beats he used were akin to beats used in Asian musical genres. Shannon appears to have believed that in 1984 Asian (or European) audiences had less rigid standards for what constituted “Jazz” than Americans did. As a result, they were more “accepting” of his music, although he also said Americans were getting better. Describing his musical style, Shannon said that “there is no actual lead [instrument]” in his melodies. Instead, his melodies were based on rhythms produced by traditional “background” instruments like drums or bass. In Shannon’s songs, “the drums are like a lead instrument.” The Shannon interview demonstrates how America’s signature art form – Jazz – continued to be modified by innovative performers. Critically, it also shows how worldwide audiences were attracted to American music, even if that music did not fit more rigid American audiences’ definitions. Kansas City’s jazz heritage is often thought of as an American phenomenon, but Kansas City takes on global significance when you consider jazz as an important American cultural export. The Shannon interview hints at this relationship.

In October 1988, ahead of a solo appearance by Robert Plant, the KC Pitch asked “Does Kansas City hate Led Zeppelin, or does Led Zeppelin hate Kansas City?” Apparently, in 1969, the crowd at a Zeppelin show at Kansas City’s Memorial Hall booed them off the stage. This, according to writer Anthony Henge, became the first and last time Zeppelin played Kansas City until Plant and Jimmy Page made separate appearances in 1988. By 1988, the paper had grown to over 30 pages long. What had been a simple newsletter for a record store had become arguable the important source of entertainment news in the city. But, some things had stayed the same. LeRoi was still writing music reviews. Some of the articles still had a tongue-in-cheek style. And the paper was (and is) still free.



Paul F. Berliner, Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)

Rare Charlie Parker Image Discovered!

Earlier this spring a rare image of Charlie Parker was discovered – it is the only known photograph of the jazz legend playing in Kansas City!  Get the entire scoop in an article by Chuck Haddix, published in the latest issue of JAM Magazine:   Bird-at-the-Jelly-Joint-JAM-2015-Aug-Sep-Oct

Charlie Parker playing at the Jelly Joint, a hangout frequented by students from the University of Kansas City (now UMKC).

Charlie Parker playing at the Jelly Joint, a hangout frequented by students from the University of Kansas City (now UMKC).

“Zion’s New Friend” – Radio Station KLDS

Number Two in an Occasional Series of Odd and Obscure Periodicals.

Early studio at KLDS.

Early studio at KLDS.

KLDS Control Room

KLDS Control Room

Battery Room

Battery Room

KLDS Orchestry

KLDS Orchestra

KLDS Studio

KLDS Studio

Autumn Leaves was a monthly magazine published for the youth of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (since 2001 knows as Community of Christ).  The publication was produced from 1888 through 1928 out of Independence, Missouri.  The October 1926 issue was almost entirely dedicated to the church’s radio station, KLDS.

First Presidency member Elbert A. Smith penned an ode to the station entitled “Zion’s New Friend” that appears at the beginning of the magazine, setting the tone for the remainder of the publication:

“Free from the slumber that bound him so long,
Radio leaps to the air with a song;
Taking his journey from Zion’s high tower,
Bearing his message in haste, yet with pow’r…

…Roused from the slumber that held him since dawn,
Radio leaps to the air and is gone!
Go, thou bright messenger, Zion’s new friend,
Preach thou the gospel till time shall have end.”

At the time this issue was published, radio broadcasting was still a relatively new phenomenon.  One of Kansas City’s premier radio pioneers, Arthur B. Church, was the guiding force behind the implementation of KLDS.  Referred to as “A.B.C.”, Church contributed two articles to the magazine, detailing the development of KLDS from a small, weak station to a broadcasting powerhouse.

Programming was predominantly musical in nature, and the numerous musicians associated with KLDS are pictured throughout this issue.  Broadcasts of Sunday services were routine, and in the winter months lectures courses and special sermons were offered.

By 1927 Church has secured a separate license for KLDS – which, according to Autumn Leaves, stood for “Knowledge, Liberty, Divinity, Service” – and it then became Midland Broadcasting Company.  A second license was obtained for a commercial station, KMBC, with which Church found even greater success.  Much more about his work at KMBC can be found here.

Kansas City’s “New Wave Scene”

New Wave band at unidentified location, 1981

New Wave band at unidentified location, 1981

So a recent donation of issues from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s of Star Magazine, the weekly supplement to the Sunday Kansas City Star has provided the occasion for some observations:

  • magazines used to run a lot of cigarette ads
  • it’s surprising how quickly restaurants fade from memory (Brown’s Chicken, anyone?)
  • one of the sad outcomes of putting  newspapers on microfilm is that you lose the color that was originally used in the paper’s production

That being said, one of my favorites issues in the stack of 127 is the one pictured here, from April 26, 1981.  Writers Jo E. Hull and Art Brisbane (who would later become the Star‘s publisher and ultimately land a gig at the New York Times) reported on their jaunt into “a thriving underground culture in Kansas City”.  There wouldn’t have been a New Wave scene without the music, which could be purchased at Rock Therapy, 7511 Troost, “Kansas City’s principal New Wave disc parlor, offering the coveted and obscure import records from England, always keeping pace with the trends”. The writers detail visits to the two primary New Wave clubs, further north on the same street: the Downliner, located in the basement of the Plaza East tavern at 4719 Troost, and the Music Box, located further up the block at 4701.  This same block also served as headquarters for the stores where devotees could acquire their New Wave garb – Rags Fashion Originals, 4733 Troost, and Punk Funk at 4739.  Interestingly enough, as the decade progressed and New Wave music fractured into increasingly specific categories – e.g., goth – the 4700 block of Troost continued to serve as the fashion nexus for club kids.  By 1986 Archaic Smile, at 4715, was the place for clothes and accessories.  The store’s owners also were the proprietors of the nightclub of choice:  Epitaph, located on 31st just east of Main.  So, as Ollie Gates and other developers continue to refashion the neighborhood around 47th and Troost, it’s good to be reminded of the area’s link to the city’s eccentric musical past.

A “Trip” Down Memory Lane

Number One in an Occasional Series of Odd and Obscure Periodicals

1st Issue of The Aquarian, June 1969

Cover of The Aquarian, June, 1969

Published in Kansas City at 2 West 39th Street by an entity or individual who went by the moniker “Cornflower Hermaphrodite”, The Aquarian was a short-lived alternative magazine that dates from June and July of 1969.  Issue number one states that “this paper is printed under the auspices of good vibrations, creative industry, sleepless nights, gallons of cohesive optimism…we have no have no pressing need for straight capitalistic backers or would-be patronesses of the arts in Barbie doll minis so don’t bug us.”


Aquarian July1969

Cover of the Aquarian, July, 1969

Each issue features poetry, original artwork, reportage, and essays.  The “News” section in what is presumed to be issue number two offers articles on the local chapter of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), a “rebirth of the roundheads”, and a piece on the establishment of a “hip help center”, which offered a “crash pad, 24 hour coffee house, draft counseling…legal help, free clinic, and help for runaways”.  A visit to Iowa City by drug guru Timothy Leary is covered extensively in the same issue.

Masthead of the Aquarian, July 1969

Masthead of the Aquarian, July 1969

As intriguing as the magazine’s content are its advertisers, which number such establishments as Arsenic and Olde Leather at 429 Westport Road, the Genuine Article (“Bellbottoms, Incense, Shirts;  One-of-a-Kind Fashion, Now More than Ever”) at the same address as the magazine, and the Eletrologist [sic?] on 63rd Street in Raytown, the ad for which features what appears to be a woman with a mustache and five-o’clock shadow.  While not as colorful as it’s contemporary The Westport Trucker, nonetheless The Aquarian offers insight into a moment of Kansas City history long gone.