In this week’s KCSBeat, the Santa Barbara Independent‘s column on the station’s people, places, periods, and programs, Colin Marshall listens to Off the Air. Originally running from 1989 to 1994, the show offered sonically elaborate, densely layered comedy on themes from the Cold War to the nature of art to grandparental conversation:
Produced and acted by a large, ever-shifting group including, but not limited to, Dave LaDelfa, Jon Leidecker, Alex Zisch, Bryan Stokes, Tim Meany, Chris Ball, Ryan Gold, Ted Mills, and Scott Easley — several of those names still regularly heard in Santa Barbara art and media circles — the program had its roots less in anything directly psychedelic than in the sort of fringe broadcasts made when people were still regularly seeking out psychedelic experiences. Think of the motormouth, sound-rich pieces of radio satire crafted by Joe Frank or the Firesign Theater in the 1960s and 1970s, and you’ve got an idea of Off the Air’s tradition.
Whatever its origins and whomever its forebears, the show turns out to be one of the most compelling things I’ve ever heard from the KCSB studio. It’s not just yammering, it’s not just jokes, it’s not just performance, and it’s not just words with music. It’s more like one big, intricate sonic collage, bringing together layer upon layer of character voices, ambient sounds, audio ripped from other sources, and, naturally, the occasional industrial drone. While Off the Air’s producers didn’t max out all these dimensions all the time, they certainly seem to have realized they could do so at any moment. Just within an individual episode, they’ll slide from old-time radio pastiche to modern media lampoon to veritable aural kaleidoscope.
Read all about it and listen to clips here.