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Mellow Gold
A Look at Seattle's AM 880 KIXI

If, like me, you've pretty much had it with most musical formats of the commercial radio stations in town (alternative, top-40, classic rock, oldies, etc.), your real alternative may be AM 880, KIXI. The station plays popular hits that either pre-date rock 'n' roll, or don't quite fit into any other format, or both. Which is perfectly fine, and often preferable.

For starters, think of the Time/Life CD anthology that Regis Philbin hawks in that infomercial, or your grandparents' LP collection. Frank Sinatra is the Led Zeppelin of KIXI, and "My Way" is its "Stairway to Heaven." Ol' Blue Eyes is joined on KIXI by fellow Rat-Packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., along with other powerhouse vocalists such as Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, Andy Williams and Tom Jones.

However, these easy-listening mainstays are just the beginning. Imagine a setlist which may also include a big-band classic like Glenn Miller's "In The Mood," followed by the bossa-nova cool of Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto's "Girl From Ipanema," a folk ditty from the New Christy Minstrels ("Green Green"), and a jaunty, infectious instrumental such as Al Hirt's "Java." Mix in a few of the softer hits by Elvis and the Beatles, and a touch of exotica by Martin Denny or Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, and voila, you have the most diverse playlist this side of KCMU (er, "KEXP").

On a local level, KIXI is the only station in town (perhaps in the world) that plays Perry Como's "Seattle" on any basis. The Ventures, with their "Theme from Hawaii Five-0," hailed from Tacoma, where legendary crooner Bing Crosby was born. Olympia's Fleetwoods had hits with "Come Softly to Me" and "Mr. Blue," while Seattle's Merilee Rush scored big with the lame "Angel of the Morning." Representing the UW, the Brothers Four met as Phi Delta Gamma fraternity brothers in 1958, and two years later, their ballad "Greenfields" peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts.

If you haven't already figured it out, KIXI's target demographic is betrayed by its advertisers: Gold Bond Medicated Powder, Alaska cruises, hearing aids, and Winnebago dealerships. Granted, this isn't the sort of station that many college students tune in, but perhaps they should. It's the kind of format that can be easily ignored while studying, but ears will perk up whenever a truly killer tune kicks in, like Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" or Sarah Vaughn's "Broken-Hearted Melody."

Of course, for every toe-tapping gem by Herb Alpert or Henry Mancini, count on at least two stinkers by the likes of Helen Reddy or Gordon Lightfoot. On the other hand, KIXI spins plenty of oddball hits that fell through the cracks -- Mocedades' creepy "Eres Tu," "Sukiyaki" (sung in Japanese by Kyu Sakamoto), Jorgen Ingmann's eerily galloping "Apache," and "Deep Purple," from the harmonizing brother-sister act of Nino Tempo and April Stevens.

For me, KIXI's slogan, "great songs, great memories," partially holds true on the former count, and not at all on the latter. Still, AM radio has that sort of fuzzy, monaural warmth, evoking a false nostalgia for time before most of us were even born, an effect heightened while listening in an older car with only an AM radio.

But isn't the best music timeless anyway?

Originally appeared in The Daily of the University of Washington, May 3, 2001.

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© 2004-2011 Steve Mandich