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Multiple Mystery Perceptions: Tony Cox Reveals His Meeting with Paul McCartney

Sacramento radio legend Tony Cox, who entertained thousands of people in the seventies, eighties and nineties, reveals his meeting with Paul McCartney in a newly produced SacTV.com video. Featured as part of SacTV’s local radio history series, our interview took place in April 2000 and the footage finally has been released to the public. Cox worked on air at KROY in the 70s and 80s then KSFM in the 90s. He met Paul McCartney while he programmed Los Angeles radio in 1975.

The subject about McCartney came up while we were discussing the nature of audience perception, how two different people may perceive the same radio broadcast differently. Cox says he met McCartney through one of his weekend radio jocks who happened to have a recording studio where the ex-Beatle was hanging out one day. Tony says he talked with Paul about song meanings. The radio star was surprised to hear the musician say that his fans would tell him what his songs meant and their interpretations would always be different from his original intent.

The Beatles, perhaps more than any other band in history, developed an image with their fans as messengers of double meaning pointing to hidden messages related to drugs and death. The "Paul is dead rumour," which was started by radio DJs and not the band themselves, mixed with their mystique as the song "A Day in the Life" was perceived by some fans as the secret story filled with clues how Paul had died in a 1966 car crash and was replaced by a lookalike. Claims by rock critics that their songs "Hey Jude," "Norwegian Wood" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" contained disguised drug references were never confirmed by the band. In fact, the band always gave completely different explanations of those songs to the press.

When Cox questioned McCartney what his biggest challenge was, the Wings singer at the time responded that he wished people could hear the music in his head. Apparently he heard his own music differently internally than how it came out in recordings.

Years after the Cox-McCartney meeting, while Cox worked at KSFM in 1990 as Dave Camper, I somehow ran into Tony Cox in the crowd at the Paul McCartney concert in Berkeley. I had known Tony for many years, starting with listening to him on the radio at KROY, then I met him after I started working at KWOD in the mid 80s. It was kind of a magical mystery encounter by chance, just as Tony ended up having drinks with Paul by chance.

I tracked Tony down to do this video interview in 2000 at the time I was running Sacramento’s first internet radio station, SacLive. I wanted to start interviewing several local radio personalities who I knew from my radio experience programming alternative station KWOD, because I wanted to document some memorable radio stories, sensing that radio had seen its heyday and we were entering a new era.

Although radio has survived the onslaught of new media, my perception was correct that radio had peaked in audience popularity somewhere in the 20th century. Since that interview, radio has experienced rocky finances while low cost automation has replaced personable live announcing.

In this interview, which is one of many segments of our talk session, Cox talks about the communication between a performer and audience and how whether or not intent gets lost, every listener still processes their own information about a song or radio bit. He says that spontaneity is the essence of talent, but that radio spontaneity had become a lost art at that time as corporations had gained control of programming with lots pre-programming and scripting. Indeed, twelve years later his words ring true and summarize radio’s struggle to maintain radio listeners as gadgets, internet radio and social networking have become a bigger pastime for people than listening to terrestrial radio.

These days I’ve been going through lots of old video interviews I’ve done with pros of radio’s golden age and I’ve been producing videos for SacTV.com. The local radio history project has brought back memories of when radio had a much closer bond with listeners than in the corporate age, in which the Telecom Act of 1996 let big biz buy out most radio stations on the Sacramento dial. Some of the other radio legends I’ve interviewed worked at KZAP, KSFM, KROY and KWOD, which I consider the city’s most memorable stations who offered a radio experience known as "theater of the mind."

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Alex Cosper

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