The dawn of ‘Joshua Tree,’ its Arizona roots, and one fan’s obsession

You might be wondering how and why I begged/pleaded/bribed my dear friend and peer, the one and only Jody Jackson, to take a night off at home with her family to come sit in for me at a Dbacks game in San Diego.

I could, after all, just catch the show in San Diego the following Friday, a night I already have off.

Check the weather forecast! I’m obviously not sane.

Well, it’s about the music.  And it’s about Arizona.

It’s about U2, in Arizona, to be specific.

I’ve been chasing them around the West Coast for more than 30 years now, and if you are so inclined, I have put a little video together about the original Joshua Tree concerts from back in the day and how @toddsgarage remembers them.

Remember, the tour began in Tempe and concluded in Tempe.

It started with the band on the cover of Time Magazine and ended as the backdrop for a concert movie.

Yes, tickets to those last two shows at Sun Devil Stadium were just $5 apiece.

I had just started my broadcasting career and began what is now a life-long obsession, and as I’ve said to a few people, many times, I haven’t wasted a drop of emotion on this band.  I’m proud that they are a part of the sound track of my adult life.

But I have had to jump through more than a few professional hoops to make it to a handful of shows that seemed to intersect with my work life and thus the ability to actually afford going to these shows.

But as my dad used to remind me, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

(The OCD portion of this type of behavior?  I blame my mom. But that’s all part of the “Doctor-Patient” relationship.)

In late March of 1987 I was working at the AM/FM powerhouse of KNST/KRQQ: A radio combo in Tucson. One was the “Home of the Arizona Wildcats,” the other was a FM top-40 juggernaut loaded with the some of the most talented jocks of the era.  They were owned by Nationwide, which is a critical component of this storyline.

Believe it or not, my first on-air job was the host of a nightly sports talk show called … wait for it … “Sports Tonight” at 940 on the AM dial.  I was on from 6 till 7, taking your calls, preparing you for Larry King “Coast to Coast” and reminding you that ABC News was coming up at the top of the hour.  Oh, and if you gave us 18 minutes, we would give you the world! This all after “traffic and weather together.”

U2 dropped the Joshua Tree on March 9 of that year. “With or Without You” was the first single released on the 21st.  Our sister station had advance copies, and I had begun my deep dive into what would become the Grammy winning album of the year, and for many, THE album of it’s time. It was gaining strength to what would amount to 25 million copies sold.  MTV had their videos in heavy rotation. Soon there were rumblings that a tour was assembling, and it would start in Arizona.

It was true!

Back then, I didn’t think to chase them around the country, much less the state, so when I saw that Tucson was on the tour I was in hog heaven.

KNST’s studios at the time were at the LaPlacita Village, which was right in the heart of Tucson and walking distance from the Tucson Convention Center.  The plan was to finish my show, hand it off at the top of hour and stroll over to the TCC.  This pales in comparison to my first U2 concert experience at the old Compton Terrace in 1985. You haven’t lived until you had to endure the parking lot there: One-way in, one-way out, on the dusty desert floor.  I lost a night there in that parking lot that I will never get back.

But Bono lost his voice while rehearsing in the dry desert air prior to the opening shows in Tempe. The dates were juggled. The Tucson date was moved to Sunday, April 5.  In the video, you will see that the original ticket stub shows April 4.

The opening of the Joshua Tree tour catapulted U2 across the world and to heights previously I presume even they never dreamed of.

And then the press release came across the wire.  They were ending the tour where it all started, in Tempe.

But by this time, they were a global attraction and the setting would be Sun Devil Stadium. Back-to-back shows just before Christmas.

And for me, that was a problem!

By now, my professional radio world had evolved into being the pre- and post-game host for Arizona Wildcats football and basketball.  My relatively simple work schedule had changed dramatically.  Working nights, weekends and holidays were now a part of my new normal. I literally shook when I saw the concert dates.  I did a quick cross-reference to the basketball schedule.  Remember, this was the early days of the Lute Olson era, and this was the 1987-88 team, the first Final Four team — the Steve Kerr/Sean Elliott/Tom Tolbert team that had captured the hearts and minds of Tucson.  I couldn’t miss a pre-game show for a concert, of all things.

The wheels were in motion the minute I saw that the second date, Dec. 20, 1987, was the same date as the UA game at Washington.  I didn’t travel with the team, so making the first show was reasonable.  Drive to Tempe on the 19th, head back and host the pre- and post-game shows the following day.  Miss the tour finale? That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, right?

Wrong.

No way. Not ever.

And so I begged, but with a plan. I learned early on that the best way to circumvent management’s never-ending desire to save the bottom line was to be prepared to save it before it ever became an issue.

Remember, Nationwide owned our stations. And they owned KZZP in Phoenix.  And my friends on the FM side of KRQQ were friends with the guys in Phoenix, and they knew that missing the final show of this tour, with this band, was NOT an option.

The details are foggy now, but I remember conversations about me using their back-up production studio on a Sunday afternoon, and all it would cost was a essentially a long-distance phone call.  I remember listening to this and marveling at the salesmanship and the desire to make this remote show happen simply out of friendship. This was what I remember most about my earliest days in this business. It was before emails and conference calls. It was the time when you huddled with your co-workers and talked face to face, and the time when you would have to gather yourself before “climbing those golden stairs” into the boss’s corner office.  It was more human.  Sometimes you won, sometimes you didn’t, but all the while you were building equity.  I also like to believe now 30 years in hindsight, that I must have looked like I was hatching a plan akin to Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape.” These guys WANTED me to dig that tunnel to KZZP for those shows that day and night.

The key to it all?  Arizona was playing Washington in the afternoon.  I just had to host a 30-minute pregame show and one-hour post game show. If I did it from Phoenix, at our sister station, I could literally walk out the door and drive a few miles for the second night of what would become one of the most magical nights in rock music history. It is a night that I hold at this moment in the highest regard.  My adult life was beginning, and I remember knowing this and feeling this and gazing around the stadium and seeing people from all over the world.  It was OUR time; this was OUR community and OUR band.

So the planned was hatched.  I walked into my program director’s office with a clipboard and a confident way.  I had a solution already in place for his first and only defense: Economics.

I have scoured the World Wide Web looking for Harry Alexander’s real name. He was my first boss in this business.  He was a crusty newsman by trade, who I think if truth be told, would tell you he’d rather be out on the streets covering what was happening rather than wearing a suit and tie and moving from meeting to meeting, dealing with budgets and counting beans.  He was a Vietnam veteran who smoked a pipe and read the afternoon news with a grace and dignity that I have never seen duplicated.

I remember rehearsing my stump speech. It was about the music and the moment, no doubt. But I was also a sports guy, and I came from the UA basketball program. My worlds were colliding as my career was just beginning.

I like to think that he felt my passion and had compassion for it.

I like to think he might have chuckled when I walked out of this office, maybe even a bit impressed that I had it all figured out.  Allegedly.

Maybe Harry even saw a bit of himself in my U2 obsessed stupor.

I don’t know.  What I do know is that he said “yes.” Told me not to screw it up, or my you know what would be “grass,” and I might not have a job to come to the following Monday.

But he said “yes.”

He was more concerned about dead air and potential commercials missed, but he said, “yes.”

Yes.

Harry, what were you thinking?!!! I was 23 years old.

So Harry? If you are still out there, I hope this finds you.  I will be doing almost the same run in 2017 that I did in 1987.   I will be hosting a Dbacks pre- and post-game in San Diego on Monday. Flying back to Phoenix for the U2 show in Glendale on Tuesday. Flying back to San Diego for the final game of the series on Wednesday.

It’s all figured out.  Jody has my back for game two.  The rest is in the airlines hands.   (Oh, God . . .)

And Harry?  There was ONE thing I forgot with that plan?  I’ve never told you this: You see, the UA game was televised back to Tucson, but not to Phoenix.   The ASU game was the televised game in Phoenix.  Oops.

So I hosted “Wildcat Talk,” brought to you in part by “Bob’s Bargain Barn, Country Club, south of Grant,” flying blind.

Arizona won 110-71, another blow out for the soon to be No.  1 ranked Wildcats.

I didn’t a see one second of that game but took calls for an hour or so after it.

I did, however, see and feel every second of that concert, the Joshua Tree Tour finale, the filming of “Rattle And Hum” at Sun Devil Stadium, and I cherish the memory of the moment.  Deep down inside, I still smile at the thought of hosting “Wildcat Talk” from that tiny studio at KZZP, minus video support.

Harry? WE did it!

The roll out of the show was to “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Some things you never want to forget.

Thanks, Harry.

And thanks, Jody.