Peter Paul Bergman (birthdate November 29, 1939) - audio artist, comedian, lyricist, playwright, movie director and actor, economics and political professor, medical equipment inventor, radio talk show host, media mogul, interactive game designer and now cybernaut - has always lived on the cutting edge of technology and satiric political commentary. 40 years ago when he first used his Webcor reel to reel tape recorder to splice together a novelty break-in 45 RPM single Attention Convention, he set upon a path of comedic destruction, and never once looked back, burning his britches behind him. The brains out brilliant improvisor has adapted and overcome any challenge that happens to enter his Renaissance dome, and has used new innovative technology to push the envelope of mind and sound barriers. From observing the newly computerized Eisenhower lightboards and traveling sound systems to enhance his theatrical productions at Yale in the early '60s, contacts with the avant garde Living Theater in Europe, writing with the Goon Show alumnus Spike Milligan in England, creating experimental films in Germany, to seeking out the leading Islamic minds in the Middle East, and exploring the spiritual worlds of astrology and electronic alchemy, Bergman has put his intellect to the test, mapping and conquering all the spheres of influence.
Having drained the old world of ideas, Bergman returned to his native shores, hopped on a motorcycle and followed the sun to California to strike gold in the Hollywood Hills. In 1966 he started one of the first underground radio shows, Radio Free Oz, on KPFK, a LA Pacifica station, and as the Wizard spawned perhaps his greatest achievement, the flower powered Firesign Theatre recording comedy troupe, and has been swimming upstream against the currents of popular culture ever since.
"I'd come back from Europe where I'd had some very interesting experiences and had met some fascinating people: The Living Theater, and I'd traveled in Syria, looking for Sufis, and all through the Near East, and Turkey and places like that. I'd been involved with a whole lot of stuff. I'd just come out of too many years of college education, and all of that had to be turned upside down. I started July 24th, 1966 on KPFK. It was 30 years ago, I'd done some radio in my life, but not a whole lot. LA FM radio at that time was only a medium for playing dead Germans. Dead German musicians was about all you could get on it. That's about it, in fact. Anything else was out of the question. Those were the days. Of course people hadn't really discovered FM then, so they didn't know what we had in mind. First of all Radio Free Oz was free ranging. It was on late at night, and I was really kind of spilling my guts over the air, so to speak. I had some very interesting people around me, which those folks became The Firesign Theatre; David Ossman was connected with the station, Phil Austin was connected with the station, and Phil Proctor came out to do a show and we connected in LA and that was really the genesis of that whole happening.
"In those days I was so much less self conscious. Everything was brand new. I could deal out dollops of Astrology without blushing. The Vietnam war was heating up. It really was. Radio Free Oz was part of the revolution, the actual encounter of the struggle, the guerilla struggle against the war. That kind of war doesn't really exist in a similar fashion today. Its a little more difficult to galvanize people, although the problems are immense. The fact is that we've brought the war back home. Its a much more difficult war to fight when its all around you, than at a distance. It wasn't a comedy show. Radio Free Oz was a combination of everything. I was the Wizard, and I had all kinds of people on it. It was social, it was religious, it was spiritual, comic, musical, you know. I had Andy Warhol as a guest. I had people come up from Timothy Leary's place down in Mexico.
"I broke in a lot of artists in LA, and I didn't even know it. I was the first person to play Van Morrison on the radio in LA. I was the first person to play Cat Stevens on the radio. Absolutely. I may have played Van Morrison's T. B. Sheets in the summer of 1966. I had the Buffalo Springfield as guests, all kinds of people.
"I had Hopi Indians. I really sponsored the first real use of Hopi Indians on media was Radio Free Oz. The Yaqui and all that, that was on my show. I had a lot of things on the show. I played Indian music and all this kind of Pop culture.
"Also the only counter culture now is the over the counter culture. Everybody is being treated to according to how many pairs of ridiculous shoes they can buy. Where they used to make fun of us wearing tie-dye and dressing weirdly, now it's OK to dress weirdly, as long as it's only parts of your body and you're spending immense amounts of money. Everything is logomania. It's no longer possible to just wear a shirt that has nothing more on than buttons. Now it really doesn't make any sense at all unless you're wearing at least one, if not three or four logos and graphics. The more the merrier. I mean, I wear my bicycle shirts, I'm an avid bicyclist, and people used to laugh at me and call me a walking billboard, because those shirts have everything from batteries to health food stores to names of six or seven bicycle companies, and gear companies. Now I look conservative wearing those. And you pay for them. The poor in LA, you can always tell if someone is really poor in LA because they wear the Marlboro shirts. The shirts that they give away free with cigarettes. Its always a sign of destitution, you know, and just one step away from the street. "
Bergman and the Firesign Theatre did to the recording studio what Bill Gates did to the personal computer, exploding the ivy covered walls of 'just say no' boundaries. Through millions of record sales and dozens of albums, The Firesign and Bergman acquired the prestige and moolah to set his divining rod at full to tilt with the windmills of hypocrisy. The Firesign wit culminated in a flawless computer based comedy album, I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus (1972), where a displaced programmer destroys the evil Big Brother Government computer in the form of an Interactive hologram driven amusement park run with "government inflicted simulation". The worker destroys the whole shebang by posing an unanswerable question to the Nixon voiced president ride, unmasking Dr. Memory, the program behind the shadows.
In the late '70s Bergman found his first ideal mental massager, a TRS 80 Model 1, 4K cassette special personal computer. That's when he began to evolve into a digitally enhanced cyborg. "The only computer that I ever saw in school was a picture of the Univac on the front of the Weekly Reader. It looked like a huge toaster that took up 3 rooms. My first word processor was written by 2 guys in North Hollywood, both of whom answered the phone when I called with a problem. Today, I just put another 16 megs into my Quadra just to run Word 6. I've always had an interest in computers, but I never got myself to the point where I could call myself a programmer. I just kind of kept an active interest in them."
Bergman used this fascination to continually upgrade his humor and began to design comedy albums to be strung along the lines of computer games and interactivity. One such project was the unbought pilot The Pink Hotel Burns Down. "I was very much into adventure games, and I got The Firesign Theatre to start parodying adventure games back then. The Pink Hotel Burns Down has some funny stuff in it. There's a game in each room of the hotel. This guy checks into a room in the Hotel and he can't get to sleep so he talks about all this stuff. He puts himself through it. He ends up on the ledge, suddenly there's a Dungeons and Dragons character, there's trolls, and there's game players. I was into that a long time ago. I think I started that in '77, '78 something like that." The audio portions were recorded and are slated for release this fall by More Sugar, the Firesign product label.
Bergman and the Firesign later hooked up with former Monkee Michael Nesmith and his Pacific Arts Video production company, along with a Japanese company, to produce a project that was to be the first interactive video dis where the player could change the story line as it progressed. In a sense all of The Firesign's recordings were interactive because they demanded a lot of participation from the listener. The Japanese pulled out along with their financing, and the project was barely salvaged by personal funds from everyone concerned, and the interactive themes were developed along a story line and it was filmed and released as The Case Of The Missing Yolk (1983) containing some very funny commercial parodies, videographical sight gags and special effects. It received some cable TV air play, is still widely available in the video rental stores, and has been re-released on More Sugar.
In 1985 The Firesign Theatre was approached by Phillips to write two demonstration games for their new CD Interactive machines. Eat Or Be Eaten was recorded as a 99 track demo and the accompanying graphics made but the actual finished project was never published commercially. Eat or Be Eaten (1985) was salvaged and released as the first audio CD with subcode graphics (CD+G), and the game paths strung together to form a story with some commercial parodies.
"I've been very involved in CD-ROM. First of all The Firesign Theatre, back in the mid '80s, wrote the first entertainment game for CD-I, Compact Disc Interactive. An interactive game is a game where you, as a player on the computer, have choices as to where the game goes, and what happens. And this was originally developed by Phillips, Warner Brothers, and Sony. We turned out two, one called Eat Or Be Eaten which never got published as a CD-I game, so we turned out the audio material as an album, on Mercury. And then we did the script of another interactive game, a Nick Danger-based interactive game, called Danger In Dreamland. It was like one of these interactive stories where you had to solve the mystery by making choices. If you went down the right alleys and the right places you got the right information. If you went the wrong way, you got beaten up or misinformed or both. So we worked on that back in the mid '80s, when hardly anybody was in the business. Now of course it's beginning to happen again and we're gonna go forward and do a Firesign Theatre game, an interactive game."
Since then the world has caught up to Peter Bergman and exploded with myriads of CD-ROM games, programs, and reference entertainments. "A couple of years back I refocused myself into CD-ROM and right now am very much involved in both creating and producing titles. CD-ROM, in many ways, is a combination of a book, game, and record album. If you look at CD-ROM, first of all, it has all the audio you need, so that it plays as a standard album, or parts of a standard album, and then you have to understand how to make the graphics, the animation, the data, and the audio interesting.
"I don't think the standard comedy album is gonna make it anymore. They have this thing called mixed media now, which is a standard album with some CD-ROM at the end of it, because the standard album doesn't take up the full amount of a laser disc, of a CD disc. We're talking about that also. But that's just a limited version of a CD-ROM. But basically I think CD-ROM is it. Yeah, we're looking to produce one of those very soon. It's something The Firesign Theatre can really easily adapt to. I'm very much interested in that part of the world."
Now after 30 years of surfing the airwaves and soundwaves, Bergman has pointed his search engines at the Information super highway, and has rebooted his Radio Free Oz as a launch mouse pad to capture his new ideas in the net. He's turned a new homepage in his career, and has allowed us to feast in his Digital Diner.
"It came to my attention six to eight months ago that there was this thing called RealAudio. And I thought, 'Gee if you can send audio over the Internet, then what I really got here is my own radio station, without having to get a building or spend $80,000,000 to not just get a license from the FCC, but to buy it from somebody else.' So its really the same old same except now its free to beam myself on the Net. I can reach all the way around the world for only 100 bucks. Also its like having a newspaper without spending $100,000,000 to reach Los Angeles. Its really terrific. And the fact that one man - one channel is coming true, makes me feel really good."
"Radio is my absolute favorite element. I'd rather rap on the radio then do just about anything. That doesn't mean I find myself on the radio much these days, but that has something to do with radio, as much as it does with me. I don't think there's a place for me on radio right now, for what I have to say and the approach I take, the barons of radio don't want it. I'm not a shock jock, and yet I upset some of these people more than the shock jocks do. I think I call their bluff, which the shock jocks never do."
"So I collected some people together, and I formed a company, called RFO.Net, and that's also the address of the site. I put together Patricia Stallone and Hal Josephson and Cynthia Decker. John Goodman was the seed capitol, as the initial investor. We're all involved in putting up Radio Free Oz on the Net, at RFO.Net. It actually is a commercial venture. It intends to make money. Not many people do, and the ones that do, are the ones that have huge amounts of support; the Netscapes, and the Yahoos, and you know, the Starwaves. And even some of them are losing money, and lot of the money that they spend getting advertising is from some of the people they advertise on. Its kind of a scratching the back situation. And so its tough to do that. And there are people who are making money with transactions, you know, offering special stuff; more designer shoes, those kind of unnecessary things by drawing advertisers, and eventually doing some transaction based stuff. We intend to be in there for the commercial long run. There's no doubt about that. Its not an easy row to hoe. We're very cynical about it, very suspicious of the Web right now."
"So its a commercial company and its object is two-fold: one is to produce this network of shows, the first of which is Radio Free Oz, and the other goal is to provide comic content, and other content on the website, since there's a sore need for content, there's very little on the Web. Most of it is just blah, blah, CB talk, and insurance companies basically describing what they do, which is of little interest to anyone including themselves. So they need content and we're here to provide it. We're a content provision site. I used to think I was an artist, and I discovered, no, I'm a content provider."
"I have a group of comedians and writers that I'm gathering slowly but surely in Hollywood, and we're going to offer it up. Radio Free Oz is a particular audio comedy site, that we're developing simultaneously. We're dubbing it the funnybone of the Internet. There's a new Giggle Byte every day. Its all comic material, and its individual show pages. You click on a show page, which lists that show and various others, that have already appeared. You click on them and Real Audio files come up and you hear the routine. Its a wonderful project and we're working real hard on it."
To get Bergman's homepage radio station you first have to obviously have Internet access and a sound card for your computer. After you sign on you type in http://www.rfo.net. You'll get the Radio Free Oz graphics and a menu with six icons, Today's Show, Giggle Byte, Digital Diner, Baudville, Ha Ha Button, and Visitor Mail. When you click on the icon a show page comes up with several selections. You click on them to receive a sixty-second audio comedy bit complete with text. The sound is in RealAudio which is a robust shareware utility that delivers the goods in understandable words, even with a twenty percent transmission error rate. It may take several clicks to get a perfect rendition. For those without computer sound, text is provided at most of the clickables so that all can enjoy the humor presented. It's fun to print out the text and logos and collect them into a loose-leaf notebook to refer back to them off line. The shows change around, come and go and are numbered so you can keep track of what you've witnessed and look for those you've missed. Past audio files can be retrieved by semi-experienced hackers fooling around with the header numbers of the pages, but the past text files have yet to be cracked.
Peter Bergman is the CCO, Chief Creative Officer of the site and appears in many of the various routines. Digital Diner is where Bergman gives his rants on current events, politics and philistine philosophy. A recent posting offers Newt The Brute where Bergman suggests a follow-up pro-wrestling career for the curmudgeonly Speaker of the House , "Put him in a red, white and blue spandex wrestling suit, give him a Don King hairdo and he'll be an overnight sensation, driving the folks wild in front of T.V.'s across America. I can see it now. Newt The Brute enters the auditorium, striding down the aisle, slapping welfare mothers on the way and tossing out lap-top computers to their kids." In the Baudville pages Bergman is all over the place giving out advice and new age product advertisements as sooty super salesman Max Midas, cheap, quick fix car repairs in Up On The Rack, and in Power, originally a Proctor and Bergman thirteen-part series of five-minute episodes, produced by Ted Bonnitt, about Paul Power whose life on the edge in LA, becomes unbalanced when the radical animal rights group The Bow-Wowists kidnap his wife as his entertainment empire collapses. Power was run in the summer of 1990 on the NPR program Heat, hosted by John Hockenberry.
Fellow Firesign funsters Phil Proctor and David Ossman each have their own click-programs and appear in/on other rfo.net pages as well. Ossman as the perennial political candidate George Tirebiter spouts off his Natural Surrealist Party platform pronouncements and gives silly interviews. Proctor shines like a cyberjewel as Hal Stark, Prisoner Of The 20th Century - caught on a flypaper of health / environmental consciousness.
Radio Free Oz in it's latest resurgence also features new names and well knowns. John Goodman stars in Feng Shui as himself karate chopping his way to perfect harmony. Paul Krassner, long time hip journalist and Bergman co-hort, lays out his newspaper prompted editorials in Paul Krassner, The Realist. Edie McClurg, comedic actress undresses herself as Mrs. Mendenhal, The Suburban Guru supplying household tips for the typical neurotic family and provides neuralgic movie star reminiscences as Dot Duncan, The Queen Of Hollywood. Newcomers providing fun are Aliza Murietta as not so grown-up Valley Girl Lana, M. C. Gainey as private eye Jack Hatchet, Dick In Dogtown, Jason Kassin and Peter Murietta as the over-educated minimum wage Stock Boys and Johnny Robish provides the daily Giggle Byte. Let's not forget Bergman's better 3/4, Patricia Stallone who adds voices in Power and is pigeonholed as COO of Radio Free Oz. Other staff includes Dane Davis as the production director, Cynthia Decker supplies graphics as Art Director, Mark Gunson is the Webmaster, and Hal Josephson is the President and CEO. They all do a fine job at keeping this website a lot of fun and interesting to play around with.