Three sites are being added to the link on the sidebar to broadcast histories in other cities; all three concern Dallas-Fort Worth radio and television.
Chris Huff’s DFW Radio Archives, a huge collection of ratings history of the market.
Mike Shannon’s History of Dallas-Fort Worth Radio and Television
and Steve Eberhart’s History of KLIF, Gordon McLendon’s flagship station.
I discovered all three of these several years ago and they inspired me to attempt something similar for Houston. I may even have stolen a few ideas and facts from these guys.
These are all among the very best broadcast history sites on the web, standards to which all others can be compared. It’s apparent they’ve been hard at work on these for years and years.
The History of KLIF site contains a few mentions of KILT, McLendon’s Houston station.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Three sites are being added to the link on the sidebar to broadcast histories in other cities; all three concern Dallas-Fort Worth radio and television.
Friday, December 28, 2007
In late 1944 Roy Hofheinz learned General Electric was about to come on the market with a wire recorder and he placed a call to the President of GE and persuaded him to send one of the machines to KTHT for experimental purposes. Then he promptly sent it all over town, covering news and other community events, providing Houston radio listeners with their first ‘actualities’ of news events; up until that time reporters had relied heavily on telephones to phone in stories and the actual events would not be heard unless the station was broadcasting live. One of the recorder’s regular stops became Playland Park on South Main, an amusement park familiar to generations of kids who grew up n Houston. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, the recorder would be on hand as park-goers participated in a quiz show staged by the station. Then the recording was taken back to the station and aired at 5:30 in its entirety, so the participants would have a chance to hear themselves on the air. (Editing wire recordings was virtually impossible; if the wire snapped or got tangled up and had to be cut, as was a common occurrence, the two ends were simply tied together like a shoelace, the ‘splice’ occurring wherever it might).
In the spring of 1945 organizational meetings of the United Nations were scheduled in San Francisco and Hofheinz packed his bags and his wife and two sons and the wire recorder and set out for San Francisco on the 20th Century Limited, taking up residence at the Sir Francis Drake hotel. He lugged the 25 pound wire recorder and a microphone everywhere he went, becoming a part of the story along with the diplomats with his cowboy hat and Texas drawl. Network correspondents and wire service reporters poked fun at the brash Texan, but diplomats took note; many, especially the Russian diplomats, believed the American press had been distorting their views and positions and Hofheinz convinced them by speaking into his wire recorder, the American people would hear what they had to say exactly the way they said it. He leased a telephone line to Houston for an hour every day and sent back 15 minute reports daily, using the rest of the time to take care of station business.
As reported by biographer Edgar Ray, Broadcasting Magazine took note of the upstart broadcaster from Houston; in its issue of May 28, 1945, the trade magazine noted:
"News beats are being scored at the Conference against wire correspondents of the networks at San Francisco by a protocol busting Texan, President of a new, small independent station, himself still in the cub stage. Through the medium of a wire recorder, Roy Hofheinz has been supplying his station, KTHT, Houston, with one of the most comprehensive jobs of coverage of the UN Conference on International Organization of any independent."
The State Department tried to block Hofheinz’ access to sessions, apparently at the urging of the national media, but Hofheinz got permission to attend directly from the delegates. When the State Department complained about the technology Hofheinz pointed out he was only doing what print reporters did but instead of writing the words down, he was recording them. He carefully shut the machine down whenever the discussions were ‘background only.’ Syndicated columnist and national commentator Drew Pearson also took note and reported in his Washington-Merry-Go-Round column that by the end of the conference GE had received several hundred orders for its new wire recorder, many coming from foreign governments.
The Houston media covered the Conference as front page news. Hofheinz had forged a close alliance with the Scripps-Howard Press and did almost all of his advertising in the Press which regularly referred to Hofheinz as Houston’s Special Correspondent to the international confab. In it’s story on his groundbreaking use of the gadget on May 1 the Press made the claim that KTHT had been the first station in the nation to have one of the recorders.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
During World War II, the FCC refused to issue any construction permits or even hold hearings on applications for new radio stations unless the applicants had the equipment on hand to start construction. Roy Hofheinz had been disappointed in 1941 when his initial application for a permit for KTHT had been denied because of the equipment policy, despite a favorable recommendation from an FCC Examiner. Two of his partners had been more disappointed and wanted out so Hofheinz had taken a 75% interest in Texas Star Broadcasting. While the two other applicants did nothing, waiting for an approval before acting, Hofheinz rented a warehouse near Buffalo Bayou and began stockpiling equipment, both new and used, learning all he could about engineering and radio station operations along the way by consulting with others. Despite wartime restrictions on strategic materials, he finally managed to accumulate everything he needed and he petitioned the Commission to re-open the hearing. One of the other competing applicants was the Houston Press, owned by Scripps-Howard, which wanted a radio station in Houston.
During his earlier visits to Washington as early as 1939, Hofheinz had become acquainted with W. Ervin “Red” James, an FCC commissioner. They would become like brothers and James would be indispensable to Hofheinz in the approval process. James told Hofheinz’ (and later his biographer Edgar Ray) that after the initial hearing in 1941, FCC Chairman Leonard Fly had called him aside and told him he was not helping himself in Washington by being seen with Hofheinz because ‘he’s not going to get a radio station.’ Hofheinz had powerful political enemies in Houston who happened to own radio stations of their own and they did not want the competition, particularly from Hofheinz.
As the hearings resumed in May, 1944, Fly personally examined and cross-examined Hofheinz. who acted as his own attorney, making much of his failure to resign as county judge when he put in his application. Hofheinz had actually promised to resign as soon as the permit was granted, not before, and would not run for political office again, but he left the first day of the hearings convinced that Fly was going to succeed in blocking his application. Hofheinz was not a wealthy man and he had sold everything he owned to finance his dream of owning a radio station. He called his wife at home and told her it was all over, everything was lost and he’d have to find something else to do. His remaining partner, Dick Hooper, son of the man who developed the Doctor Hooper oil fields at Conroe and on the board of First City National Bank, promised Hofheinz he was good for the cash if they decided to appeal the expected ruling to the courts.
Red James was no longer on the Commission, having resigned to enter the Navy, but before leaving he had prepped Hofheinz on what to expect. Unbeknownst to Hofheinz and Hooper he had also briefed another Commissioner, Cliff Durr, a Rhodes scholar, on Hofheinz’s accomplishments and achievements. After Fly finished examining Hofheinz on the second day of the hearings, he opened the process up to the other commissioners and Durr said that he had a few questions of his own. Over the next 2 days Durr proceeded to lead Hofheinz through a recitation of his accomplishments, his reputation for honesty and integrity, his own powerful and influential backers, and so on. According to Ray, by the end of the hearing Fly would have made a complete fool of himself by voting against the application and Texas Star’s application was officially approved on May 23, 1944.
Days later Hofheinz was shocked to read a news story out of Washington that Chairman Fly had said the Houston hearing might be re-opened since the Judge had not resigned his post. Actually, days before the permit was granted, Hofheinz, worried about the future security of his family, had quietly filed for another term as County Judge. In early July Hofheinz was called before the Commission to explain why he had not informed them of this fact and had not resigned; the primary election was set for Saturday, July 15. Hofheinz had been County judge since 1936 and he told the Commission he believed his political enemies and potential competitors were going to block his application and he had no choice but to run again. Hofheinz told the Commission his competition was a monopoly, with all the stations on the air in Houston at that time controlled by Jesse Jones interests.
Hofheinz was sure his political enemies at home had informed the Commission of his last minute filing for re-election but assured the commissioners he would withdraw from the race once the go-ahead was given, that he would like to stay on in office to finish some projects but would step down immediately if the Commission so ordered. Returning to Houston Thursday, July 13, with the Commission’s blessing, Hofheinz told reporters at the airport KTHT would start test broadcasts from 8:30 to 12 Midnight that evening, then would continue with test programs from 6am to Midnight daily until final FCC approval. With no more fanfare than that, KTHT began broadcasting from studios in the Southern Standard Building at 711 Main.
The schedule first appeared in the Chronicle on July 20th. The line-up of Houston stations as printed by the Chronicle that day included
KTRH, 405.4 Meters, 740 Kilocycles
KTHT, 243.9 Meters, 1230 Kilocycles
KPRC, 315.6 Meters, 950 Kilocycles
KXYZ, 232.4 Meters, 1320 Kilocycles
Though the government had started using kilocycles as the term to designate radio station’s frequencies in 1923, the Houston papers were still printing the corresponding meter designations, possibly for readers with very old receivers.
Though Hofheinz had filed for County Judge he had not run much of a campaign for re-election and according to family members and associates his heart wasn’t in it. He was defeated by a narrow margin in the Democratic Primary, which was tantamount to the election in those days, his first political defeat ever. He submitted his resignation to Commissioner’s Court but the Commissioners refused to accept it, saying they needed his leadership and guidance on several ongoing projects, and he served until the end of his elected term, in January, 1945.
In addition to the above account of the Commission hearings, biographer Ray presents also the viewpoint of Jack Howard, President of Scripps-Howard, which owned the Houston Press, a competing applicant for the permit on 1230 kc. Howard and Jim Hanrahan had their names on the Press’s application and had been present at the initial hearing in 1941, but both had gone off to war. Hanrahan was serving with the Army in Italy and Howard was with the Navy in the Pacific. The notice from the FCC that the Houston hearing was being reactivated was forwarded to Howard and he received it 8 months later. According to Howard, Hofheinz got the permit by default.
Howard’s account also gives insight into Hofheinz’s strategy before the Commission. Always acting as his own attorney rather than hiring an expensive Washington law firm, Hofheinz would show up at the hearings wearing a ‘pint-sized Stetson, lugging a bulging, richly-embossed Mexican leather briefcase, and breathless.’ His act, Howard said, was a most effective one, he came on as the simple little old country boy against the rich corporation. He then could proceed to astonish the Commission with his knowledge of law and broadcasting.
KTHT was the first new station in Houston since 1930. According to Ray, the call letters stood for ‘Keep Talking Houston Texas’ and ‘Kome to Houston Texas.’ The station remained at 1230 kc until 1948 when KNUZ signed on, taking over the 1230 kc frequency while KTHT moved to 790 kc and increased power to 5000 watts. Hofheinz was to sell a 75% interest in the station to Texas Radio in 1953 and then completely dispose of his interests in June, 1958. Robert D. Strauss was president of Texas Radio. Hofheinz was also part owner of Houston Consolidated Television, the group that put Channel 13, KTRK-TV, on the air in 1954, and Texas Star Broadcsting also operated radio stations in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley and had applications for 50,000 watt stations in Dallas and New Orleans, both of which had to be withdrawn due to cash flow problems.
KTHT became a 24 hour a day operation on October 1st, 1946, the first time since before the war Houston had had a 24 hour a day radio station. It was known as Demand Radio 79 and Downbeat in the late 50s and early 60s; subsequent call letters have included KULF ca. 1970, KKBQ-AM, ca. 1982, and currently KBME. It is now a sports station, the Sports Animal, and the original call letters are now used on Country Legends, 97.1.
Later in the 1940s Hofheinz formed Pilot Broadcasting with millionaire mortgage banker Thomas N. Beach of Birmingham, Alabama. Beach had put WTNB on the air in Birmingham in 1946 but did not understand radio. His searches for someone to help him run the station led him to Hofheinz, recommended as a man with a magic touch when it came to radio. When Beach tired of radio, Hofheinz and another Birmingham businessman, George Mattison, bought him out and took over the station which they changed to WILD. During his visits to Birmingham, Hofheinz met a young announcer at the station by the name of Loel Passe whom he brought back to Houston to work at KTHT. Passe was to go on to a long career in Houston radio and is remembered fondly as a play-by-play announcer for the Houston Buffs, Colt 45s and Astros.
KTHT affiliated with the Mutual Broadcasting System. Ted Hills, who had been the operator and program director of KFVI in the mid-20s and KTLC later was hired as program director but Ray says there was never any doubt Roy Hofheinz called all the shots. The station intended to provide music and community involvement and emphasize live, on-the-scene news coverage and over the next several years history was to hand Hofheinz several sterling opportunities to demonstrate the latter commitment and the station was to receive praise and commendation for doing so. Hofheinz vowed the station would be profitable from the start and it was. He possessed not only knowledge of the law and broadcasting, but he understood programming, promotion and sales, and was able to give his sales staff the promotions they needed to attract advertisers. The first commercial on the station was on behalf of a restaurant in the basement of the Foley’s department store that just happened to be owned by Hofheinz’s father-in-law.
It wasn’t long after getting KTHT on the air that Hofheinz realized he’d made a mistake in going for a low-power outlet and he began making plans to move the station to a better frequency and boost power. Concerned that his political enemies and business rivals might take over the abandoned frequency when that day came, he confided his plans to some associates and advised them to be ready to file for the frequency as soon as he announced his application to move. That group of friends was eventually to win approval to take over the 1230 frequency.
There will be much more about KTHT on this blog, including special features on the use of the first wire recorder, coverage of the United Nations organizational meetings in San Francisco in the Spring of 1945, the Cruising Radio Studio, coverage of a devastating hurricane of August, 1946, and a public service project called the GI House, which will appear on the side-bar under the Stations category.
Note: The above account owes much to Edgar Ray’s biography of Hofheinz, The Grand Huckster, which includes background information not available in local news reports. But Ray is careless with details like dates and his account has been verified and supplemented wherever possible with local news stories.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
December 2, 1947, marked the first day of broadcasting for KREL, Pelly, the second station in the Tri-Cities area, a full-timer operating with 1000 watts on 1360 kilocycles from studios and transmitter on Decker Drive. The station owners were the principals of the Goose Creek Daily Sun and they announced on the front page of their paper the calls KREL had been requested because ‘Robert E Lee High School has been, and will continue to be, such an important part of life in the Tri-Cities area.’ Goose Creek and Pelly consolidated in just 2 months and took the name Baytown and the station has been licensed to Baytown ever since. In late 1959 the calls were flipped to KWBA, then, ca. 1968, to KBUK, and they are now KWWJ, a Black Gospel station.
KLEE-TV, Houston’s first television station, first broadcast its test pattern at full power on Channel 2, December 20, 1948.
Broadcasting Yearbook gives January, 1964, for the launch of KBNO-FM at 93.7 megacycles but listings first appeared in the Chronicle on December 21, 1963. Calls used on that frequency have included KRLY-FM, KLTR-FM and it is now KKRW-FM, The Arrow.
Houston’s second FM station signed on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1946. KPRC-FM originally operated on 99.7 megacycles. It has changed frequency twice in its history, moving to 102.9 mc in 1947 and to 99.1 in 1959. It has changed call letters twice, to KHGM-FM in 1958 and to KODA-FM in 1961. It is Houston’s oldest surviving FM station.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
The license for WHAB, Galveston’s first radio station, was issued by the Commerce Department on June 29, 1922, to Clark W. Thompson, president of Fellman’s Department Store. A radio department had recently been opened on the ground floor of the store at 22nd and Post Office.
The Galveston Daily News carried no notice of the license on June 30 but Fellman’s ads for that day announced the store would be hosting a radio concert at 10:30 for the benefit of the membership drive of the Galveston American Legion Argonnne Post # 20. The concert would be broadcast by the government station at Fort Crockett and Fellman’s would receive it and ‘broadcast’ it over loudspeakers in the store.
The Ben C. Doherty Co. also would host the concert. Doherty’s bragged they had bought all their radio equipment from Fellman’s.
On Sunday July 2, Fellman’s was ready to begin it’s own broadcasts and the Daily News carried the story on page 1. The first offering at 10am would be a sermon by Reverend Raimundo DeOvies of Trinity Episcopal Church.
Plans for the new operation included market reports, concerts and baseball results. The Shrine Band would also be performing and Mr. Thompson had already offered the use of the station to the Galveston Police Department for broadcasting crime reports, a partnership which he noted had been tried in numerous large cities elsewhere with excellent results. Cotton reports would be obtained form the W.L. Moody Co., in-laws of Mr. Thompson, and market reports from C.P. Munn and Co. Weather reports would be offered daily at 9:45am and 5:15 pm. Ora W. Chancellor, formerly a chief radio electrician in the Navy, would be in charge of the station and Fellman’s radio department.
The New’s account of the first broadcast in it’s Monday edition bragged that despite the temptation of being able to listen to a sermon without even getting out of bed, churches across the island had been packed on Sunday. Rev. Ovies said that he had purposely chosen an undenominational message for his talk since it was the first ever broadcast from the island and reported the phone at his home was ringing as soon as he opened the door and had rung throughout the afternoon with calls from across the island as well as Texas City, Alvin and points beyond congratulating him and commenting on the excellent reception. Mr. Thompson stated that the station was operating at only 1/10th power.
In response to a question from the reporter, De Ovies said he did not think radio sermons would ever supplant church attendance because radio had no ‘personality.’
During the first week of operation WHAB broadcast another concert benefitting soldiers at Fort Crockett, a children’s story teller, the Sandman, was brought on board to appear each evening, and the Galveston Police exchanged fingerprint and stolen car information with the Houston Police through a Houston station (possibly WGAB but not named). The Elks were holding a convention on the island and a concert by the Dallas Elks band was also aired. The First National Bank installed speakers so its customers could hear the stock reports and on Saturday evening, July 8, WHAB aired a program consisting entirely of Edison reproductions.
A second church service was broadcast on Sunday, July 9, this time from the First Methodist Episcopal Church. The question of whether radio sermons would mean people wouldn’t bother to go to church anymore seemed to be of particular concern to the Daily News. In its roundup of church activities in it’s Monday edition the paper once again took pains to point out that churches across the island had been full on Sunday despite the advance notice of the availability of a radio sermon.
On the 11th, the paper reported on the Radio Club meeting at Fellman’s. Thirty five had attended and officers had been elected and a committee was put to work drafting a constitution.
Curiously, Fellman’s seems never to have mentioned WHAB in it’s ads but in Galveston as in Houston and elsewhere, other businesses tried to capitalize on the public’s fascination with the new medium. Just a week after WHAB’s launch, the Purity Ice Cream company touted the addition of a new flavor to its line-up, Radio Custard. You could have a gallon delivered to your home for just $1.50.
By the end of the month, Fellman’s had been renamed Thompson’s. Clark W. Thompson was well connected on the island; he had been stationed at Fort Crockett in the Marines and married into the Moody family. After his service he and his wife returned to Galveston to live. On July 28 the paper reported that he and 3 other Galveston businessmen had formed The National Radio Show and Exposition Co., chartered by the State of Texas and said to be the first of its kind in the nation. The company would stage radio expositions around the country, with the first slated for Houston in September, due to be carried by a Houston station (not named). Others were in the planning stages for Dallas, New Orleans and Oklahoma City. National manufacturers would participate as would local radio dealers - it would be like the already popular car shows put on by automobile makers and dealers.
Like another early Galveston broadcaster, George Roy Clough, and Roy Hofheinz in Houston, Thompson entered politics.. In the 30s he was elected to Congress from the 7th Congressional District but stepped down when his district was realigned. During the war he returned to active service, serving in the SW Pacific; after the war he served as director of the Marine Reserves in Washington before returning to Galveston and running for Congress again. He served as the Representative of the 9th Congressional District from Galveston from 1946 to 1966 specializing in Defense issues. He died in December, 1981.
The Clark W. Thompson bio in the Handbook of Texas on-line mentions his early retail experience but omits reference to the fact that he put Galveston’s first radio station on the air.
The images above are from the archives of the Galveston Daily News at the Rosenberg Library, Galveston.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
November 6 marks the 57th anniversary of KUHF-FM, the University of Houston station. UH students had been producing programs for KATL for several years but now they would be responsible for a whole station. Studios were in the Ezekiel W. Cullen Building which had just been dedicated a week earlier. KUHF-FM is the 3rd oldest surviving Houston FM and oldest one with the original calls.
KRBE-FM signed on at 6pm on November 8, 1959, operating on 104.1 mc from studios in the 1400 Hermann building, a high rise residence across from the Rose Garden in Hermann Park. It was originally a full time classical station and the calls stood for 'The Key to Radio Broadcast Excellence.'
Broadcasting Yearbook gives November 15, 1948, for the launch of KFRD, 980 kc, Rosenberg but whether that's the date of the license or first broadcast is not known. KRTX, a Tejano station, operates on that frequency now, licensed to Rosenberg/Richmond.
November 28, 1923, was the date the license for KFLX, Galveston, was issued, the oldest station continuously in operation in the Houston-Galveston market or anywhere on the Texas Gulf Coast. The station is now KHCB and is licensed to League City operating on 1400 kHz.
Broadcasting Yearbook gives November, 1947, for the launch of KTLW, Texas City, 920 kc. That is now KYST.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Before proceeding any further with the chronology of AM stations it is necessary to to take a step back and a little side trip south of the border, down Mexico way, and introduce readers of this blog to one of the most interesting Houston broadcasters I have encountered in the course of this research. There have been two Houstonians I have learned about in this research who, in my judgement, had they stayed involved in radio all their lives, would have been as famous and garnered as much acclaim as Gordon McLendon or other luminaries in the history of broadcasting, both in this state and nationwide. Both were compared to P.T. Barnum by associates, both were born showmen and promoters, essential qualities of a good broadcaster in the old days, anyway. Some have seen them as controversial but I see their personality types as exactly what is needed to make radio more than just another ho-hum utility that comes into the house and I wish I had had the chance to work for both of them. Both had many interests besides broadcasting and by the times of their deaths their early involvement in broadcasting had been all but forgotten. The two individuals are Judge Roy Hofheinz and Will Horwitz, and this is the story of Will Horwitz - entertainment impresario, theater owner, radio station owner, philanthropist, and florist. And, oh yes, convicted and then pardoned felon.
He was the owner of Houston’s third broadcasting station, WEAY. There is much that can be written about WEAY, only a small part of which has been published on this blog so far. To read what there is click on the Label WEAY at the bottom of this post or go to the AM Chronology for 1922, Part 3. Horwitz was not strictly a radio man and much of what follows has little to do with Houston broadcasting but he is a fascinating part of the overall story of Houston broadcasting that has been lost over time. Fascinated by the power and lure of the medium even before the age of broadcasting, Horwitz was an entertainment impresario and noted philanthropist and one of the most beloved Houstonians of the first half of the 20th century who has been almost completely forgotten in the ensuing decades. He is known outside of Houston mostly for his ill-fated involvement with XED in Reynosa, Mexico, the first ‘border blaster.’
Born on the 26th of June, 1886, in Benton, Arkansas, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master of Arts degree and came to Houston as early as 1917. One of his jobs was showing movies at Camp Logan and it was to set his course in life.
With a borrowed stake of $150 he bought his first theatre in 1919, the Travis, a rundown burlesque theatre at 612 Travis where the JP Morgan Chase Tower now stands. As the story goes, lacking the funds to buy a new sign, he improvised. He blocked out the ‘a’ and the ‘v,’ knocked the top off of the ‘t,’ and so was born the Iris. It happened to be his daughter’s name.
He established prices of 5 and 15 cents for his theatres, angering movie producers who threatened to withhold their films from him if he didn’t raise prices, but Horwitz refused and the movie producers backed down. During the dispute he kept live hogs in the lobbies of his theatres, labeling them the ‘movie hog trust’ and would rail against the producers from the stage before shows. His group of theaters was called the Homefolks Theaters and by the time of his death he owned 4, the Uptown, Texan, Iris and Ritz, but also had owned the Isis and Liberty. He employed 240 people with an annual payroll of $200,000.
His Texan theatre was the first air conditioned theatre in Texas. While excavating to install the air conditioning in the 30s, he had the idea of connecting his theatres with an underground tunnel, so his patrons could go back and forth between them. That was one of the beginnings of the downtown Houston tunnel system.
One of his most popular promotions was a big Christmas party for needy children, an annual tradition, which may have started as early as 1919 or maybe in the mid-20s (accounts differ). He also sent movie equipment to institutions where there were youngsters who could not travel to go to the movies.
Another popular promotion was Peanut Day, held on his birthday each year, when any child would receive free admission, a free bag of peanuts and reimbursement for transportation to and from any of the theatres. This photo from the Bob Bailey Studios collection at the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin shows the crowd outside the Iris on Travis for Peanut Day in 1934.
During the Great Depression he established a restaurant across from the Farmer’s Market on Preston in downtown Houston called the Grub Stake which served free meals to the unemployed. A big sign proclaimed ‘If you are hungry, come in and enjoy a meal.’ The Houston Chronicle noted in an editorial that the restaurant had served 111,000 free meals in one year. He also set up a no-fee employment agency which found work for 5000 people and when the construction work on the Texan was underway, decreed that all the work was to be done by hand, no machines were to be used, so more people would have work.
Another promotion was Tin Can day at his theatres, weekly events every Tuesday during the Depression when anyone could gain admission by bringing in a can of food. Food was piled high in the lobbies on those days and he set up a store at Capitol and Travis to give it away. This blogger’s Mother and her oldest brother recalled walking downtown once a week from their home on 16th street in the Heights, following the street car tracks, to pick up free groceries for their family. When they got back home they would set aside 4 cans of food for the oldest children so the following Tuesday they could all walk back downtown to see a free movie at the Iris.
Tin Can Tuesdays were so successful, Horwitz started accepting clean, usable garments, too, and had to set up another store to distribute what was collected. He also set up a club for servicemen in the Uptown building at Capitol and Milam and paid for the care of numerous elderly people at the St. Anthony’s Home on Almeda.
He ran on-screen announcements in his theatres warning ‘goo-goo’ mashers they would be dragged out into the street and whipped, then arrested, and was known to handle that personally on occasion. He also passed out free hat pins at the ticket office for any women who wanted to protect themselves from mashers. Theater employees would watch for men who moved around frequently in the auditoriums, closing in on solo women. An employee would shadow the potential masher – sometimes Horwitz would personally take over at this point – until the man made his move. Then he would be forcibly removed from the theater. Sometimes this resulted in front page news.
He was known as a friend of labor - during a railroad strike he gave free admission to union members who showed their cards - but once he got into a row with his own union employees. The union representing his projection operators had gone on strike. Horwitz had negotiated a new deal when the musician’s union announced they were going out. Outraged they had waited to the last minute, Horwitz went to the farmer’s market and began asking if any of the vendors had any rotten eggs. All demurred except one who motioned him aside and confessed he had a case that had gone bad. Horwitz bought them all, took them back to the theatre and threw them at the musicians in the street from the marquee. Then he paid for laundry services for the innocent bystanders whose clothing had been soiled. When the disputes were worked out, the projectionists union gave him a life-time, gold-plated membership in the union, the musicians union gave him a gold egg.
In 1931, years after WEAY had folded, he bought a controlling interest in XED, a Mexican radio station in Reynosa operating with 10,000 watts, the first ‘border blaster’ station, and it got him into a lot of trouble. A promotion the station was running drew tons of mail and the interest of the US Government. The station was running ads for the Tamaulipas State Lottery and money poured into the the US offices of the station and was carried across the border to be placed. Horwitz thought the scheme was legal since the lottery was sanctioned by the Mexican government, but he, his wife and 2 employees were arrested and charged with using the US Mail to promote an illegal lottery. One of those arrested was Milton G. Hall, former Radio Editor of the Post-Dispatch and first Program Director of KTRH.
A trial was held promptly at Corpus Christi and all the defendants were found guilty, with Horwitz and the 2 men receiving 18 month sentences and Horwitz a $5000 fine. His wife was given 6 months probation.
Horwitz filed a motion for a new trial and his lawyer presented petitions bearing 20,000 names pleading for leniency. The judge refused the motion for a new trial but reduced the sentences to a year and a day and Horwitz served 6 months at Leavenworth before being released on parole. A large crowd had turned out at Union Station to see him off and he returned to Houston to another huge party at the City Auditorium attended by several thousand supporters. Reverend William States Jacobs of the First Presbyterian Church told Horwitz from the stage “If all the mud-slingers in the world were given the ocean for a bucket and a comet for a brush, they could never blacken you in my eyes.” FDR signed a full pardon for Horwitz in 1940.
Reverend Jacobs was to establish a tabernacle in the Heights and have his own problems with the government in the late 30s over the question of an unauthorized radio station operated from his ranch at Webster.
There are 2 pictures of a QSL card for XED from early 1931 on this site (4th and 5th items) and there are many other interesting pictures on the site, which is also listed among the external galleries. These cards may be from before Horwitz's involvement with the station.
Though he never owned a radio station again he remained involved in the medium, sponsoring a talent show regularly on radio, once setting up a special phone bank of 40 phones to handle callers when the program tried to determine the best Black entertainer in Houston. In the mid-30s, he installed an electronic organ in his Uptown Avenue, an amusement arcade attached to his Texan Theater, and dubbed it the Radio Mystery Organ because the sounds were created by radio tubes.
On his 46 acre estate at Dickinson Horwitz indulged his love of flowers, creating a horticultural paradise with huge greenhouses everywhere. He told a Houston Press reporter when he realized he’d put $250,000 into his hobby he decided he had to find a way to make money out of it so he opened a flower shop in downtown Houston; then he took over the floral department of Houston’s first Sears store at Buffalo Drive and Lincoln (the recently demolished Robinson Warehouse at Allen Parkway and Montrose). Asked by the reporter which of his businesses he loved the most, theatres or flowers, Horwitz said he loved them both equally but he made more money from the flower business.
For his annual Children’s Christmas Party in 1941 in conjunction with the Houston Post (the paper called it the 22nd annual), the paper reported on page 1 there were 20,000 brightly painted toys and games to be distributed, 100,000 pieces of candy and six truckloads of oranges. A 22 foot tall lighted Christmas tree stood on the stage of the City Auditorium. After the gifts were given out, there was Christmas entertainment. The first party at 4pm on Christmas Eve was for children who had written Mr. Horwitz asking for an invitation and received a written invitation in return. A second party at 7 was for any child who hadn’t been able to write for an invitation. Only 12,000 children were expected, down from 15,000 the previous year, apparently the onset of the war effort had already been putting more people back to work.
Will Horwitz usually donned the Santa suit for his big party, but in the 1930s he had developed heart problems. He had an experimental thyroid operation that was supposed to cure the problem and ever the showman he had the operation filmed so he could demonstrate to others the operation that saved his life, but the operation had done no good, and on December 23, 1941, Horwitz suffered a heart attack. On Christmas eve he lay in a bed at St. Joseph’s Infirmary, telling his associates ‘Make sure the children are happy.’ The Chronicle reported that children cried when told Mr. Horwitz would not be at the party that year, but the parties went off as planned.
Then at 2 am on Christmas Day, 1941, Horwitz suffered a second heart attack and he was pronounced dead at 5 am.
All three dailies ran front page obituaries with the Chronicle and the Press getting their’s into their afternoon editions on Christmas Day.
An associate who had been with him since the beginning in the theater business said he ranked with P.T. Barnum as an entertainer; movie people loved him and theatre owners across the country copied his promotions. The Press obituary called him one of the nation's outstanding showmen. So well known was his name to Houston theatre goers that for several years after his death, well into the 1940s, the ads for his theatres carried the legend ‘A Will Horwitz Estate Theatre.’
Horwitz was survived by his wife and one daughter. It's been suggested a whole book could easily be written about Horwitz and perhaps someone will.
Historical asides: There are many pictures of Will Horwitz and his theaters and the Children's Christmas party in the collection of Bob Bailey Photograpy Studio at the Center for American History at the University of Texas, listed in the external galleries, including one showing Horwitz outside either the Texan or Iris Theater with some children with clothing for the clothing drive but I cannot find that particular one to post. Here is a photo of Horwitz (on the left, note the name is mispelled, as it is on several of the photos) from the collection.
The original Houston Sear’s store opened in 1929 at Buffalo Drive and Lincoln Street and was flooded up to the second floor in a massive flood of Buffalo Bayou in 1935 and Sear’s abandoned it a few years later to move out on Main Street at Richmond. The Sear’s building later served as the first home of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Baylor has in the past maintained a website with some pictures of the store in its heyday but this gallery is apparently no longer on line. Buffalo Drive was later renamed Allen Parkway and Lincoln Street, which ran north from Westheimer, was taken over by the northward extension of Montrose Boulevard; there is only a short remnant of Lincoln Street behind the Valero station at Westheimer and Montrose.
There are also a few pictures of the flood of 1935 in the Bob Bailey collection at the University of Texas.
For the last few decades of its life, the original Sear’s store was known as the Robinson Warehouse and it was demolished only recently to make way for an Islamic Cultural Center.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Lots of anniversaries are due in October.
Broadcasting Yearbook gives October 1952 for the launch of KBRZ, Freeport, at 1460 kHz. The station is still on the air with the same call letters but has recently been re-licensed to Missouri City.
In the first week of October, 1957, Baytown’s KRCT, 650, completed it’s move to new studios at 227 East Sterling in Pasadena. Three and a half years later it flipped call letters to KIKK.
October 1st is the anniversary for two FMs. KQUE-FM, 102.9 MHz took to the air on that day in 1960, occupying the frequency that had been vacated by KHGM-FM 17 months earlier when it moved to 99.1 MHz. The station on 102.9 now is KLTN-FM.
Broadcasting Yearbook gives 10/1/73 for the launch of KTSU-FM, 90.9 but whether that’s the date of the license or the start of actual operations I don’t know. According to the station’s website the station launched with just 10 watts of power.
Two more stations share October 4th as a birthday. KHUL-FM, took to the air on that date in 1959 on 95.7 MHz. The station became KIKK-FM in the 1960s and is now KHJZ-FM.
Meanwhile KXYZ-FM returned to the airwaves on that date in 1961 after being silent for 8 years (that was the date of the first listings in the Chronicle). It returned to the air on its original frequency of 96.5 which it had occupied from 1948 to 1953. The station has undergone a number of call letter changes and is now KHMX-FM.
10/7/22 was the date the license was issued for WTAW, Bryan-College Station, the oldest station in southeast Texas outside of the Houston/Galveston or Beaumont/Port Arthur market.
On the weekend of October 15-16, 1960, KARO-FM took to the air at 94.5 MHz. Other calls used on that frequency have included KLEF-FM, a full time classical station, KLDE-FM, an oldies station, and it is now KTBZ-FM, The Buzz.
October 22, 1953, brought the launch of KNUZ-TV, Channel 39, Houston’s fourth television station overall and first UHF. The station was a DuMont Network affiliate but lasted only 8 months.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Broadcasting Yearbook says KLVL-FM, originally on 92.5, now KKBQ-FM, 92.9, started in August, 1962. The first listings appeared in the Chronicle on September 7, 1962.
9/12/53 - installation of the second coaxial cable serving Houston-Galveston was completed and in service – up until that time Channels 2 and 11 had been sharing one line for live network programming.
9/15/64 - KWHI-FM, Brenham, 106.3
We get Letters.
We get stacks and stacks of letters.
Well, not actually stacks but I do get email from people seeking specific information. Sometimes I can give an answer, sometimes I can point them in the right direction, sometimes I have no clue.
So I thought I would steal a practice from genealogical research and start a Queries section. Any questions I receive which I can’t answer will be posted here and readers of the blog can offer assistance if they can. Responses can be posted in the Comments or emailed to me and I’ll forward or give your contact information to the original poster. This will appear on the sidebar under News and I’ll tag it when there are new queries.
Also, for those seeking information on air personalities, try this site which also has some non-air personnel. Only a small percentage of broadcasters have ever signed up, but it’s worth a shot. You can search by city, name and station.
1. Our first letter today comes from Stephanie, who’s looking for information on a 30s performing group. Stephanie writes:
I'm trying to find out more about a group that reportedly performed on Houston Radio in the 1930s. Unfortunately I don't know which station.
The group was called the "Hawaiian Strummers", and one of the group was Julius Rogers, perhaps called Ben Rogers.
If you can help, I would be very grateful.
2. Sue, a researcher in New Orleans, is writing a biography of Peck Kelley whose Peck’s Bad Boys Jazz Dance Orchestra performed on the second Houston Post concert on WEV in 1922 and had a regular show on KPRC in 1925; he also served as band leader at Sylvan Beach Park in La Porte in 1925 and his band included Jack Teagarden, Don Ellis, Pee Wee Russell and others. She particularly wants to find a good copy of a picture postcard sent out by KPRC of the band in the studio.
3. Angela is looking for information about her Grandfather, Raymond Joseph Kelley, who hosted a talk program in the early 50s, possibly on KXYZ, called 'The People Ask' which featured himself and a Rabbi and a Priest. Anyone with any information or perhaps know of a recording so she can hear her Grandfather's voice?
4. Michael Roesner is looking for information and perhaps an air check of his grandfather, George E. Roesner, who was the long time Farm Reporter for KPRC radio and TV and may have had a column in the Post, too. He died when Michael was just 10 and he would like to know more and be able to tell his children about their great-grandfather.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Perhaps the earliest mention of an FM in Houston came in a brief story on page 1 of the Post on February 19, 1942. The Houston Printing Co., owner of the Post and KPRC, had filed for a permit for a frequency modulation station on 46,500 kc (46.5 mc). There was no further detail of the technical specifications but the very brief mention did indicate the coverage area would be about 10,500 square miles serving an estimated population of 722,600 and there was a brief explanation of the difference between FM and standard broadcasting.
This application is also found in a list in FM Magazine in February 1942. This was a list of ‘CPs filed and authorized by the FCC up to February 17, 1942,’ but there was no indication of the construction status of this station. The FM band was between 42 and 50 MHz at that time (or, as it was designated then, mc, for ‘megacycles.’)
The FCC was experimenting with the use of alphanumeric calls for FM stations but none had been assigned for this station. Based on the system in use, the calls would have been K65 followed by a 2 letter code to signify Houston such as HO or HT. In other words, both the frequency and city of license was built into the calls. Experimental stations would have an X in their calls. Both the public and broadcasters did not like this system of assigning calls and it had obvious limitations and was dropped in November, 1943, and stations were allowed to choose their own calls. Most early FM licensees were also AM licensees and they chose to simply add ‘FM’ to their AM calls. The only other station in Texas on the list of February 17, 1942, in FM Magazine was in Amarillo and it also was not on the air.
So far as is known, this early Houston FM never got on the air. There was a wartime freeze on civilian construction, a shortage of necessary equipment, and a controversy over where the FM band should be. As of June 17, 1945, the FCC resolved that question and designated the frequencies between 88 and 108 MHz for FM. A list of new assignments for existing FM stations moving up from the lower band issued September 12 of that year had no Texas stations on it, so if K65HO (or whatever) ever made it on the air, it didn’t last. Twenty nine more stations were added to the new FM band by the end of the year but a list from the Broadcasting Yearbook, published January 1, 1946, indicated there were still no FM stations authorized by the FCC in Texas. In addition, over the years the Post published several retrospectives on Houston radio and particularly its own involvement, notably when KPRC-FM first signed on and when KLEE-TV became KPRC-TV, but none of these ever mentioned this early FM so I have concluded it never got on the air.
Some FM operators continued to use the lower band for several years. Belo Broadcasting (WFAA, Dallas Morning News) operated an experimental FM in Dallas, W51XC at 45.2 mc in the fall of 1945 (and a high frequency amplitude modulation station in 1939) but the FM is not on the aforementioned list of stations moving up from the lower band so the experimental station may not have been on the air long in 1945.
Belo also claims to have put the first FM in Texas on the air, using the calls KERA-FM (later WFAA-FM) and broadcasting on 94.3 mc, at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas as of October 5, 1946 but a Houston station was to beat this date by six weeks.
The first application for an FM in Houston in the higher frequency band may have been made by Lee Segall in late 1945 or early 1946 but an exact date has not been determined. In reporting Veterans Broadcasting’s application for a station to replace KTHT at 1230 kc when it moved to 790 kc, the Houston Press reported on December 18th, 1945, the new station would be Houston’s fifth so presumably Segall’s applicaton had not been made before then. Segall was a Houston advertising executive, President of Segall Weedin, and had created the radio show Dr. IQ on KTRH in 1937.
The Press reported on April 26, 1946, that Segall Broadcasting Co. had been granted an FCC license for an FM station but no other details were given. Besides his FM permit, which was apparently never acted on, Segall was also an applicant for the station on 1230 kc that was to replace KTHT-AM when it moved to 790 kc but lost out on that competition. He also had applied for a station on 790 but withdrew that application. By 1947, he had relocated to Dallas and put KIXL-AM and FM on the air in Dallas in a partnership with several show business personalities. The ‘Good Music’ format on KIXL was one of the first of its kind and inspired Gordon McLendon’s programming on KELP, El Paso, in the mid-1950s and later his famous KABL, San Francisco. It also possibly was the model for KCOH-AM, Houston, when it went on the air in 1948 and countless early FM stations. By the time of his death in Dallas in 1984, Segall’s connection to early Houston radio had been forgotten.
On May 4, 1946, the Post reported that the previous day its parent company had been granted a ‘final Construction Permit’ for an FM station on 99.7 mc with 19.6 kw power and an antenna of 497 feet. The call letters were to be KPRC-FM. Station GM Kern Tips touted the static free reception of FM and noted it was particularly suited for symphonic broadcasts. KPRC-FM was to make it to the air just before the end of 1946 but was not to be the first Houston FM.
For those interested in reading more about the development of FM broadcasting, Jeff Miller's History of American Broadcasting has a section devoted to FM.
This Kansas City Radio history website is maintained by Mark Roberts, who worked at KTRH in the 1980s.
The Puget Sound Radio Broadcasters Association website includes a market history prepared by Eric Dawes, who got his start in radio at KLYX-FM, Clear Lake:
I discovered the New Orleans Radio History Shrine when searching for information about William John Uhalt, who put KTUE on the air in 1926 (now KXYZ). He had helped his brother put a NOLA station on the air before coming to Houston and there have been other connections between Houston and NOLA broadcasters over the years.
The Bay Area Radio Museum covers San Francisco.
Radio-history.com covers New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia
The Chicago Radio Time Capsule and Chicagoland Radio Call Sign History websites cover Chicago.
There are three sites devoted to Dallas-Fort Worth radio and television.
Chris Huff’s DFW Radio Archives is a huge collection of the ratings history of the market plus other great information.
Mike Shannon’s History of Dallas-Fort Worth Radio and Television
and Steve Eberhart’s History of KLIF, Gordon McLendon’s flagship station.
I discovered all three of these several years ago and they inspired me to attempt something similar for Houston. I may even have stolen a few ideas and facts from these guys.
These Dallas sites are among the very best broadcast history sites on the web, standards to which all others can be compared. It’s apparent they’ve been hard at work on these for years and years.
The History of KLIF site contains a few mentions of KILT, McLendon’s Houston station.
To be continued. While there are few radio stations which maintain histories on their websites, there are many privately maintained websites devoted to individual stations; Google on the call letters and ‘history’ if you’re interested in a particular station. I’ll add some to this list soon.
Posted by Bruce at 11:00 AM
Sunday, August 12, 2007
The decade of the 1940s was to be a very busy one for Houston broadcasters and prospective broadcasters though the action really didn’t pick up until after the end of World War II. The decade of the 40s rivals the early 1920s in terms of activity except in one respect: the survival rate of new stations started in the 40s is much, much better than for those started in the 20s. This is particularly true of the new AM stations though there were a number of early FM stations that did not survive.
There had been only three radio stations in Houston since August, 1932, and it was not until 1944 that a new station signed on; after the middle of the decade there was a flood of new stations.
But first things first: a story in the Chronicle on March 2nd, 1941, announced that Houstonian Lee Segall had just sold his third program to a radio chain (network). Segall, then of Segall Weedin Advertising, had sold ‘What’s Your Idea” to NBC, to be produced in Chicago. According to the article, the program invited audience members to share their ideas for a radio program. ‘The Handbook of Old-Time Radio’ by Schwartz and Reinehr lists the program ‘What’s Your Idea?’ as a 15 minute morning talk program hosted by Imogene Walcott on MBS from 1943-45; it’s not known if this was the same program sold by Segall. The Chronicle story also said Segall had sold two famous coast-to-coast programs previously, Vox Pop, which the article claimed he developed with Parks Johnson, and Dr. I.Q., which was then airing on 91 stations. In addition, another Segall show, ‘Sing for Dough’ was said to be airing weekly locally. The source noted above also shows a program by that name was on the NBC Blue network in 1942-43, an audience participation program hosted by Lew Valentine who had been the first network Dr. I.Q.
Segall was to continue to be active in Houston radio and advertising until after the middle of the decade.
On March 29, 1941, as a result of the North American Radio Broadcast Agreement, 90% (802 out of 893 or 795 out of 883, depending on who's counting) of the radio stations on the air in the United States changed frequency at 3am ET. This historic agreement allotted radio frequencies between the US, Canada and Mexico. For all three Houston stations it meant moving up the dial 30 kilocycles: KPRC moved from 920 kc to 950 kc, where it has been ever since, KTRH moved from 1290 kc to 1320 kc and KXYZ moved from 1440 to 1470 kc. Down in Galveston, KLUF moved to 1400 kc, the frequency it has occupied ever since thru subsequent call letter changes.
A year and 9 months later, on December 16, 1942, KTRH and KXYZ moved again, the former to 740 kc and the latter to 1320 kc, where they have both been ever since. There were notices on the front page and radio page in the Chronicle leading up to the switch but I have yet to find an article that explains why these moves were made.
That same day the Chronicle also reported that ‘Houston radio man Lee Segall’ had reported for duty at the headquarters of the 8th Service Command, assigned to the public relations branch in Dallas as a civilian under the War Department. It was during his military stint that Segall was to meet show business personalities, some of whom would be his partners in putting radio stations on the air in Dallas in 1947.
The day before NARBA took effect the Chronicle had reported that Greater Houston Broadcasting Co. had been chartered by the State of Texas and filed with the FCC for a non-network station to operate on 1230 kc in Houston. The principals included H. R. Safford of Ritchie Safford Advertising Co., President and GM, W. H. Atchinson, 1st VP, J. H. Chew, 2nd VP, Thomas D. Anderson and Forest Lee Andrews. They were to have a formidable competitor for the license.
In 1940 Harris County Judge Roy Hofheinz had formed Texas Star Broadcasting with oilmen J.R. Parten, Hugh Roy Cullen, and W.N. ‘Dick’ Hooper as his partners and filed for a construction permit for a station on 1230. The initial application was stalled by the onset of WWII and when Parten and Cullen wanted out, Hofheinz bought their shares and became 75% owner of Texas Star. The next section of this chronology of the 1940s will deal with Texas Star’s radio station, KTHT.
According to information from an FCC microfiche of records relating to KTRH shared with me by Barry Mishkind of The Broadcast Archive, KTRH boosted its power to 50, 000 watts in April, 1943, but I have not had time yet to research that time period in the local papers for further information. That KTRH microfiche, however, also claims that April, 1943, was when KTRH moved to 740 kc, which is not true.
Another new feature has been added. A new archive on the side-bar will be labeled Stations and will include articles about various stations with information not included in the chronology. Some of the articles will appear there without first appearing on the main page of the blog which I like to reserve for the 'big stories.'
Twenty-two year old blind pianist Frank Tilton showed up to perform on KPRC just days after it signed on. His concert included a time for requests at the end. Tilton’s playing so impressed station officials and the listeners that he quickly became a regular on the new station, appearing daily almost without fail and sometimes filling 2 and 3 program slots a day. He might give a midday concert, then return for an early evening concert from 5 to 6, then be on after the main program of the day, starting at 10pm or later, playing into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes, he was the main programming of the evening, starting around 8 or 8:30 and playing for 2 or 3 hours. The Post-Dispatch quickly dubbed him ‘Wonder Boy.’
Tilton was to be a staple of the Houston airwaves for over a decade. In 1932, he was a regular on KPRC’s sister station KTLC when it folded and his concerts were sometimes carried simultaneously on WRR, Dallas. In 1938, he had a regular program on KXYZ sponsored, ironically enough, by an optical company.
He drew lots of fan mail. The Post-Dispatch for years printed features about the fan mail received by its radio station and the performers. In the early days these appeared daily in the paper and might stretch over several columns with additional comments received by phone, post card, wire and letter used as filler between other stories. On at least one occasion, the paper pleaded with readers to use post cards rather than letters to help cut down on the time necessary to read all the mail that was received.
Many of the compliments were for the station itself, as the Post-Dispatch helpfully summarized on May 20th, “Ether devotees without exception expressed amazement and delight at the ease with which the powerful KPRC waves penetrated to distant parts of the continent, defying static and other atmospheric handicaps.” In just the first week, letters had come from as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia, Havana, Cuba, and Puerto Barrien, Guatamala.
It was apparent from the number of compliments that were reported that Tilton drew the most fan mail of anyone on KPRC. Some of the letters were very moving. One came in on behalf of a blind girl in Indiana who had been furnished a radio by the American Foundation for the Blind. She had discovered Tilton and regularly tried to tune him in as she found he inspired her both with his success story and his playing. Another came in from the Prisoner’s Committee of the Louisiana State Prison at Baton Rouge. The prisoners, confined to their cells with lights out by 8pm each evening, had asked for donations to buy a radio. So much money was collected a radio was also bought for the prison at Angola. Though there were radio stations on the air in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Shreveport and Beaumont, the prisoners voted repeatedly to listen to Frank Tilton on KPRC whenever he was on and the broadcast could be picked up. The concerts were said to be particularly appreciated by some of the older prisoners, some of whom had lost their eyesight in prison and were confined to their cells all day long.
Another letter came from a listener in New Orleans who stated his only complaint about KPRC was that it signed off so early, to which the Post-Dispatch replied the correspondent must be quite a night owl, since KPRC was frequently on the air past 1am. Often that would be Frank Tilton playing requests but other musicians who appeared on the schedule might also extend their concerts, such as the Tokio Royal Orchestra from the Gardens of Tokio in Galveston, whose leader told the Post-Dispatch the boys in the band were always willing to pack their instruments into the car for the 4 hour trek to Houston to appear on KPRC.
Tilton played serious as well as popular music; some of his concerts were planned in advance but almost always they included time at the end of the concert to take requests and many of his concerts were all-request.
In 1929, when KPRC was moving to a new transmitter at Sugar Land and the Post-Dispatch published a special section covering the upgrade in the station’s facilities, the newspaper’s radio editor, Milton G. Hall, wrote that Tilton’s name was known coast to coast from his KPRC concerts and no other performer in the history of the station had ever received more fan mail.
Unfortunately no where have I encountered any good statement of just what his appeal was. Given how long he was a staple of the airwaves it certainly wasn’t just out of sympathy for his disability that people wrote and listened, but what was there about his style? Did he have an amusing patter to accompany his playing, a la Victor Borge?, or some dramatic flare, a la Liberace? Or was it simply that he took requests and was able to play a huge variety of tunes? He survived into the era when the stations would have had electrical transcription devices and would have been able to record his concerts and re-air them, but whether any have survived is not known, nor, for that matter, if anyone might have thought to take him into a recording studio and make some phonograph records.
The Microphone Performer
If Frank Tilton received the most fan mail he may have exceeded that received by announcer Alfred P. Daniel by only a little bit. There were frequent mentions in the Post-Dispatch’s reports on fan mail received by the station of the excellence of ‘the microphone performer,’ who was called ‘the best in the air’ and ‘better than all the rest.’
Alfred P. Daniel had been familiar to Houston radio listeners for years from his broadcasts on WCAK and WEV and his amateur stations. Born in 1889 in Austin, his family moved to Houston in 1893 and he always lived in the part of town now known as Midtown. He was a life long bachelor.
As a lad he had climbed a tree in his yard and seen an antenna being erected on the north side of Buffalo Bayou. Pedaling his bike over to investigate, he met representatives of Lee DeForest’s American Wireless Telegraph Company who advised him to learn about wireless. He built his own equipment and, like other boys his age, was fascinated by the new ‘science.’ In at least 2 retrospective articles published over the years, it was claimed he was the first person to ever transmit voice in Houston, on September 1, 1921, and also the first to ‘broadcast’ a ‘program,’ but there are competing claims for both accomplishments and the former is actually rather late. It has also been claimed that the home-made equipment he used for that episode in 1921 was the same he used in putting KPRC on the air 4 years later!, which is extremely improbable.
Enlisting in the service in World War I, he was sent to school at UT, Austin, to learn wireless, then returned to Ellington as an instructor. While there, so another retrospective article claimed, he had his fortune read by a palm reader who foresaw a long life in radio for him.
He was the first (and only) announcer on KPRC in 1925 and served as Program Director until the late 1930s. He worked for the company until just a couple of months before his death at the end of January, 1955, and came to be acknowledged as the Dean of Houston Radio.
Daniel persevered in the radio business not only through the era of electrical transcription devices but also wire recorders and reel-to-reel tape recorders, but whether any recordings of his voice have survived is unknown. I have found only one clear indication of what he sounded like – his voice was described as homey – but another reference seems to indicate it was actually thin and reedy, which might have been an asset, given the equipment in the early days.
Another qualifying comment: if Tilton and Daniel were the recipients of the most fan mail it may only have been because many of the ‘ham-fisted’ fans of Uncle Judd Mortimer Lewis had to depend upon their Mommies and Daddies to pen their fan mail for them. Judd Mortimer Lewis had been born in New York and came to Texas where he eventually wound up working for the Post-Dispatch. He was much in demand as a story-teller, entertainer of children, and poet. He appeared on KPRC on the first evening’s broadcast and had a daily 7pm slot for Uncle Judd’s Kiddie Hour which became one of the most popular regular features on the station. As one correspondent put it, “The twilight program at 7 o’clock with the new feature Uncle Judd’s Kiddie Hour, with Uncle Judd and his fairies, princesses and bears, left the children delirious with joy.”
When Uncle Judd was away from the microphone on a personal appearance, his daughter filled in for him.
When the Texas Legislature created the post of Poet Laureate of Texas in 1932, Judd Mortimer Lewis was named to the post first.
Judd Mortimer Lewis in the Handbook of Texas.
A website devoted to the poetry of Judd Mortimer Lewis by his great grandson, Judd Perry.
Eugene Davis, Psychic
A few days after the station signed on, the Post-Dispatch carried word in its daily report on the station that something new was going to be tried - the services of a psychic were going to be engaged and the readings and prognostications broadcast for all to hear. Listeners and readers were invited to send in their questions by mail and the mail poured in.
When Eugene Davis appeared for the first time, the response was overwhelming and she was so taxed (Eugene was a woman) that she withdrew from the program before the allotted time was used up, claiming that peering into the future for so many had exhausted her and she could not go on. Those who heard her were very impressed, however, and on the 29th of May, as part of a half-page article summarizing mail that had been received, it was announced that Eugene Davis would be appearing regularly on KPRC.
To Be Continued
Saturday, August 4, 2007
...steamboat whistle penetrates....
And the announcer’s voice comes through with something like “Good Evening everyone. This is KTRH, the station owned and operated by the Rice Hotel, Houston’s welcome to the world.”
So began a feature article in a November, 1930, issue of Radio Digest, the nation’s premier radio periodical, entitled ‘Steamboat Whistle is Station Call of KTRH.’ The article goes on to explain the relevance of the steamboat whistle, i.e., Houston’s Ship Channel, which has made the port one of the most important in the world and the city the second largest in the South. The article says station owner Jesse B. Jones ‘needs no introduction to Radio Digest readers,’ he who had brought the Democratic National Convention to Houston in 1928, built the ‘gigantic’ Sam Houston Convention Hall and ‘miles of skyscrapers’ in both Houston and New York City. It also notes the hotel sits on the site of a one time capital of the Republic of Texas.
Peeking into a studio with the article’s author you may believe you have been transported to Mother Goose Land as you see an Old Woman in a Shoe, surrounded by so many children she doesn’t know what to do. It is Aunt Pat - real name Margaret Britton, twenty-something assistant program supervisor of KTRH - who is equally adept at entertaining young children or playing an adult role in a KTRH production, sometimes taking on more than one role in the same production.
There is Guy Savage ‘young and blond’, known as the Whispering Tenor, who hosts the station’s morning program including The KTRH Mother’s Program, one of the most popular features on the station, which airs dedications to ‘your mother and mine,’living or dead, and draws heavy mail. The program features the ringing of an alarm clock every quarter hour followed by the strains of Reveille to help get listeners out of the sack.
The staff also includes soprano Mary Carson who studied at La Scala in Milan and has performed in all the major cities of England, France, Germany and Italy and was most recently with the Boston Opera.
The article notes “The Texas oil fields have also contributed to KTRH two harmonizers of the first degree who have won a wide following by the perfect blend of their voices." Sloan and Threadgill - Jerry and Frank - Brunswick Phonograph recording artists - who both work at Baytown and when a harmony team is needed, a wire is dispatched to Sloan and Threadgill, Baytown, and they come post-haste. They have been performing together since 1913 and they sing ‘Countryside style songs.’
I am indebted to Mike Henry of the Library of American Broadcasting at the University of Maryland for sharing this article with me.
I have mentioned Guy Savage before on this blog. There was a later Sports Director of KXYZ and KTRK-TV by that name who died in 1969 but his obit did not indicate he had ever worked at KTRH.
This Frank Threadgill is apparently no relation to the famous Kenneth Threadgill of Austin.
August 4, 1968, marked the launch of KFRD-FM, Rosenberg on 104.9 MHz, although whether that’s the actual launch date or the date of the permit I don’t know. The station on that frequency now is KPTY-FM licensed to Missouri City.
The 15th will mark the 36th anniversary of Channel 26, originally launched as KVRL-TV in August, 1971, Houston’s 6th oldest surviving television station.
Coming up toward the end of the month the 22nd will mark what would have been the 61st anniversary of the first FM station in Houston which also happened to be the first FM in Texas and first sustaining FM anywhere. The station lasted only a few years - FM was way ahead of its time - but it was an important milestone in Houston radio history. There will be another post documenting the achievement as the date approaches which will serve to launch the FM Chronology section of this blog.
August 24th marks the 81st anniversary of KXYZ which launched on that date in 1926 as KTUE.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Original Call Letters: KTHT
Original owners: Texas Star Broadcasting (Roy Hofheinz)
Original air date: 8:30pm, June 13, 1944
Original frequency: 1230 Kilocycles (250 watts)
Original call letter meanings: Keep Talking Houston Texas and Kome to Houston Texas
Moved to 790 Kilocycles on February 17, 1948, boosted power to 5000 watts.
Additional call letters on 790: KULF (ca. 1970), KKBQ (8/13/82), KBME (4/24/98)
Current owners: Clear Channel Communications
Current format: Sports talk
Website: The Sports Animal
A link to all articles published on the blog Labeled KTHT (in reverse order as published). Includes a Gallery.
A link to all articles published on the blog Labeled Hofheinz.
A link to the 79KULF Facebook page.
Additional mentions of the station may be located using the search feature.
Original air date: May 5, 1950, Cinco de Mayo and also the birthday of the owner's wife.
Original owner: Felix Hessbrook Morales, funeral home owner. The original studios are apparently gone but the funeral home at the same location is still in business at 2901 Canal, Houston.
Original Call Letter meaning: La Voz Latina
Current Owners: Radio Triunfo
Current website: The International Sound of Houston. The site includes a page devoted to the history of KLVL.
KLVL was Houston's first Spanish language radio station and is the third oldest radio station in Houston still using it's original call.
All posts on this site labeled KLVL, in reverse order as published.
Additional mentions of KLVL may be found by using the search box at the top.
KPRC, 950 AM
Original air date: May 9, 1925
Original owners: The Houston Post-Dispatch newspaper
Original call letter meaning: Kotton Port, Rail Center
Current owners: Clear Channel Communications
Website: The 950 - Radio Mojo
Additional call letters used: none
KPRC is usually credited as the oldest station in Houston and that is true with the qualification that it was licensed to Sugar Land, Texas, for a while in the late 1920s-early 1930s. It is sometimes claimed that it was the first Houston station but that is false; it was the 11th station licensed to Houston in the early 1920s.
A KPRC/KPRC-FM Gallery on this blog.
A special Gallery of KPRC personalities Tim and Bob.
Photos at the Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin, relating to KPRC. This grouping will include at least one photo relating to KPRC-TV.
An additional photo listed at CAM under K.P.R.C.
All posts on this blog labeled KPRC (in reverse order as posted).
For additional mentions of the call letters, use the search feature.
KXYZ, 1320 AM
Originally licensed as KTUE, August, 1926
Became KXYZ, August, 1930
Original owner: The Uhalt Electric Co.
Current Owner: Multicultural Broadcasting
Website: The current format is Vietnamese.
A KXYZ Gallery on this blog.
Photos in the Bob Bailey Collection, The Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin, relating to KXYZ.
Photos in the Bob Bailey Collection, The Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin, listed under K.X.Y.Z.
There are many more photos in the collection which apparently are not online yet.
All posts on this blog labeled KXYZ. (In reverse order as posted).
For additional mentions of KXYZ, use the search feature.
Original Call Letters: KNUZ
Original air date: February 18, 1948
Occupied 1230 KiloHertz, replacing KTHT which moved to 790.
Current Call letters: KQUE
Current Format: Spanish
The original call letters referred to the fact two of the original partners had been newsmen; the company was named Veterans Broadcasting because all four partners were WWII veterans.
Pictures in the Bob Bailey Collection at the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin labeled KNUZ.
Pictures in the Bob Bailey Collection at the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin labeled Paul Berlin, one of the station’s most famous personalities.
There are additional pictures in the Bailey collection of personality Arch Yancey and of a big promotion at Sharpstown Center involving the station which do not appear to be online yet.
All Posts on this blog labeled KNUZ (in reverse order as published).
A Facebook page for former employees of KNUZ and KQUE-FM.
To find additional mentions of the call letters, use the Blog Search feature.
Monday, July 16, 2007
KILT, 610 AM
Original air date: January 31, 1948
Original owner: W. Albert Lee
Original Call letters: KLEE
Additional call letters used: KLBS (1952-1957), KILT (3/14/57)
Current owners: CBS
Website: SportsRadio 610
Photos at the Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin, relating to KLEE. Note: the three images supposedly of the KLEE transmitter site on the Dallas Highway are actually of the KLEE-TV site on South Post Rd. The main north/south road is South Post Oak, the main east/west road is what is now called Westpark. In the view looking east, you can see the downtown Houston skyline in the upper left corner; the diagonal street on the right side of that picture is Bissonnet. There is a problem, however, with the date; the photos are dated December 1947 but the FCC didn't even approve the KLEE-TV application until January 30, 1948.
There are photos in the Bob Bailey Collection at the Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin, relating to KLBS, but they have not been put online yet, apparently.
All posts on this blog labeled KILT (in reverse order as posted).
For additional mentions of these call letters on the blog, use the search feature.
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I have received more requests for information about television than anything else so I have added a television section on the side-bar. The first post is a Houston TV timeline such as I have it now, just from dates and information picked up in the course of researching radio in the 40s and 50s.
There will soon be posts on KLEE-TV, KPRC-TV, KGUL-TV and KNUZ-TV and perhaps later more.
Just as a new show was being developed out of Vox Pop, KXYZ had it’s own big changes on tap. On the first of July, 1937, Tilford Jones, President of Harris County Broadcasters, announced that KXYZ would be affiliating with the NBC Blue Network on August 1st. Ten stations joined the network on that date; the Southern Blue Network was comprised of 22 stations in all but I have not been able to determine if there was special programming or why the group was considered ‘Southern.’ NBC had offered the Blue Network since the late 1920s and also had other special networks such as the Orange and White. It's been suggested one reason for the delay in signing up may have been the high cost of leasing AT&T lines and the network's reason for existence may have been appeal to advertisers of a regional group. The switch was thrown at 7am on August 1 and the first Blue program heard on KXYZ was ‘Coast to Coast on a Bus’ with Milton Cross.
The other stations joining NBC Blue on that day were WAGA, Atlanta, WSON, Birmingham, WNBR, Memphis, WROL, Knoxville, WJOB, Baton Rouge, WDSU, NOLA, KFDM, Beaumont, KRIS, Corpus Christi and KRGV, Weslaco, TX.
NBC commissioned a special Blue Network Gown to be given away, a ‘lovely dance frock.’ To win it, women had to submit a 50 word essay explaining what they would say if they won. The winner was to be announced during a special broadcast of the Sakowitz Hour of Fashion from the Rice Hotel Roof Garden.
A nationwide broadcast welcoming the new stations to the network would originate from New York, Chicago and San Francisco and feature several dozen performers. Among the programs KXYZ would be carrying as a result of the affiliation were the Radio Guild, National Farm Hour and The Breakfast Club from Chicago with Don McNeill. There would also be live sporting events and symphony orchestras.
There was more big news from KXYZ on December 30, 1937. A story in the Chronicle announced that when the station signed on at 6:30am on the 31st it would become a 24 hour a day operation, only the second in the country it was claimed. Tilford Jones and T. Frank Smith, managers of KXYZ, stated they had realized for some time the need for such a service. The only other US station said to be operating 24 hours a day was on the West Coast (the call letters were not mentioned in the story) and other than that workers on the third shift had to listen to Mexican radio stations in the middle of the night. There were said to be 546,000 people in the KXYZ listening area and an estimated 50 to 75 thousand of them were third shift workers at gas stations, refineries, etc. Many trucking companies were said to have installed radios in their trucks to help keep their drivers awake. Test broadcasts of the service had already drawn mail from South America and overseas and it was anticipated there would be a possible audience of several hundred thousand throughout the South and elsewhere.
The Houston Post radio guide for New Year’s Day included a schedule for KXYZ’s overnight programming but there no accompanying story. The schedule for January 1, 1938 included America Dances from NBC from Midnight to 4am. Also on the schedule was Mac Clark and his Orchestra from the Aragon Ballroom from 4 to 4:30, Dance Music from 4:30 to 5, the KXYZ Fishing News from 5 to 5:15, The Texas Drifter from 5:15 to 5:30, Popular Melodies from 5:30 to 6, and The Eye Opener Program at 6 am. The Fishing News had previously been on the air at 9pm in the evening and would be updated for the 5am broadcast.
The networks were not regularly on 24 hours a day. For New Year’s, they usually started coverage at Midnight, Eastern Time, and stayed with it until the New Year arrived on the West Coast. For 1938, for the first time, NBC planned to stay on until 4am Eastern.
The claim that KXYZ was only the second station in the nation to go 24 hours a day has not been verified and likely isn’t true according to this article which identifies the West Coast station referred to in the Chronicle story as KGFJ, Los Angeles, which had inaugurated 24 hour a day service in November, 1927, 10 years earlier. Additionally, Arthur Godfrey supposedly was the first all-night DJ on a station in Washington, DC, in January, 1934, four years before KXYZ and not on the West Coast, but whether ‘all-night’ meant that literally is not clear. It is believed some stations may have operated 24 hours a day on occasion, such as during weather emergencies, but most stations still signed off if only for an hour or so to check their equipment before beginning a new broadcast day.
Still, KXYZ was the first station in Houston to do it and may well have been the first in Texas or the South.
Just how long the expanded schedule lasted is not known but KXYZ has not been on the air 24 hours a day since New Year’s Day, 1938. The linked article indicates 24 hour a day broadcasting became popular during World War II for all night factory workers, etc. but the opposite seems to have happened here in Houston. In the early 1940s, radio listings in the Houston papers indicated the 24 hour a day schedule was still in effect on KXYZ but sometime during the war it was dropped and it was not until August, 1946, when KTHT began 24 hour a day operations that Houston had a 24 hour station again.
In the midst of these other big developments the Chronicle carried a notice in August that former Houstonian Jerry Belcher, who had been program director of Greater KTUE in 1929 and one of the original KTRH ‘Inquiring Reporters’ in 1932 and had gone to the network with Vox Pop and been replaced, would be heard on Sunday nights on NBC on a new program, ‘Interesting Neighbors.’ The first broadcast would visit a school for mature people in Elgin, Illinois, where every student was at least 70 years of age.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
The year 1937 was an eventful one on the Houston radio scene. Two big developments concerning KXYZ will be reported on in the next post in the chronology but this post deals with a big development in KTRH's locally produced Vox Pop program.
During July a new feature began on the program on Monday evening on KTRH. The listings for the program each week had been getting very brief and on Sunday, July 11th, a Chronicle story headlined ‘Vox Pop Moves to Met Stage’ announced half of the program scheduled the next evening would move off the streets and onto the stage of the Metropolitan Theater on Main Street with the ‘mysterious Dr. I.Q. shooting questions at the audience.’ There would be three announcers roaming the audience with portable microphones. A $5 prize was to be given for correct answers but anyone who participated in the program would get a consolation prize. Lee Segall was to handle the street portion of the program, the ‘mysterious Dr. I.Q.’ segment would begin at 8:15, half way thru the program.
The listing for Monday, July 12, just called the program Vox Pop but thereafter the program was listed as ‘Vox Pop with Dr. I.Q.’ The following week, the Chronicle reported that the segment had been judged a tremendous success and for the show on the 19th the Dr. I.Q. segment would take up 2/3rds of the show. The word ‘mysterious’ was not used again in newspaper accounts. Listeners and participants had liked the new format because more people could take part and, of course, because they could win cash. The story also said that in one week, KTRH had developed a new radio personality in the person of Ted Nabors, who was the original Dr. I.Q. Nabors was to have a long career in Houston radio, later serving as Program Director of both KTRH and KTHT. In the 1950s, before I became aware of top-40 djs, I probably recognized only 2 names of Houston radio personalities, Fred Nahas, Mr. First-Nighter as he was called, and Ted Nabors.
Dr. I.Q. was sold to Mars Candy Co. in 1939 and put on the air as a summer replacement for Jack Benny and was an even bigger hit than Vox Pop had been and was to run on NBC until 1949, then ABC for one year. There was also a short-lived Dr. I.Q. Jr. series and two times in the 50s, ABC-TV aired a TV version of the show.
The show is remembered for the jingling of silver dollars falling into the hands of the winners, the announcer’s graphic descriptions of the delights of Mars candies and the phrase ‘I have a lady in the balcony, Dr.’ and its many variations.
The show was one of many network shows that traveled to different cities, as did Vox Pop. In March, 1942, it returned to Houston for a six week run in its regular Monday evening time slot on NBC, once again originating from the Metropolitan Theater where it had been born, with KPRC announcers working the microphones. The Chronicle interviewed Lee Segall who at that time was President of Segall Weedin Advertising in Houston and controlled the rights to Dr. IQ throughout his life. He said he still submitted 100 to 200 questions per week to the show of which many were used.
Segall was to sell two other shows to the networks as well as apply for broadcast licenses here and receive an FM permit but by the late 1940s he had relocated to Dallas and put KIXL-AM/FM on the air (see the section on the 1940s) and by the time of his death in 1984 his connection to early Houston radio and the fact the Dr. I.Q. show originated here had been forgotten.
During the TV Quiz Show scandals of the late 50s, Howard Stentz, Radio/TV Editor of the Chronicle, who always did a great job of covering radio during his tenure, remembered Segall and interviewed him about the scandals. Not surprisingly Segall predicted game shows would continue to be around but the feature story mostly concerned Segall’s recollections about Vox Pop and Dr. I.Q. Segall recalled he had been working for the Vox Pop sponsor, Metzger’s Dairy, and they had asked him to come up with a replacement they could sponsor so he came up with two changes - moving the show indoors and adding cash prizes. He recalled that the most anyone could win at any time was originally $20 because they wanted to have lots of small winners instead of one big one, and initially, all the questions were very easy ones. He also stated that when he had taken over producing Vox Pop, he had changed the questions from interview and opinion type queries to questions of simple fact and trivia.
For the initial broadcasts from the Metropolitan, Harry Grier, Tom Jacobs and Ben Weedin, all of KTRH, handled the microphones in the audience. Segall was later to form an advertising agency in partnership with Weedin and the latter was the producer of the Dr. I.Q. show in its last run on TV.
The images above are from the archives of the Houston Chronicle at the Houston Public Library.