One of the biggest stories in Houston radio in the 1950s was the Top 40 war between KILT and KNUZ. Actually, the war was over pretty fast. Gordon McLendon took over KLBS in May of 1957 and flipped the call letters to KILT on May 14th, launching a whole new air staff and his highly successful Top 40 format from KLIF, Dallas, and KTSA, San Antonio. According to Ronald Garay’s Gordon McLendon, The Maverick of Radio, within one month, by June, 15, 1957, all three rating services - Hooper, Trendex and Pulse - showed KILT had moved from last to first place in the Houston market. Garay says the Top 40 format worked better on KILT than it had on KLIF and Don Keyes once wrote that McLendon basically made no mistakes in his second foray into Houston.
As was typical of McLendon stations there were constant, attention getting promotions. There was the Treasure Hunt which, as it had in Dallas, led to people digging on private property. Houston listeners also heard the ‘Oops, sorry’ apology for some obscenities supposedly aired accidentally on the station during live coverage of a news event.
But apparently the most attention getting promotion, even garnering national news notice, was the flagpole sitter, who was none other than program director and afternoon drive DJ Don Keyes. Keyes was to work for McLendon for years, serving as National Program Director of the McLendon group after graduating from KILT. Soon after taking over KILT, McLendon had ordered Keyes up on a flagpole positioned in the parking lot of the new Gulfgate Mall which also happened to be situated next to the first freeway in Houston, the Gulf Freeway, now I-45 South. Keyes was to stay there until KILT beat KNUZ.
Google is in the process of uploading the photographic archives of Life Magazine, about 10 million photos, and I have discovered a couple of photos of KILT in June, 1957, one of Keyes, clad in a kilt, scaling the tower.
Somewhere I have read Keyes retelling of the story of this promotion but I cannot find it now. Keyes died in 2006 but shortly before he had posted some memoirs on line and I thought that was where I read it but apparently not.
Nevertheless Keyes' memoir is a great read.
Another photo from the Life collection shows new KILT morning DJ Elliot Field in the studio, flanked by a horse. According to the caption, Field had offered a pair of shoe laces in trade for anything of value and the winning offer was that 4 year old mare.
Note the plaid tie and plaid sport coat. I believe those are electrical transcription devices in the background. This photo will be of special interest to KILT alumnae. Unless I’m mistaken, that board was was still in use at the KILT studio at 500 Lovett Blvd, which McLendon built, up until the station moved to Greenway Plaza in 1995. It was in the News Production studio which may have been the original air studio. I wouldn’t be surprised if that Ampex in the background was still in use, too. I don’t know what McLendon’s policies were regarding equipment but LIN Broadcasting, which owned KILT when I went to work for it in 1983, did not believe in spending money for new equipment (or salaries); the KILT engineering staff did an amazing job of keeping ancient equipment working.
The Google Life Magazine Photo Archives
Edited 5/3/2014 to add: Galvestonian Bill Cherry's feature story that brings up the flagpole sitting incident.