Saturday, May 26, 2007

1925 - KFVI and KPRC and a call for biscuits...

This post has been edited since it was first put on-line to include an image.

The year would turn out to be an eventful and important one in the history of radio in Houston. In January, 4 Houston area stations, including the two earliest, WEV and WCAK were struck from the Commerce Department lists; they were no longer in operation. The date was January 10. The other two which were deleted were WIAC, Galveston, and KFCV, Houston.

A license for KFVI was issued in March of 1925 to the 56th Cavalry Brigade, Headquarters Troop, to operate with 10 watts at 1210 kc. The station was to last a little over three years. Popularly known as the Cavalry Brigade, the 56th had been formed in 1919 and was actually a machine gun squadron and part of what we now know as the National Guard. It depended upon public donations for its existence and conducted annual fund raising drives.

Just what a National Guard unit needed a radio station for is not clear; perhaps it was seen as an aid to fund raising. Over a year earlier KFJZ, Fort Worth, had been licensed to the Texas National Guard, 112th Cavalry, so perhaps there was some common perceived need for communications capability. One of the people involved in putting KFVI on the air was William John Uhalt who claimed later to have put New Orleans station WCBE on the air before coming to Houston and would later start his own Houston station. (WCBE would later become WDSU; according to the WDSU-TV history, only the brother Joseph Uhalt is credited with putting WCBE on the air. Coincidentally, 2 people associated with WDSU would be among the original owners of Houston station KATL in 1947). Ted Hills was the program director and operator of KFVI; he would work at several other radio stations over the years including being the first program director of KTHT in 1944.

March of 1925 also saw WSAV deleted again from the Commerce Department list.

In April, WEAY moved to 1110 kc, but the most important event of the year concerned another new station authorized in Houston that year.

According to accounts published years later in the Post, sometime in the spring of 1925 Alfred P. Daniel became aware that Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover was coming to a World Advertising Convention in Houston and was expected to make a major speech. Daniel wanted to broadcast that speech and he decided the time was right to approach Ross Sterling, Sr., about that 500 watt Westinghouse transmitter sitting in storage. Daniel must have been a pretty good salesman in addition to having notions about programming and knowing how to build radio equipment. Upon hearing Daniel’s arguments, Sterling relented and ordered the transmitter set up and in 3 weeks time, on Saturday, May 9, 1925, at 8pm, KPRC signed on with Alfred P. Daniel as its first announcer and program director. “Hello, folks, everywhere” were the first words spoken according to the official account.

The Post-Dispatch ran a front page story about the sign-on giving the line-up for all the dignitaries and entertainers that were to be on hand. They included three bands, one from Mexico City, one from St. Petersburg, FL, and the Humble Oil and Refining Co. Band from Baytown, the two former ones in town for the advertising convention. A regular nightly feature was to be a talk given by Houston Poet Laureat Judd Mortimer Lewis, a much loved entertainer of boys and girls. Incidentally, though May 9th is agreed upon by many sources as the start of KPRC, one source indicates the license was not issued until May 13.

The rival Houston Chronicle made no mention whatsoever of the new radio station. Both paper’s ‘Radio Listings’ included stations from as far away as New York City, Boston and all up and down the East and West Coast, as well as from such obscure places as Shenandoah, Indiana, and Billings, Montana, for the benefit of listeners who liked to ‘tickle their crystals’ and see what else they could listen to when the local stations were not on the air, but there were no regular listings of programming on Houston stations in the Chronicle.

The new station’s studios were located at the Post-Dispatch building on the southwest corner of Polk and Dowling which the newspaper had just occupied in March. Studios were located in the fourth floor morgue or library, a very cramped space. KPRC operated at 1010 kc (296.9 meters) with 500 watts and the paper claimed the signal could carry 9000 miles.

According to an article published in a 50th anniversary edition of the Houston Press (Scripps-Howard) on May 9, 1961, it was frequently advertised the call letters stood for Kotton Port, Rail Center. That was the phrase which led off the Post’s review of the opening broadcast in the edition of Sunday morning, May 10.

The station had just 4 employees. The General Manager was G.E. Zimmerman, who had helped to put WRR and WFAA, Dallas, and KFDM, Beaumont, on the air before coming to Houston to help with KPRC. He was to work for KPRC for many years; in the early 1930s, he also served as GM of KPRC’s sister station, KTLC.

By 1926 the KPRC studios were relocated to the new 22 story Post-Dispatch ‘skyscraper’ on the southeast corner of Texas at Fannin which was for many years the home for Shell Oil Co. in Houston, before the present One Shell Plaza was built in the 1960s. The Post-Dispatch plant on Polk and Dowling has been demolished while the building on Texas has recently been renovated and opened as the Magnolia Hotel. By 1929, the KPRC transmitter (and license) was relocated to Sugar Land and in 1934 the studios moved to the Mezzanine of the Lamar Hotel where they stayed until moving onto Post Oak Rd. near the present Williams Tower in 1953. In the 30s, KPRC and KTRH shared a transmitter plant at Deep Water on the La Porte Highway.

The Commerce Department list of radio stations on the air that June, 1925, for Houston-Galveston included:

KPRC, 1010 kc, 500w
WEAY, 1110 kc, 500w
KFUL, Galveston, 1160 kc, 10w
WRAA, 1170 kc, 100w
KFVI, 1210 kc, 10w
WSAV, 1210 kc, 100w
KFLX, Galveston, 1250 kc, 10w

The WSAV license had been reissued earlier that month and the Post-Dispatch noted it was the station being installed at 1406 Houston Ave. on the near northwest side in Luna Park, Houston’s first amusement park. The story, however, gave the call letters as WFAV.

Although the official account claims the first words spoken on the new station were ‘Hello folks, everywhere,’ they actually may have been about biscuits. For months, years really, the Post ran stories daily summarizing the comments that had been received from far and near by telephone, telegraph, post card and letter about KPRC’s broadcasts. Usually these came under a headline, but sometimes they were just a few lines of filler in the newspaper. Messages were received in the first few weeks from as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Havana, Cuba, as well as all over the US. Six weeks after the launch, a woman in Navasota wrote the Post-Dispatch to say she had been up at 5:30 on the morning of May 9 with her receiver on when she heard some men talking about how they had been up all night working to get the station on the air and one said he could sure use a couple of biscuits. The paper neither confirmed nor denied such a conversation had taken place.

KPRC has long claimed to be the oldest Houston station still on the air and it is fully entitled to that claim. Although it cannot claim to be the first station on the air in Houston or the oldest in the Houston-Galveston market, its original owners were very much involved in broadcasting in Houston from the very first, in 1922. In addition to hiring the owner of one of the first stations on the air and supplying programming for the third station on the air they also sponsored programming on the first two stations on the air in Houston from the very first.

There will be much more about KPRC on this blog, including features on some of the early entertainers and performers.

Otherwise in 1925, WRAA, the Rice Institute station, was deleted for the last time in July, 1925, and the same thing happened to Clifford W. Vick’s WSAV in September. By the end of the year, KFYJ was licensed to the Houston Chronicle as a portable station. The license was issued in October and this was the second station licensed to the Chronicle in the early years. Portable licenses were good for only 120 days and were not renewable; they were like today’s remote trucks.

Meanwhile in Austin WCM was operating at 1120 kc with 250w in 1925, licensed to the Texas Markets and Warehouse Department. WCM had originally been licensed March 22, 1922, to the University of Texas, the first station in Austin and 2nd in the state of Texas. It had been deleted from the Commerce Department lists in June, 1924, then re-instated with the new ownership in November of that year. It was to be deleted for the last time in October, 1925, and that same month a new station licensed to UT with the calls KUT. In the years to follow KUT would play a role in the history of Houston radio station KTRH, Austin radio station KNOW, and San Antonio radio station KGDR.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

May Anniversaries

May 1 marks the anniversary of the storied KIKK call letters in Houston. KRCT, 650 AM, flipped on that date. The station had originated in Baytown but moved to Pasadena in 1957.

May 2 is the anniversary of KUHT-TV, Channel 8, the first educational TV station in the US.

May 5, 1947, brought the launch of KCOH, a daytime only, good music station on 1430 kilocycles. The station became the first Black-owned, Black-programmed station in Houston in 1953 and is the second oldest station in Houston still using the original call letters.

Three years later on the same date, Cinco de Mayo, Houston’s first Hispanic-owned, Spanish language station signed on, KLVL, 1480 kilocycles. It is the 3rd oldest station in Houston still using the original calls.

May 9 marks the anniversary of the oldest station in Houston, KPRC, which began on that date in 1925 and still uses the original calls.

May 12, 1947, was the first date for a station operating on 1590 kilocycles. Originally KATL, it became KYOK in 1954 and is now KMIC.

May 14, 1957, was the date the KILT calls were first used in Houston. On that date Gordon McLendon flipped the calls of KLBS, 610 kilocycles.

Broadcasting Yearbook gives May 20, 1971, for the launch of KTRU-FM @ Rice, but whether this represents the first day of broadcasting or the issuance of the license I don't know. This is later than I have extended my research so far on FM stations but here is an article from the Thresher on KTRU-FM.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gallery I - People

This gallery will be a collection of miscellaneous pictures of people. Most photos will be in galleries associated with the stations they worked for or in individual posts but for some, I don't have enough material to have a separate station gallery or they occur as a part of a collection, as with the first listing here. Station galleries are listed on the respective station profile page under Stations on the sidebar; if there isn't a station profile yet for a station, there is no gallery for that station.

I am always happy to receive photos of Houston radio personnel to publish on the blog, along with some personal information, from any time period.  It is not necessary of course to give up any precious family keepsakes - just scan the image and email it to me (email address on my Profile on the sidebar).  JPEG and PDF files are acceptable (JPEG format is preferred).  Put each image in a separate file please.   Photos which include studio equipment are desirable but not necessary.

A group of photos at the University of Texas, part of the Bob Bailey Collection, concerning some sort of public expo arranged by Aylin Advertising and presenting personalities from several Houston radio stations. Some personalities and stations are identified on placards but others are not and I would appreciate hearing from anybody who can supply any names. Since one of the stations identified is KLBS the photos date from the period 1952-1957 and I would guess earlier in that time period. The first photo, obviously, has historical significance but is not related to radio history.  Note:  Checking this link out I see numerous photos that were not in this group originally now appear, only a few of them related to radio.  hrhwebmaster 1/9/2015.

Chester McDowell, aka Hotsy Totsy, KYOK, date unknown. Photo courtesy of Bud Buschardt.

Dan Shelton, Mornings, and Dan Parsons, News, KODA-FM, ca. 1980. We had formed some sort of athletic team, hence the jerseys. Behind them is the Shafer Automation unit for KODA-AM and to the right, the unit for KODA-FM.

Debra Forman, Evening announcer on KODA-FM, ca. 1980.

His name was Dave and he did evenings on KYND-FM in the waning days of that station before it flipped too KKBQ-FM but I have not been able to remember his last name. Shown is the KYND-FM control room in Greenway Plaza with the station reception area visible through the window.

Michael Sheehy (air name: Michael) in the KAUM studio, ca. 1973.  The board was a McCurdy.  Michael came to Houston from Santa Rosa, CA.  After several years in Houston he went on to work in radio in Honolulu and Los Angeles and then started a production studio.

The following 6 photos come from the May/June 2003 issue of the now defunct Inside Houston magazine.  The cover story was entitled 'Radio Active - Putting faces with the voices of Houston's top radio personalities.'  The article was written by Laurette M. Veres, identified on the masthead as Publisher/Editor-in-Chief.  The photoghraphs were taken by Pam Francis.

Donna McKenzie - Smooth Jazz 95.7, photographed at Scott Gertner's Sky Bar (McKenzie also graced the cover of the issue).  The text noted her 13 years in Houston radio up to that point including the original staff of KZFX, Classic Rock 107.5, KLOL, KHYS, and The Arrow.

Hudson and Harrigan - KILT-FM, 100.3.  The text noted their 22 years on KILT and revealed Hudson - on the left - almost became a lawyer and Harrigan began his career as an aspiring actor in a church production of 'Annie Get Your Gun.'

Heather Walters - KHPT-FM, 106.9, 80s Rock.  The text noted she was the only solo female morning show host in Houston at the time; from Houston originally, she got her start on Power 103 Abilene while attending Abilene Christian College.

Maria Todd, Psycho Robbie and Sam Malone - Top 40 KRBE-FM, 104.1.  The text noted Malone had a degree in finance and was headed to Wall Street when he noticed the girls and glamour surrounding a 'dorky' disc jockey and badgered a friend about how to get into the business.

J.P. Pritchard and Lana Hughes -  News/Talk - KTRH-AM, 740.  The text noted the duo had been together 18 years up to that point delivering the morning news block.

Tom Richards - Classical - KTRS-FM, 92.1.  The text noted he was another native Houstonian and had been hosting the KRTS morning show for 14 of his 20 years in broadcasting and also that he was officially a Deadhead, with more than 300 Grateful Dead concerts on tape.

From the 1965 Baytown Lee High Yearbook, courtesy of Tori Mask of the South Belt Houston Digital History Archive.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

KCOH turns 59

The period from mid-1946 through 1948 was a very active one on the Houston and Southeast Texas radio scene with many new stations, both AM and FM, coming on the air. In the first five months of 1948 alone 4 new stations took to the air in Houston and throughout the year there were more in the boonies and burbs.

When Call of Houston, Inc., put their new AM on the air on May 5, 1948, they promised Houston listeners something different, ‘no hillbilly music, no jump music, and no loud commercials.’ Former Houstonian Lee Segall had pioneered the ‘Good Music’ format on KIXL-AM and FM in Dallas the previous year and this was perhaps a take-off on that.

Teaser ads ran in the papers leading up to the launch inviting listeners to ‘take the one-day listening test’ and enjoy their ‘sequence music.’ General Manager John Pace had previously worked for Wire Music, Inc., an early piped-in music service. On the 5th a full schedule of their programming was printed so listeners could follow along with program titles like Rise and Shine, Musical Designs, Tropicana, Easy Anytime and Bluebird of Happiness.

The Good Music format was to evolve into what was called Beautiful Music but up until the late 1950s, Good Music stations regularly included light classical and semi-classical selections in their library. KCOH’s programming went perhaps a step farther than most – originally, a midday program was to be dedicated to the Houston Symphony Orchestra and might include a ‘serious’ classical work, perhaps a full symphony or concerto.

The original studios of KCOH were located in the penthouse on the top floor of the M & M building at # 1 Main street, the building which now houses the University of Houston, Downtown, and the station referred to itself as Radio Penthouse.

In the summer of 1953 a group of Black businessmen headed by Robert C. Meeker bought KCOH, making it either the 1st or 2nd Black owned station in Texas and first station in Houston targeted at Black listeners.

In 1963 KCOH moved from its penthouse studios on Main to picture-window studios on Almeda, where it's been ever since.

KCOH is the 9th oldest surviving Houston radio station and 2nd oldest still using its original calls.

There will be more on KCOH in the section of the AM Chronology on the 1940s and 1950s and in the Station Profiles.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

1924 - KFOQ and KFUL, Galveston, and some new frequency assignments

By mid-1923 the government had abandoned the separate assignments on 485 meters for stations broadcasting weather and crop information. In response to the flood of applicants for licenses and complaints from the public about interference, new stations started receiving assignments on additional frequencies and older stations were moved off the congested 360 meters. KFLX, Galveston, was the first station in the Houston-Galveston area to get an assignment other than 360 or 485 meters in November. In January, Alfred P. Daniel’s WCAK became the first station in the area authorized to move off of 360 meters; it was assigned to 1140 kilocycles, still operating with just 10 watts. That same month, Will Horwitz’s WEAY was authorized to operate with 500 watts.

In March, 1924, KFOQ, Galveston, received a license, issued to Ora W. Chancellor of 3216 Avenue O. It was assigned to share the 1250 frequency with KFLX but was to be deleted before the year was out. Chancellor had been mentioned in 1922 as the operator of the first Galveston station, WHAB, licensed to Fellman’s, and his connection to both may be the origin of the belief that WHAB was continued as a later radio station.

In May, WSAV was re-licensed on 360 meters, while in June both WHAB and WRAA were struck from the Commerce Department list and WEV was authorized to share time on 1140 kc with WCAK.

The official government list for June 30, 1924, showed stations sharing time on 833.33 kc, 360 meters, in the Houston-Galveston area to be:

KFCV, Houston, 10 watts, Fred Mahaffey, Jr.
WEAY, Houston, 500 watts, Iris Theater
WIAC, Galveston, 100 watts, Galveston Tribune
WSAV, Houston, 100 watts Clifford W. Vick Radio Construction Co.

It also showed WCAK licensed to Alfred P. Daniel with 10 watts, and WEV, licensed to the Hurlburt-Still company with 100 watts, sharing time at 1140 kc. Incidentally, compare the 100 watts shown for WEV in 1924 with the Press’ assertion that WEV had been the most powerful station south of Kansas City in April 1922 with 200 watts and the Post’s claim that once all the equipment had been received, WEV would be operating with 500 watts.

In Galveston, KFLX, licensed to George R. Clough with 10 watts, and KFOQ, licensed to Ora W. Chancellor with 50 watts, shared time at 1250 kc.

In October, KFOQ was deleted. Then in December, 1924, KFUL, Galveston, was licensed to the Thomas W. Goggan & Brothers Music Co., to operate at 1160 kc with 10 watts and WRAA was re-licensed to Rice Institute with 100 watts at 1170 kc.

The owners of KFUL had founded their business in Galveston in the late 1800s and had branches all over the state at one time. It was considered the largest and oldest musical firm in Texas, supplying sheet music and instruments of all kinds. There was a store in Houston.

The first mention of KFUL in the Galveston Daily News appeared on December 18, 1924, reporting on a concert broadcast the previous evening by the Oriental Orchestra, a local group that performed at the Garden of Tokio.  The station lasted until the spring of 1933.

For more on KFUL, go here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

This Day in History - 1957 - BCMF revealed...

In the first couple of weeks of May, 1957, station KLBS, 610, ran a mail-in contest inviting listeners to guess what the letters BCMF stood for. KLBS had never contested much and there was only a small cash prize.

McLendon Investments had purchased KLBS from Howard Broadcasting earlier in the year for $535,000, the largest cash transaction in Houston radio history up to that point, and final approval was pending. Gordon McLendon was known for making wholesale changes when he took over a station and a new GM, Bill Weaver, was brought in from McLendon’s highly successful KTSA in San Antonio. Arriving on the 5th, Weaver told the Chronicle that changes were coming but there would be no announcement for a week but by Saturday the 11th it was made official: new call letters and a new staff were to be in place by Tuesday May 14th. BCMF meant ‘Big Change May Fourteenth.’

The call letters were flipped to KILT and a new staff installed, although the listings in the paper indicated the new announcers weren’t all in town for the first day. There were only 2 holdovers from the old staff, one a part-timer and swing man.

A full page ad in the papers on the 14th was designed to look like a wanted poster and gave only serial numbers with the pictures of the air staff. It warned Houstonians to be on the lookout for “‘...these men. They are about to steal the Houston radio audience. These men have begun operations on Color Channel 61 today. These colorful characters are highly entertaining. Their deep resonant voices will ‘con’ you into listening to KILT, Houston’s new radio voice, around the clock every day.

REWARD: Twenty four full hours of daily listening pleasure.

To someone who had been listening to KLBS for a couple of years (we couldn’t get KNUZ where I lived) and who would have the privilege of working at KILT during his career, this was a momentous day in Houston radio history.

There will be more on KLBS and KILT in the AM Chronology of the 1950s, in the Station Profiles section and also in a Thanks for the Memories section, which will contain reminiscences from listeners as well as employees of Houston stations.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Another Anniversary - 60 Years on 1590 - KATL, KYOK, KMIC

KATL became Houston’s 7th radio station on Monday, May 12, 1947, operating on 1590 kilocycles with 1000 watts, and the station operating on that frequency now is the sixth oldest surviving radio station licensed to Houston. The launch had been postponed several times by engineering problems and the station took to the air at 6pm without much fanfare, operating on special authority since the official license had not been issued. The first night’s programming included a broadcast of the Houston Buffs game with Fort Worth,
a shutout pitched by Al Papai. The Buffs had not been heard on Houston radio since 1938. The station became an affiliate of Gordon McLendon’s Liberty Broadcasting System.

The original studios of KATL were on the mezzanine level of the State National Bank building at 412 Main and the transmitter was on Post Oak Road near the Hempstead Highway. It operated 24 hours a day and was only the 2nd station in Houston to be on around the clock.

Two of the big concerns of post-war America were housing and jobs for veterans and Program Director William S. Newkirk, himself a veteran of 3 years in the Army, had hired a staff composed entirely of veterans, among them Houston native Larry Blieden (pronounced bleedin’) who had been in the Marines. Blieden had aspirations of being an actor an eventually built a career on Broadway and TV under the name Larry Blyden. Another original staff member was Johnny Edwards who had been a navigator on a B-17. He became host of the station’s popular morning show Chuck Wagon Call and was to have a long career in Houston radio including working at KTHT, KXYZ and KPRC.

The trio of original owners included two investors from New Orleans associated with WDSU. When KATL was sold in 1954 it was bought by two Louisiana businessmen, Jules Paglin and Stanley Ray, for their OK group of stations targeted at Black listeners and the call letters changed to KYOK. The station now on 1590 is KMIC.

There will be more on KATL and KYOK in the section of the AM Chronology on the 40s and 50s and in the station profiles section.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

1923 - KFCV, Houston, and KFLX, Galveston, the oldest surviving radio station in the Houston-Galveston area

As mentioned in the post on call letters, up until sometime in January, 1923, radio stations east of a line along the Texas-New Mexico border received call signs beginning with the letter W, stations west of that line received call signs beginning with the letter K. It was apparent there were going to be many more stations in the eastern region than in the west so the Commerce Department moved the dividing line to the Mississippi River. The first station licensed after that change that would have previously received a call sign beginning with W was located in Houston and it was the only new station licensed in Houston in 1923, KFCV. The station was licensed to Fred Mahaffey, Jr. in January.

I have found nothing on KFCV other than that the license was maintained for 3 years (licenses expired every 6 months). However, Christopher Varela in his book Kotton, Port, Rail Center says Mahaffey was a high school student who worked in his father's electric shop, Mahaffey Electric Co., and the station was used to demonstrate radio to potential buyers.

Of the eleven stations that had received licenses up to that point in the area, the Commerce Department official list of June 30, 1923, showed only seven as active. In Houston they were KFCV, WCAK, WEAY, WEV, and WRAA. In Galveston, WHAB and WIAC were still listed.

Late that year a new station was licensed in Galveston and assigned the call letters KFLX. The licensee was George Roy Clough of 1214 40th St. It was authorized to operate on 1250 kc with 10 watts and it was the first station in the Houston-Galveston area to operate on a wave length other than 360 or 485 meters. In 1933 this station changed its call letters to KLUF after another Galveston station using the call letters KFUL went off the air.  As a result of the North American Radio Broadcast Agreement of 1941 it moved to 1400 kilocycles and in 1957, after George Roy Clough sold it, the call letters were changed to KILE. There is still a station on the air on that frequency.  The city of license has been changed to League City and the calls are KHCB-AM and it is the oldest continuously licensed radio facility still on the air in the Houston-Galveston area. Besides that, it can also claim to be the oldest continuously operating radio station on the entire Texas coast.

A claim also has been made that KFLX was originally the station known as WHAB, which would extend its pedigree to 1922. The Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook, a standard industry reference but far from infallible, gives the year of origin of KHCB-AM as 1922, but the Commerce Department records I have examined do not support the claim that WHAB was the precursor of KFLX. Both stations were listed as active stations concurrently for many months in 1923/4. Clough received authorization for KFLX as a new station, not a transfer of ownership or change of call letters, on November 28, 1923, and WHAB was not deleted from the Commerce Department lists until June of the following year.

For his book Texas Signs On, historian Richard Shroeder interviewed Jack McGrew, who had worked for KFDM, Beaumont, in the early years and later spent many years at KPRC, Houston. KFDM was owned by the Magnolia Petroleum Co. Of Beaumont and was very well equipped and funded. It originated the first chain, or network, in Texas, the Magnolene Chain, which consisted of KFDM, KPRC, WFAA, WRR, WBAP, and WJAD. (Magnolene was the name of a lubricant made by Magnolia). McGrew told of visiting Galveston once on for a sports remote for KFDM and learning not all stations were created equal. He went to KFLX where he met Clough who was owner, operator, engineer and staff. It was a Sunday and as the two talked

“...Clough was also playing records over the air. If the record came to an end, without saying anything to the listeners, Clough would pick up the tone arm, turn the record over, put it back down on the revolving turntable, and drop the arm onto the record. All this was done ‘on the air.’ Sometimes he turned the same record back and forth two or three times. This was the only radio station in town and it was pretty loose.

Of course this is what is known in the industry as a tight playlist. Unfortunately the date of the visit was not given. George Roy Clough was later to serve as Mayor of Galveston in the 1950s.

All of the stations on the air in the Houston/Galveston area in 1923 other than KFLX continued to share time on 360 meters, 833 kc.

As mentioned in the post noting the 82nd anniversary of KPRC's sign-on, according to an interview with Alfred P. Daniel that appeared in the Press many years later, sometime during 1923 Ross Sterling, Jr., son of the largest stockholder in the Houston Post Co., Ross Sterling, Sr., took a radio class at the Houston YMCA from Alfred P. Daniel of WCAK. The young man’s interests apparently aroused his father’s curiosity and Sterling, Sr., asked Daniel to meet with him to discuss the possibility of the Post getting into the radio business with its own station. William P. Hobby, President of the Post, had also urged Sterling to get into radio. Sterling had been the first President of Humble Oil and Refining Co. which is now Exxon-Mobil. When he sold his interests to Standard Oil he went on a buying and building spree in Houston. He purchased the Houston Dispatch newspaper in 1924 and combined it with the Post as the Post-Dispatch. Both Sterling and Hobby served as Governors of Texas.

After meeting with Daniel, Sterling was convinced the Post should have its own radio station and ordered a 500 watt transmitter from the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., one that had been recommended by Daniel. But by the time the transmitter was delivered Ross, Jr., had died and Ross, Sr., ordered the equipment put in storage without ever being uncrated. The grieving father devoted himself to building a memorial to his beloved son, a campground at Cedar Point on Trinity Bay, below Baytown. On ground that had formerly been a Sterling family residence and
before that, Sam Houston’s summer cabin on the bay, Ravensmore, he built Camp Ross Sterling, Jr., and gave it to the YMCA. The camp was to serve as a youth camp and church camp for decades. (I attended church camp at Camp Ross Sterling, Jr., twice in the 1950s).

A Texas Historical marker on 2354, which runs along Trinity Bay southeast of Baytown, commemorating the first settlers at Cedar Point, mentions Sam Houston's cabin and says the land where it stood (and presumably Camp Ross Sterling, Jr.) is now underwater. This would be due to land subsidence and erosion in the area.

It was more than a year before the Westinghouse transmitter was taken out of storage and put into operation.

The image above is from the archives of the Houston Post at the Houston Public Library.

Note: when KPRC signed on in 1925 the Post-Dispatch identified the transmitter as a Western Electric, not Westinghouse.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Happy Birthday, KPRC

KPRC turns 82 this year, on May 9th, to be exact. But for an untimely death, it might have been on the air more than a year earlier, however. According to accounts published years later, sometime in 1923, Ross Sterling, Jr., son of the largest shareholder of the Houston Post company, Ross Sterling, Sr., had taken a course in radio from Alfred P. Daniel of WCAK at the Houston YMCA. The young man's fancy attracted the father's attention and Sterling, Sr., asked Daniel to meet with him about starting a Post radio station. Sterling had been urged by others, among them William P. Hobby, former Governor and President of the Post, to launch a station. The decision was made to proceed and according to at least one account, a 500 watt transmitter was ordered from the Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Company. But by the time it arrived, Sterling, Jr., and died, and the grieving father ordered the transmitter put in storage without ever being uncrated.

More than a year later, Daniel again approached Sterling, Sr., about proceeding with the original plans. A major advertising convention was scheduled in Houston and Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover was to be one of the speakers. In addition to announcing and programming skills and building his own equipment, Daniel was apparently a pretty good salesman. Sterling, Sr., relented and ordered the station set up. It was just 3 weeks before the convention but on Saturday, May 9, 1925, at 8pm, KPRC signed on with Alfred P. Daniel as its first announcer and program director. “Hello, folks, everywhere” were the first words spoken according to the official account. The station had just four employees.

The Post-Dispatch ran a front page story about the sign-on giving the line-up for all the dignitaries and entertainers that were to be on hand. They included three bands, one from Mexico City, one from St. Petersburg, FL, and the Humble Oil and Refining Co. Band from Baytown, the two former ones in town for the advertising convention. A regular nightly feature was to be a talk given by Houston Poet Laureat Judd Mortimer Lewis, a much loved entertainer of boys and girls. Incidentally, though May 9th is the date of the first broadcast, one source indicates the license was not issued until May 13.

The new station’s studios were located at the Post-Dispatch building on the southwest corner of Polk and Dowling which the newspaper had just occupied in March. No plans had been made to house the station so improvised space had to be created. Studios were located in the fourth floor morgue or library, a very cramped space. KPRC operated at 1010 kc (296.9 meters) with 500 watts and the paper claimed the signal could carry 9000 miles. One mast atop the building and another in an adjacent field supported the flattop antenna.

According to an article published in a 50th anniversary edition of the Houston Press (Scripps-Howard) on May 9, 1961, it was frequently advertised the call letters stood for Kotton Port, Rail Center. That was the phrase which led off the Post’s review of the opening broadcast in the edition of Sunday morning, May 10.

By 1926 the KPRC studios were moved to the new 22 story Post-Dispatch 'skyscraper’ on the southeast corner of Texas at Fannin which was for many years the home for Shell Oil Co. in Houston, before the present One Shell Plaza was built in the 1960s. The Post-Dispatch plant on Polk and Dowling has been demolished while the building on Texas has recently been renovated and opened as the Magnolia Hotel. By 1929, the KPRC transmitter was relocated to Sugar Land and in 1934 the studios moved to the Mezzanine of the Lamar Hotel where they stayed until moving onto Post Oak Rd. near the present Williams Tower in 1953. In the 30s, KPRC and KTRH shared a transmitter plant at Deep Water on the La Porte Highway.

The image above is from the archives of the Houston Post-Dispatch at the Houston Public Library.

There will be more on KPRC in the AM Chronology section of this blog when I get to 1925 and in the Station Profiles section, plus profiles of some of the early performers.

Note: When KPRC signed on in 1925, the Post-Dispatch identified the transmitter as a Western Electric, not Westinghouse.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Meet 'n Greet

HRHBlogger Name: Bruce Williamson

Career history:

A pirate radio station, somewhere in Brazoria Co., Texas, ca. 1957:

On the left, a cheap, $5 crystal knock-off of an RCA-77DX; a stack of wax (containing every single released up to that time by Little Richard); a Sears Silvertone record player (33-1/3, 45, and 78 rpm!); leaning against the lid of the record player, a couple of KILT weekly surveys so I could keep up with what was hot, picked up at the local record shoppe (mostly I just played the latest Little Richard over and over); and, barely visible on the right, a KnightKit Transceiver from Allied Radio Shack of Chicago which I built and which threw a signal about 150 yards.

(Somewhat) More Professional experience:

KUT-FM, KLRN-TV, Austin, 1965-1968
KTBC-AM/FM/TV, Austin, 1967-1970
WBAP-AM, KSCS-FM, Fort Worth, 1970
KAUM-FM, Houston, 1970-1973
KLYX-FM, Houston, 1974
KODA-AM/FM, Houston, 1974-1981
KYND-FM, Houston, 1981-1982
KILT-FM, Houston, 1983-1996
KIKK-AM/FM, Houston, 1996-2001
KILT-FM, Houston, 2001-2005

Earliest childhood memory of hearing the radio: being awakened from a nap by the intro to the old daytime series Grand Central Station.

Read the intro.

Listen to an episode entitled Moon Blind.

Favorite childhood memory of listening to the radio: Hal Peary's laugh as Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve on the program The Great Gildersleeve (apparently you'll have to listen to a whole program to hear it). I used to beg my parents to let me stay up just to hear that every week.

Favorite childhood Saturday morning radio show: No School Today, with Big Jon and Sparkie.

"Okay, the little hand is almost on the 6 and the big hand is on the ten...."

The KTBC, Austin, studio, ca. 1968.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Happy Birthday, KLVL

KLVL-AM, 1480, was launched on May 5, Cinco de Mayo, 1950, and turns 57 this year. It is Houston's 11th oldest surviving radio station and 3rd oldest to still have its original call letters.

The station was the result of years of effort by Felix Hessbrook Morales. Morales had had a Spanish language program on San Antonio radio before moving to Houston. He bought time on KXYZ in the 40s for a Spanish language program that started out just one night a week but became a nightly event. He first applied for a license in 1942 but the FCC's wartime refusal to consider any applications unless the applicant could prove it had the necessary equipment to actually build a station meant that application went nowhere. The application was re-filed in 1946 but it took 4 more years for the station to get on the air.

KLVL stood for La Voz Latina and the station was known for its community involvement. Like most stations in the early 50s, KLVL was actually block-programmed. Country DJ Smokey Stover, who is in the Country Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame, worked there in the early 1950s before going to work for KRCT.

In the summer of 1953 the station became possibly the first in Houston to air a foreign language program other than Spanish when it launched an Italian Hour once a week. The first guest was popular north-side restauranteur Joe Matranga.

In the summer of 1962 Morales launched KLVL-FM, Houston's first Spanish language FM. That station was sold in 1969 and became KYND-FM and is now KKBQ-FM.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Note about those call letters...

The first call letters assigned were 3 letter combinations, but the Commerce Department ran out of those by the Spring of 1922 and started issuing 4 letter combinations. WEV was the only Houston station to ever receive a 3 letter call.

You have undoubtedly noticed the confusing similarity in all those early four letter combinations. Vanity calls were always possible but most early broadcasters had not thought about the possibilities of having a cute nickname for their station expressed by their calls, or having their call letters stand for a slogan, and most just let the government assign their call letters. The government had set up serial lists of call letters and doled them out in order. The first thing that happened when a new application was received was the assignment of call letters from the serial list. A few broadcasters are believed to have timed their applications so as to get a set of call letters they wanted.

The earliest 4 letter combinations issued east of the Texas-New Mexico border all began with the letter W with the 3rd letter being an A. All of the earliest 4 letter combinations issued in Texas fit this pattern: WBAP, Fort Worth, WFAA, Dallas, WOAI, San Antonio, WJAD, Waco (which later became WACO) and WTAW, Bryan-College Station, all fit the pattern. Although it worked out that that last one could be taken to mean ‘Watch the Aggies Win,’ it actually was an assignment resulting from the serial list. Of the first ten licenses authorized for the Houston-Galveston area, all but WEV fit the W __ A __ pattern: WCAK, WEAY, WFAL, WGAB, WHAB, WIAC, WPAN, WRAA, and WSAV.

By January, 1923, the line dividing the Ws from the Ks was moved from the Texas-New Mexico border to the Mississippi River and thereafter, all calls issued in Houston began with K. The first lists used for stations receiving call letters beginning with K started with either KD or KF. Of the first five stations in the Houston-Galveston area to receive call letters starting with K, all started with KF: KFCV, KFLX, KFOQ, KFUL, and KFVI. That last one, issued in early 1925, could be interpreted to stand for the 56th Cavalry Brigade, Headquarters Troop, the licensee, but it too was simply the result of a serial assignment.

Early on broadcasters and the public began trying to assign significance to the assigned call letters. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, who personally signed all licenses, wrote to the owners of WBAP, Fort Worth, that their calls should stand for ‘We Bring a Program.’ Others came up with ‘We Bore All People,’ and, during Prohibition, ‘We Bring a Pint.’ WFAA was said to stand for ‘Working for All Alike’ and WOAI. ‘World of Agriculture Information.’

The first vanity calls in Houston were KPRC, issued in May, 1925. As explained in the Houston Post-Dispatch, owners of the new station, they stood for Kotton Port, Rail Center.

The image above is from the archives of the Houston Post-Dispatch at the Houston Public Library; it was published in the Post-Dispatch just a few days after KPRC signed on in May, 1925.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

1922 Part 5 - September, October, November - WPAN, WSAV, WRAA

Before the year was out, WPAN and WSAV also received authorizations in Houston, the former in September, the latter in October. Long time Houstonians may recognize the name of the owners of WPAN, Levy Brothers Dry Goods Co., a competitor of Foley Brothers and once considered the largest mercantile establishment in the South.

On Friday, September 29, Levy’s ad in the Chronicle included mention that the new station would begin broadcasting the next Tuesday, with daily educational programs ‘of interest to the average woman, such as Fashion Talks, Beauty Talks, Talks on Corset Hygiene, Talks on the Care of Baby; and others.’ Each day’s subject was to be announced in the evening papers in the Levy’s ads.

On October 2, the following story appeared on page 13 of the Post under the headline “New Radio Station is Installed Here by Levy Brothers:”

"The educational side of radio is to be exploited for the first time in Houston beginning Tuesday next when Levy Brothers open their big broadcasting station, WPAN, for morning dissemination of educational matters.

The station is installed and there remains only the preliminary testing before actual operation daily, except Sunday, begins.

A wonderful series of short but interesting educational talks has been arranged for. These will be so diversified that all classes of listeners will be provided for, and to make the service suitable for all, even items of interest to children will be discussed at intervals."

The target audience seemed to have expanded somewhat in the Post’s story. The station was to be on the air at ‘about’ 10:30am, 6 days a week. Like Foley’s today, Levy’s ran lots of advertising. In one of their ads the next day, Tuesday October 3, 1922, the program was announced as ‘Sunburn and Tan, and Its Treatment” for the returning vacationist. Another listing gave the program scheduled as ‘Care of the Sick Room’ to be given by a registered trained nurse at Levy’s Baby shop.

Only a few days before the launch of WPAN, Levy’s had announced it had remodeled it’s store to add a boys wear department on the second floor and that is where the Radio Department was situated, selling complete sets as well as the parts to make receivers.

WPAN was added to the Post’s listings, which sometimes still occurred on page 1, sometimes elsewhere in the paper and sometimes not at all.

Levy’s was in business up until about the 1960s or so when it was sold to Oshman's but their radio station did not last very long at all. It was struck from the Commerce Department list in December, becoming possibly the shortest lived Houston radio station that actually got on the air. Despite the Commerce Department’s action, program notes for the station appeared three times in the Post in January, 1923.

WSAV was licensed to the Clifford W. Vick Radio Construction Co., of 1801 Carter Building at 806 Main and was to be an on-again, off-again station. It was struck from the list in June, 1923, returning in June, 1924, deleted again in March, 1925, only to return in June of that year from a new address, 1406 Houston Ave., operating at 1210 kc with 100w. It was deleted for the last time in September, 1925.

I have found little on WSAV. However, the picture that is emerging is that Vick installed his radio station in various locations over the years, tending toward public entertainment venues. Vick had been in charge of the installation at the Houston Fair and Exposition in November, 1921, as mentioned in the section on the pre-broadcast era. Also, see the last two paragraphs of this chronology of the year 1922, below, for what may have been the first installation of WSAV. The final location of the station, 1406 Houston Ave. in 1925, was at Luna Park, on the near northwest side, north of Washington Avenue. Luna Park was Houston’s first amusement park; it billed itself as the Coney Island of Texas and featured Dr. Carver's Diving Horses, a dance casino, roller coaster, picnic area and other attractions.

Perhaps Vick was counting on the entertainment venues to supply his programming; perhaps he was more interested in his business as a ‘radio construction company’ and simply hoped to drum up business with his installations.

In November, 1922, Rice Institute received authorization for station WRAA. That too was to be an on-again, off-again operation. The Post took note of the operation on December 15 on page 1 under the headline ‘New Radio Plant at Rice Institute is Step Forward.” H. D. Ellis was the assigned operator; Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering H. K. Humphrey was assisting, as was Instructor J. S. Waters. The 200 watt transmitter was larger than any in Houston at the time except WEAY, which had 250 watt ‘oscillating and modulating tubes.’ Broadcasting was due to start in early 1923; the program schedule was due to be announced January 3.

WRAA was deleted by the Commerce Department in May, 1924, then the license was re-issued in December of that year.

None of these first radio stations authorized in 1922 survived the mid-1920s. Here, as elsewhere, it is believed other operators, enthusiasts, hobbyists and businessmen, may have operated stations without Commerce Department approval from time to time. An example of that may have been the station installed at Bayshore Park on Galveston Bay in La Porte in late July, 1922. Both the Post and Chronicle carried notices of it, an unusual occurrence in itself. Clifford W. Vick was putting the station in but his own license for WSAV would not be received until October and hence had not even been applied for at that time. Perhaps the Clifford W. Vick Radio Construction Co. was merely building the station and would not be the operator. There was to be a receiver so families attending the park could listen to radio broadcasts from elsewhere and also a sending station with a 125’ high antenna, lighted all the way to the top and with a colored light on top, which would send out the entertainment provided by the Charlie Dickson Jazz Orchestra and vocalist Mark Wescott, regulars at the park. No call letters were mentioned in either paper’s coverage and I have not found any record of Bay Shore park being issued a license, or anyone in La Porte for that matter.

Bayshore Park was privately owned and billed itself as Houston’s Finest Playground, though its fame has been eclipsed over time by Sylvan Beach Park. It was located just north of Sylvan Beach. There was a dance pavilion, a bandstand, a pier extending into the bay and an inn and restaurant on the premises. Possibly this was an amateur station but the government had banned amateur stations from broadcasting music and sports programming in December, 1921, reserving those entertainments for those who held broadcast licenses. As mentioned above, possibly this was the first installation of WSAV and Vick was getting a head start on getting it ready; there undoubtedly would have been a lot more people visiting the park in the summer than in the autumn, when WSAV was authorized. Perhaps Vick didn’t understand he needed to have a new type of license to do the kind of broadcasting he had been doing for some time. I have found no other mention of the installation or any broadcasts and it was never mentioned in any ads for Bayshore Park.

Images above are from the archives of the Houston Post at the Houston Public Library.