Wednesday, June 13, 2007

1930 - KTRH signs on, KTUE becomes KXYZ

On page 1 of the Chronicle on Monday, March 24, 1930, a story announced KTRH would begin broadcasting from 6th floor studios of the Rice Hotel on Tuesday evening at 8pm, with 1000 watts daytime and 500 watts nighttime from the transmitter at Deepwater on the La Porte highway. The frequency was 1120 kilocycles, ‘just below KMOX on your dial.’ Test broadcasts had been going on for a few days and listeners were already aware of the new station which would bring the programs of the Columbia Broadcasting System to Houston for the first time. Besides new studios at the Rice, direct wire circuits were also maintained with the Lamar and Texas State Hotels, the Elks Club and several churches and theaters for ‘pickup’ programs.

The La Porte highway basically followed the route of today’s Texas 225; Deepwater was a small farming community between Pasadena and La Porte and is now a part of the northeastern corner of Pasadena. The land for the transmitter had been part of a farm owned by Tilford Jones, nephew to Jesse Jones, who would be the head of Harris Co. Broadcast Co. which purchased KTUE later that year and flipped it to KXYZ. The site of the KTRH transmitter was used later for a joint transmitter plant for KTRH and KPRC and has also been used by KRCT/KIKK and is the location now of KXYZ.

The inaugural program on the new station was to feature a countdown of sorts which sounded very familar, recounting ‘The Romance of Texas, beginning with the Robert Cavalier Sieur De La Salle Expedition’ down to the present time, then Jesse Jones was to speak. Milton G. Hall was the Program Director and Chief Announcer; staff announcers included Earl Melby and Harold Pyle. Jerry Belcher served as advertising manager. T. Frank Smith was Chief Engineer and B.F. Orr was the General Manager. Orr was also General Manager of KTUE at the Texas State Hotel and both Smith and Orr were to be with KTRH for years.

The station operated from the Rice Hotel for years until around 1970 when it moved out to Lovett Boulevard in the Montrose area. The call letters have not changed since the station moved to Houston. It moved to its present frequency of 740 in late 1942.

There was a 20 page section published in the Chronicle about the new station, mostly consisting of ads but with pictures of talent and equipment and giving details of some of the new programs on tap and how the equipment worked. Among the congratulatory ads was one from KTUE, ‘the Happiness Station.’ and one from the B.J. Still Electric Co. at 1116 Main (‘It’s Easy to Pay the B.J. Still Way’) and the Hurlburt-Still Electric Co. of 1207 McKinney. Apparently the company responsible for Houston's first broadcasting station had split.

Broadcasting Yearbook gives March 29, 1930, as the date of origin for the new station. KTRH was first mentioned in the monthly bulletin issued by the Commerce Department on March 31, 1930 as a change of city of license and call letters, not a new station. Up in Austin, KUT was also on the list, still on the air, licensed to the Rice Hotel, operating now at 1500 kc.

On the Commerce Department list as of June 30, 1930, stations on the air in the Houston-Galveston area included, in addition to KTRH:

KPRC, now licensed to Sugarland with studios in Houston, operating at 920 kc and licensed to the Houston Printing Co
KFUL Galveston, licensed to Will H. Ford and broadcasting at 1290 kc
KTLC, licensed to the Houston Broadcasting Co. at 1310 kc
KFLX, Galveston, licensed to George Roy Clough at 1370 kc
KTUE Houston, licensed to William John Uhalt of Uhalt Electric at 1420 kc

In August of 1930 KTUE changed its call letters to KXYZ; the new owners were the Harris County Broadcast Co. and their address was listed as Main and Rusk, Jesse Jones newly completed 36 story skyscraper which was to be known for years as the Gulf Building, the tallest building in Houston until 1963, and now known as the JP Morgan Chase Building. Studios continued to be in the Texas State Hotel for a few years but then moved to the Gulf Building. In the late 1940s, oilman Glenn McCarthy’s Shamrock Broadcasting bought KXYZ-AM and FM with plans to move most of the operations to his new Shamrock Hotel at Main and Holcombe, though keeping some of the operations in the Gulf Building downtown. McCarthy also applied for a license for KXYZ-TV to operate from the Shamrock. It is not known if any of the operation in fact ever did move to the Shamrock. In 1968, ABC bought KXYZ-AM and FM and they did move across Main St. from the Shamrock Hilton to the 16th Floor of the Fannin Bank Building.

The images above are taken from the archives of the Houston Chronicle at the Houston Public Library; both are from the special section of the Chronicle about the launch of KTRH. The top illustration is a portion of the cover page of that special section showing the transmitter plant at Deepwater on the La Porte Highway. One side of the transmitter building housed the transmitting equipment while the other served as a residence for Chief Engineer T. Frank Smith and his family.

The second illustration is of some of the performers scheduled to be heard on KTRH.


Roger said...

I see that one of the singers was named Sterling McCall. I wonder if there is any relation to the car dealer of the same name?

mike mcguff said...

Great job as always.

Bruce said...

Not sure, Roger. I noticed that too. Up until recently I thought Sterling McCall was a made-up name but I saw the man on a TV feature report just a few days ago.

Thanks for the post.

You, too, Mike, and thanks for the plugs.

Anonymous said...

"[Glenn] McCarthy also applied for a license for KXYZ-TV to operate from the Shamrock. It is not known if any of the operation in fact ever did move to the Shamrock. In 1968, ABC bought KXYZ-AM and FM and they did move across Main St. from the Shamrock Hilton to the 16th Floor of the Fannin Bank Building."

I worked at KXYZ from November 1966 to June 1967. Our studios were on the 16th floor of the Fannin Bank Building. To judge from the testimony of others I met there, these had been the KXYZ studios for some years.

In any case, I can personally testify that KXYZ was in the Fannin Bank Building at least two years before ABC bought the station.


Anonymous said...

In fact, that photo of Bill Calder that's posted just below this comment was taken in the KXYZ studio in the Fannin Bank Building. I know that control room. I worked in there.


Bruce said...

Thanks, Jeff. I asked Calder's son but he was not alive then and didn't know. That would put KXYZ there in the early 60s. I worked right across the hall at KAUM and didn't recognize the studio! I'm sure there was newer equipment there by the time I got there.

Anonymous said...

I worked at KXYZ as an engineer from 1949 to 1957. At that time the studios were on the 5th floor of the Gulf Bldg. The FM transmitter was on the 35th floor, as was the KTRH FM transmitter.

Although we did apply for a TV permit, nothing ever came of it.

I never heard any talk of an intention to move any of the operation to the Shamrock Hotel, although for several years we did have a regularly scheduled ABC variety show at 8 P.M. on Saturday nights called "Saturday At The Shamrock" which featured the star performer appearing at the hotel for that two weeks. The regular orchestra was the Henry King Orchestra (House Orchestra for the Shamrock)but occasionally featured other notable orchestras. I was one of two engineers regulary working this show.

May 26, 2008
Tommie Davis

Bruce said...

Thanks for the info Tommie. The 1950s is an era in which I have a lot of research yet to do but I have not yet found any confirmation of the projected move. I think McCarthy had troubles with the hotel's cash flow from the beginning.

Do you have any pictures of KXYZ installations, staff or equipment? I'm sure lots of readers would like to see them.

I attended a Saturday morning kiddie show at KXYZ ca. 1950. I always remembered it was the 5th floor of the Gulf Building but I'm not sure of the show. I hadn't been a listener and was taken by a friend. Do you know what it might have been? I don't even know if it was a local show or a touring national show - might have been the Buster Brown show.


Anonymous said...

Tommie, did you by any chance know C. B. Jones Jr. or Ethelyene Comeaux? They worked downtown (possibly Gulf Building) in the late 40's, early 50's.


Anonymous said...

The Pheonix Phil show featuring Uncle Phil originated from KXYZ in the Gulf building. I was in the audience for my fifth birthday. The show was sponsored by the Phoenix Dairy. I got to sit on Uncle Phil's lap. They used an RCA 44 BX microphone on a boom. I don't remember much more since I was only five years old at the time. (lol)

Later when I worked for KTRH FM they had transmitter problems. The transmitter was on top of the Gulf building using a home made FM antenna. KTRH AM was 50,000 watts. KTRH FM was rather low power. The AM station was billed as the "Power Tower." The FM station was known around the studio as the "Poop Loop." I went up on the roof with the engineer and saw the KXYZ AM antenna. It had radials at the bottom that stretched out to the edge of the building. KBNO FM also started on the top floor of the Gulf Building and had their antenna on the roof.

William Macdonald

Anonymous said...

Did not Lester Kaman own KXYZ in the late 60's early 70's?
William K. Macdonald

Bruce said...

Very interesting William. I have vague memories of attending a show broadcast on KXYZ, too. AIR I went there with a friend for his 5th birthday! I thought the show was Buster Brown, though. I've talked to that kid's family (he's gone) and they have no memory of it, though, so I still don't know what I'm remembering. I remembered it as the 5th floor of the Gulf Building, big auditorium like theater. Thanks for your comment.

Bruce said...

Re: Les Kamin and his brothers Max and Morris - yes, bought KXYZ, see the FM Chronology - The 1960s - Part 1. I also had a mention of Les Kamin in the 1940s.



Bruce said...

I have no idea John; a performer? I would love to see the pic if you could scan it and forward it. Thanks.

Jamese said...

Milton G. Hall was my grandfather. Any information about him, is greatly appreciated.

I will check back.


Bruce said...

Use the search box to look for all mentions of Milton G. Hall; I can try to put you in touch with the genealogical researcher who provided the obituaries if you like. Contact me on my profile page.

Unknown said...

Love the article. B.F. Orr was my great-grandfather. He died 3 years before I was born. Over the years I've heard many stories about his accomplishments and I'm very proud! Thanks for sharing ��


Hello !!! My name is Richard Lewis . When TILFORD JONES ( Son or Nephew to JESSE H. JONES ) in 1959 sold the JONES RANCH to TENNECO CHEM . CO. on Hwy 225 in Pasadena , MR. GIBSON ( The Ranch Foreman ) got my Uncle B. L. DICKERSON the Job of CARE TAKER for the Property until TENNECO CHEM . came in 1963 to take over the Property . IT WAS BEAUTIFUL there . It had a Spanish Type Hacienda House and huge Virgin Live Oaks . Had a swiming Poole and a Large B-B-Q Pit out behind the House . They was a LARGE LAKE called JONES LAKE that was FULL OF FISH . It bordered the SHELL Property . Inside the House was a LARGE WOOD BURNINH FIRE PLACE with a MOOSE HEAD with a Very Large Rack of ANTLERS . My Aunt JENNIE and Uncle BUCK used to let me and my Brother James stay out there and Sleep Over . My Cousin REAGAN DID NOT have Brothers and Sisters SO we were His Buddies . That RANCH was Beautiful and Wild and like a WILD LIFE REFUGE !!!!! I still live here in Deer Park .