Saturday, December 29, 2007

Additional links to histories in other cities

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.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Wire Recorder, some kids, and a Russian diplomat

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

The 1940s - Part 2 - Texas Star's KTHT

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 Anniversaries

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.