Tuesday, February 19, 2008

KTRH 50 kW Installation, Baytown, 1943-1981

Bob Stroupe, Houston Director of Engineering for Clear Channel Radio, says that KTRH’s move to 740 kHz in 1943 was prompted by the North American Radio Broadcast Agreement of 1941. The changes instigated by that agreement created a Canadian Clear Channel (Toronto) on 740 kHz. While that allowed only one Class I-A (now Class A) it allowed many Class II stations, all of which had to protect the Canadian I-A.

This allowed KTRH to apply for and be granted a license on 740 kHz. at 50 kW day and 50 kW night with the use of a directional antenna. Without the directional antenna, KTRH, could have been licensed with 10 kW day and 1 kW night.

The original KTRH 50 kW site was at Baytown, TX, using self supporting towers and was completed in 1943. According to information I have posted elsewhere on the blog from the FCC database, KTRH went to 50 kW in April, 1943.

Stroupe says the original proof of the directional antenna remains, accompanied by a note to the effect that a minimal proof was conducted due to wartime gas rationing. He adds that the 5 kW RCA, newly installed at the joint KTRH/KPRC plant at the original site at Deepwater on the La Porte Highway in January, 1936, might have been moved to Baytown as a backup but I have no information about whether than was in fact done.

Sam Lester was the resident transmitter engineer at the KTRH facility on FM 565, Cove Rd., northeast of Baytown from 1959 until 1981. Sam started work in March, 1959, and lived on the premises. In 1981 a fully remote controlled operation was installed at a new transmitter site at Dayton and Sam took early retirement. He has been living at Toledo Bend since 1986. These photos shows the transmitter building ca. 1961.

Sam says that in 1959, the transmitter was still receiving programming over open telephone lines on glass insulators from the Rice Hotel. Years later, a microwave link was installed. In 1959 KTRH was still running all the CBS network programs including soap operas and the Arthur Godfrey program. The station also carried regular Sunday concerts of the Houston Symphony Orchestra and was the flagship for the Houston Buffs. Later, the station went to all-talk and news.

This shot shows a panoramic view of the 30 acre site which included the 4 tower phased array. Sam’s apartment was on the second floor of the building. The pattern change took place at sunrise and sundown. In the morning, Dewey Compton would say ‘We now pause for 5 seconds while we fire our power into East Texas.’ That was the cue for Sam to activate the pattern change.

The transmitter was an RCA model 50E, air-cooled. This is a view of the control console and the transmitter enclosure. The center section is the Class C final stage.

This is another shot of the control console and about half of the front of the transmitter enclosure. That’s Sam Lester in the chair; Sam was a photography buff and used a variety of cameras in taking these pictures.

This is a view of the other end of the enclosure. The enclosure at the end is the antenna common point for the distribution networks.

This is the audio modulator stage with two 895R tubes. The copper fins are the plate for the tube.

A close-up of the 895R tube. Each weighed about 230 pounds. The Class C final stage used four of these tubes.

This is the number 4 tower. The wire on the poles is the 5 wire open air coax feed lines.

The two pole structure on the left is the ‘Rat Nest’ feeding the four tower array.

A close up of the Rat Nest with the number one tower in the rear.

The tuning network at the base of one of the antennas. This is inside the little building seen in the previous picture.

Another shot of the control console with Sam making entries in the log.

KTRH was knocked off the air for several hours in September, 1961, by Hurricane Carla. This shows the grounds shortly after the storm.

A shot of part of the antenna system after Carla. As a result of this event, a GM diesel generator and a Gates 10K auxiliary transmitter were installed.

This is the Gates 10K back-up. Sam is taking some readings during a test.

Then and Now: The antennas and transmitter were long since dismantled and sold but the building is still in existence on FM 565, about 1 mile west of Houston Raceway Park. According to an article in the Baytown Sun, it was converted to a private residence in 1984. It was difficult to tell on a recent visit if the place is currently occupied but the building itself appears to be in good shape for a 65 year old structure. I realized as soon as I turned on to FM 565 off Texas 146 that I had been there before for a station remote at the Raceway and I remembered when I saw it that I had noticed the building when I drove past it before and wondered what it was. I’ll bet many, many Houstonians have passed by that facility and had no idea what it was.

My thanks to Sam Lester and Bob Stroupe for their help in compiling information for this article and to Sam for generously sharing these photos.

See additional photos of this installation taken in 1948 here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

FM Chronology - Part 5 - 1947 - 1950

Less than a week after KTRH-FM took to the air, the Lee Segall Broadcasting Co., by that time owned by the William Smith Construction Co., received a permit for an FM in Houston. According to information supplied by Chris Huff of the DFW Radio Archives, the proposed call letters of the Houston station would have been KCOH-FM but the permit was never activated. It’s not known at this time if this permit was just a reassignment of the earlier permit issued to Segall or what calls he had requested. William B. Smith was President of Call of Houston, Inc., which put KCOH-AM on the air in May, 1948.

Later in the same week the permit was announced, The Post published congratulations to Segall on his new FM in Dallas, KIXL-FM.

On November 13, 1947, the University of Houston was granted a permit for an FM station to be known as KUHF-FM with a 3 kilowatt transmitter and 267 foot antenna. Permanent studios for the station were included in the plans for the Ezekiel W. Cullen building but temporary studios were to be in the recreation building on campus and the transmitter in the Engineering Lab building. Students in the Speech Arts Department were already producing programs that aired on KATL. The University had 6 months under FCC regulations to set a launch date but the station was not to get on the air until late 1950.

Later that same month, W. Albert Lee received an FM permit for KLEE-FM, a conditional grant subject to engineering approval. Lee announced construction would begin immediately and the Chronicle reported the station would be on the air in 90 days but the permit apparently was never activated. Lee and his engineers had their plates full, trying to get his AM on the air and planning for the possibility of being granted Houston’s first TV license, plus on-going renovations in both his Milby and San Jacinto Hotels.

Amidst all the hoopla over the launch of Lee’s KLEE-AM on January 31st, 1948, Houston’s fourth FM station, KXYZ-FM, slipped on the air the next day, a Sunday, at 9am. The schedule was to be 9am to 5pm Sundays and 7am to 3pm weekdays according to an ad. The station operated at 96.5 megacycles, FM channnel 243. Two days later, however, a story in the Chronicle reported the station was simulcasting KXYZ-AM from 6:45am to 11pm.

KXYZ-FM was to last 5 and a half years before shutting down for just a little over 8 years.

Tne next FM to make it on the air in the area was the first in the market outside of Houston. KREL-FM, 92.1 megacycles, signed on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1949, at 6:30am. The inaugural broadcast was a simulcast with KREL-AM, 1360 kc, of the sunrise services from Memorial Stadium in Baytown. The permit had been granted to Tri-Cities Broadcasting on April 4, 1947 and the 230' antenna had been put in place in 1947 on one of the towers erected for KREL-AM on Decker Drive. The range of the station was estimated to be 50 miles and it was on the air daily from 3pm to 11pm. The format included popular music plus some of the more popular serious music selections. Ads for the station in the Daily Sun said that FM stood for ‘Far More Listening Pleasure.’ Within a couple of years the broadcast day was expanded from 1pm to 12 Midnight, then further expanded to simulcast all day the programming of KREL-AM. This continued for 4 and a half years. The last day of KREL-FM apparently was November 30, 1953; up until that time, daily listings in the Baytown Sun continued to show the AM and FM simulcasting. But on December 1, the listings for KREL-AM appeared in an ad touting new management, new programming policies, and new personalities. I never found a story explaining what had happened but apparently there had been a change of ownership and the FM was shut down. Listings for the FM stopped appearing. (Note: information supplied by Chris Huff from another researcher indicates KREL-FM was not deleted from the FCC file until 1958).

The reports in the Houston papers of FCC actions concerning Houston radio stations seem to have been published on a space-available basis. Sometimes they were very brief, sometimes quite extensive including news of goings on in other cities such as Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. In addition to all of the above, Chris Huff has shared a record, found by another researcher in either the FCC database or Broadcasting Magazine, of yet another FM authorized for Houston, KHCO-FM, to operate on 106.1 megacycles, sometime in 1948-49, licensed to Earl C. Hankamer This permit was never activated and I have come across nothing about it in my research.

There was also an early FM in Galveston, KLUF-FM, which appeared in some White's logs.  In a story January 8, 1949, in the Galveston Daily News, owner George Roy Clough said the station should be on the air in 30 days.  A new tower was being built in the 6100 block of Broadway, north of the existing KLUF tower, with a height of 222'.  Both AM and FM would operate from the tower with the FM operating with 9600 watts which Clough said should give a range of 40-60 miles.  The earliest schedule I have found in the paper was on November 11, 1949, while the latest was December 20, 1950.  Both KLUF and KLUF-FM were sponsors of an ad in the August 19, 1949, issue of the paper congratulating the local head of Interstate Theaters on his 20 years of tenure.  All of the schedules I examined except 2 showed a simulcast of KLUF-AM from early or mid-afternoon until 10 or 11 pm.  One schedule showed a baseball game from LBS, an afternoon game, followed by a scoreboard program and then a simulcast with AM; the other appeared to show independent programming for about 5 hours one afternoon before picking up the AM.  Those two were certainly the exceptions of all the printed schedules I came across. 

According to the listings in White's, the station operrated from the Winter of 1949 to the Winter of 1954 on 98.7 mc with 8 kw.

Edited 2/11/2014 to add more details about KLUF-FM.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Search - The first FMs in Texas


Chris Huff of the DFW Radio Archives is compiling a list of the earliest FM stations in Texas. I have shared with him what I have on the Houston FMs and this is the list he has now:

1. KTHT-FM Houston 8/22/46
2. KERA-FM Dallas 10/5/46
3. KTRN Wichita Falls 12/23/46
4. KPRC-FM Houston 12/24/46
5. KISS-FM San Antonio Dec. 1946?
6. KYFM San Antonio Jan. 1947?
6. WOAI-FM San Antonio Jan. 1947?
6. KCMC-FM Texarkana Jan. 1947?
9. KIXL-FM Dallas 6/8/47
10. KTRH-FM Houston 6/30/47

Actually Chris has a more extensive list but these are the earliest ones. The question marks indicate stations that were reported on the air by January 20, 1947, but for which no specific dates have been determined.

So I'm sending out a request if anyone comes across this blog who has any information to share on any of these or other early FMs. Some information can be gleaned from Broadcasting Magazine and the FCC data base but that leave open the question of whether the station ever made it on the air.

If you have any information - permit dates, actual air dates, how long it lasted or what it is now - please post in the comments section, e-mail me, or e-mail Chris at the DFW Radio Archives listed in the Other Cities Histories under Radio History Links on the sidebar.


EDIT: Thanks to Chris Huff for putting his list up. Here's a direct link.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

KTRH Photo

Chad Lassiter, first all-night talk show host on KTRH when the station went all talk. Photo courtesy of Sam Lester, long-time transmitter engineer at KTRH at the facility on FM 565, northeast of Baytown. A full gallery of Sam's pictures of the facility, in use from the early 1940s to the early 1980s, will be posted soon.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

FM Chronology Part 3 - KPRC-FM

The Houston Post reported on October 1, 1946, that Harris County Broadcasters, owners of KXYZ, had been granted a conditional construction permit for a Class B FM station on the previous day, subject to final FCC approval of engineering conditions. On December 2nd, the same day KTHT-FM changed call letters and increased program hours and power, the Chronicle reported the FCC had issued a Construction Permit for KXYZ-FM. apparently the final permit. The story said the station would probably be on ‘early next year’ on the frequency of 96.3 mc but that was perhaps a typo; the station was to operate on 96.5 and didn’t get on the air for fourteen months.

On November 28, the Chronicle reported that Tri-Cities Broadcasting had applied for an FM for the Tri-Cities area; this was the group headed by Goose Creek Sun publisher Robert Matherne. It was also reported the FCC had as yet taken no action on the group’s application for an AM. It was to take two and a half years for this FM to get on the air.

Houston’s second FM, KPRC-FM, began broadcasting on December 24, 1946, Christmas Eve, at 3pm, with a formal dedication ceremony at 5:45. That ceremony echoed in several ways the launch of KPRC-AM 21 and a half years earlier. Alfred P. Daniel was again the first announcer on the air and master of ceremonies of the dedication. Governor William P. Hobby, who had been President of the Post-Dispatch in 1925 and was now owner of the newspaper, was also on hand, as was Houston mayor-elect Oscar F. Holcombe, who had been mayor in 1925 and had retired from public office but had come out of retirement and won another term as mayor that fall.

The plan was for all programming on KPRC-FM to be live, no transcriptions were to be used. However, repeat broadcasts of programs were to be a regular feature. The first evening’s broadcast included a performance of Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ at 7pm which was to be aired again on Christmas Day. It is not clear if they were going to allow themselves to transcribe a performance like that for later re-broadcast or if it was to be performed live two times.

Originally the station operated at 99.7 megacycles, FM Channel 259, but it moved to 102.9 megacycles the last weekend of October, 1947. The permit was for 195,000 watts. Studios were located in the Lamar Hotel at Main and Walker where KPRC-AM had been situated since the early 1930s. The transmitter was on the City National Bank Building at 921 Main, on the northeast corner of Main and McKinney. Studios may have later been located on the 23rd floor of that building.

The Post started printing a daily schedule for KPRC-FM programming in a couple of days and on January 9, 1947, also started printing a daily schedule of KOPY-FM programming.

In the late 1940s and 1950, radio listings indicted KPRC-FM was the only Houston FM not simply simulcasting it’s AM sister station.

KPRC-FM was sold in 1958 and the call letters changed to KHGM-FM and then in 1959 it was moved to 99.1 mc and in 1961 the call letters changed to KODA-FM.

A list of FM stations on the air as of January 20, 1947, from Broadcasting-Telecasting magazine showed the following in Texas, all of which must have signed on in late 1946 or very early 1947:

KERA A. H. Belo Corp. (WFAA), Dallas 94.3
KOPY Texas Star B/c Co. (KTHT), Houston 98.5
KPRC-FM Houston Printing Corp. (KPRC), Houston 99.7
KISS Walmac Co. (KMAC), San Antonio 100.1
KYFM Express Pub. Co., San Antonio 101.5
WOAI-FM Southland Industries (WOAI), San Antonio 102.3
KCMC-FM KCMC Inc. (KCMC), Texarkana 92.5
KTRN Times Pub. Co. of Wichita Falls, Wichita Falls 97.7

The Wichita Falls station had received a CP as of June, 1946, but that sort of information for the others is not available on line.

In the 1940 Census, Houston had ranked as the 21st largest city in the nation. By 1946, it was estimated to have risen to #17 and by the 1950 Census it would be the 14th largest. At the start of 1947 there were just six radio stations on the air here, 4 AM and 2 FM. Over the next 2 years, however, 4 more AMs, 2 more FMs and the first TV station would come on the air, plus a host of stations in surburban towns and cities.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

February Anniversaries

Saturday, February 1, 1947, was the first day of broadcast for KGBC, Galveston, 1540 kc. Originally a daytime station it became a full time operation within a couple of years and still operates on the same frequency and with the same call letters, making it the second oldest station in the Houston/Galveston market with the original call letters.

In the midst of the hoopla over the launch of KLEE, the news that the city had been awarded its first TV license and the start of the Rodeo for that year, Houston’s 4th FM station slipped on the air on Sunday, February 1, 1948. KXYZ-FM operated at 96.5 megacycles for 5 years before going silent for 8. Other call letters on that frequency since 1961 have included KAUM, KSRR, KNRJ, KKHT, and since 1991 KHMX-FM.

A decade later Houston’s 4th oldest FM signed on, KFMK-FM took to the airwaves on Sunday, February 2, 1958, at 5pm on 97.9 megacycles with 10,000 watts from studios in the Medical Arts Building at 1709 Dryden, between Main and Fannin. The station now on that frequency is KBXX-FM.

Broadcasting Yearbook, 1979, gave February dates for 2 suburban FM stations, February 14, 1965, for a station in Conroe on 106.9 MHz. The call letters in 1979 were KMCV-FM but I think the original calls were KNRO-FM. The station now on that frequency is KHPT-FM. February 11, 1968 was given for KUFO-FM, Galveston, 106.5 MHz. The station on that frequency now is KOVE-FM.

February 18, 1948, was the date of the big flip on 1230 kc and the launch of KTHT on its new frequency of 790 kc. KTHT was allowed to simulcast on both frequencies for 24 hours before KNUZ took to the airwaves on 1230.

February 20, 1948, brought the launch of KULP, El Campo, 1390 kc. The station is still on the air with the original calls from what is probably the original studios in downtown El Campo and calls itself The Texas Original.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Biff Collie, Texas Bill Strength, and other DJs

Here’s a brief biography of Biff Collie on-line.

In addition to the labels mentioned, Collie recorded first on Macy’s records in Houston and also later for Specialty. His only charted hit was as Billy Bob Bowman in 1972 on United Artists. He also was a morning man on KLEE.

The bio makes the claim that Collie was the the first Country DJ in Houston but I’m not sure that’s valid. Texas Bill Strength was a 16 year old teen in 1944 when he won a talent contest in Houston and was offered a job by KTHT, which may have been sponsoring the contest. Strength worked for KTHT for a couple of years but I don’t know for sure that he was a DJ or that he played country music, but if so, he certainly predates Biff Collie. He went on to a 25 year career in radio and recording.

Biff Collie’s first wife was the former Mrs. Floyd Tillman and his second wife later married Willie Nelson.

The bio indicates he stayed at KFOX, Long Beach, until 1969 so he apparently never returned to Houston to work at KXYZ as was suggested in the query.

The Country Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame has listings for 6 DJs who worked in Houston radio and are in the Hall. On the link you’ll have to click on the Hall of Fame on the side bar - the site does not allow direct links to individual pages.

Houston DJs on the site include Biff Collie, 1978, Texas Bill Strength, 1990, Smokey Stover, 2000, Dr. Bruce Nelson, 2004, Arch Yancey, 2006, and Joe Ladd, 2007.

Note the CRB article on Texas Bill Strength gets the calls of both KTHT and KATL wrong. According to the article in the Encyclopedia of Country Music compiled by the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame he started recording for Houston’s Cireco label and by 1949 was recording for Four Star Records then later for Coral and Capitol. While working at KWEM in West Memphis in 1954-55 he befriended a young Elvis Presley. He also later worked at KFOX in Long Beach, where Biff Collie worked, and recorded for Sun. His best know hit was Hillbilly Hades, a 1967 parody on Starday.

At one time on there was a picture on-line of Texas Bill Strength at the KTHT control board; I think that was on the CRB site but it’s not there now. That might have been taken ca. 1944-45 when he worked there although as I remember it he didn’t look to be just 16 or 17.

Arch Yancey arrived at KNUZ in January, 1958, from Memphis to do 1-4pm and had a long career in Houston radio as a hugely popular disc jockey. He was just inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame last year. There are pictures of Arch (who I had the pleasure of working with at KILT) and other KNUZ deejays among the Bob Bailey Collection at the University of Texas linked to in the External Galleries section on the sidebar.

The ad for Collie’s Coffee Club above comes from the archives of the Houston Chronicle at the Houston Public Library for October, 1950.