Sunday, March 9, 2008

The 1940s - Part 5 - KATL

The next AM station to come on the air in Houston was KATL, licensed to Texas Broadcasters and operating at 1590 kc with 1000 watts. The owners were William Harry Talbot of Houston and Fred Weber and E.A. Stephens of New Orleans, the latter two both associated with WDSU. Stephens was also an auto dealer in New Orleans and Weber had been General Manager of the Mutual Broadcasting System. King Robinson, Chief Engineer at KTRH, came over to serve as General Manager; William S. Newkirk ‘well-known announcer’ was program director. The station had been applied for in March and approved on July 20, 1946. It was scheduled to launch April 1, 1947, but was delayed, ironically, by engineering problems.

On the day KATL was supposed to launch the Chronicle carried a story about the city’s 6th radio station receiving approval - Veterans Broadcasting had received a permit to move onto the 1230 frequency when it was vacated by KTHT but that was not to be possible for months to come. The story also mentioned KATL expected to be on the air within 15 days. On the 13th of April the Chronicle ran yet another story about KATL, saying it would be on the air ‘this week’ and detailed the staff and programming. There was still a lot of concern about jobs for returning veterans and PD Newkirk had taken pains to make sure his entire staff was made up of veterans. Newkirk had served in the Army in the Pacific for three years. Johnny Edwards had been a navigator on a B-17. Larry Blieden served in the Marine Corps while John Wagner was with the First Armored Division and Sid Gervais was a radio technician in the Navy. Houston native Blieden (pronounced blee-din) later became known as actor Larry Blyden. Edwards, who used the nickname ‘the Old Redhead’ even very early in his career, was to spend many years in Houston radio including stints at KXYZ, KTHT and KPRC. This webmaster remembers Johnny Edwards on KPRC as having one of the most beautiful voices I ever heard in Houston radio.

The program staff was said to be taking a survey of Houstonians to determine what they wanted to hear on the radio and the programming would be guided by that survey. The station would operate 24 hours a day.

KATL finally hit the airwaves at 6pm, Monday, May 12, 1947, somewhat surreptitiously after all the stories weeks earlier. It went on the air by special authority, awaiting final FCC approval. The first evening’s programming included play-by-play of the Houston Buffs game that night with Fort Worth - a shutout by pitcher Al Papai - and the station quickly affiliated with Gordon McLendon’s Liberty Broadcasting System which offered mainly sports programming. In addition to sports, the station featured mostly Country music.

Studios were originally located on the mezzanine level of the State National Bank building at 412 Main. The transmitter and towers were on Post Oak Road near the Hempstead Highway.

The first mention of the new station in the Post occurred the next morning in a story in the Sports section which advised Buffs fans that their team had returned to the airwaves for the first time since 1938 the previous evening. Peerless Beer also ran an ad telling fans to tune in to the broadcasts, which were to be sponsored by Peerless, a brew from Jax.

The Chronicle gave the station more space in a news story in its Tuesday, May 13 edition and both papers added KATL to their daily printed radio schedules on Wednesday, May 14, 1947.

In the mid 1950s KATL became Houston’s second station programmed for Black listeners and changed call letters to KYOK. Presently the station on 1590 khz is KMIC, owned by Disney.

In less than 12 months, three more AM stations would sign on in Houston, plus several more in suburban communities, and the first four FMs would all be on the air. The competition for listeners and advertising dollars was going to get intense.

Note: Much of this article was previously published on this blog as an anniversary notice, "60 Years on 1590."


Krusty K. said...

My Dad, Ed Martin (J. Edward Martin) was the first Chief Engineer for KATL. He was a Navy Veteran. At that time, all radio transmitters had to have an engineer on duty at all times the station was on the air, so my Dad moved our family into cramped quarters at the end of the metal Quonset hut that housed the transmitters (my Dad, my Mom, myself (I was 5 years old) and my one year old sister.

I still have lots of interesting memories from that time. We were pretty much out there on North Post Oak by ourselves - the nearest neighbor was the St Joseph Paper Company, a short way down and across the road.Living in a radio transmitter building wasn't bad, but I think I had all of the Hadacol radio ads memorized at an early age, as they were a major advertiser on KATL.

When my brother was born a couple of years later, my Dad built a frame house at the end of the Quonset hut that added a few rooms. I don't remember when we moved out to a new home further out in Spring Branch, but that would have been maybe 1953. That may have been when the station was sold, or, perhaps, when my Dad became Chief Engineer for KNUZ in Houston.

All, though, great memories!

Bruce said...

Fantastic Krusty! I appreciate your comments very much. If you think of any thing else or come across some pictures of interest, please get in touch.