Friday, November 21, 2008

KILT Historical Photos

One of the biggest stories in Houston radio in the 1950s was the Top 40 war between KILT and KNUZ. Actually, the war was over pretty fast. Gordon McLendon took over KLBS in May of 1957 and flipped the call letters to KILT on May 14th, launching a whole new air staff and his highly successful Top 40 format from KLIF, Dallas, and KTSA, San Antonio. According to Ronald Garay’s Gordon McLendon, The Maverick of Radio, within one month, by June, 15, 1957, all three rating services - Hooper, Trendex and Pulse - showed KILT had moved from last to first place in the Houston market. Garay says the Top 40 format worked better on KILT than it had on KLIF and Don Keyes once wrote that McLendon basically made no mistakes in his second foray into Houston.

As was typical of McLendon stations there were constant, attention getting promotions. There was the Treasure Hunt which, as it had in Dallas, led to people digging on private property. Houston listeners also heard the ‘Oops, sorry’ apology for some obscenities supposedly aired accidentally on the station during live coverage of a news event.

But apparently the most attention getting promotion, even garnering national news notice, was the flagpole sitter, who was none other than program director and afternoon drive DJ Don Keyes. Keyes was to work for McLendon for years, serving as National Program Director of the McLendon group after graduating from KILT. Soon after taking over KILT, McLendon had ordered Keyes up on a flagpole positioned in the parking lot of the new Gulfgate Mall which also happened to be situated next to the first freeway in Houston, the Gulf Freeway, now I-45 South. Keyes was to stay there until KILT beat KNUZ.

Google is in the process of uploading the photographic archives of Life Magazine, about 10 million photos, and I have discovered a couple of photos of KILT in June, 1957, one of Keyes, clad in a kilt, scaling the tower.

Somewhere I have read Keyes retelling of the story of this promotion but I cannot find it now. Keyes died in 2006 but shortly before he had posted some memoirs on line and I thought that was where I read it but apparently not.

Nevertheless Keyes' memoir is a great read.

Another photo from the Life collection shows new KILT morning DJ Elliot Field in the studio, flanked by a horse. According to the caption, Field had offered a pair of shoe laces in trade for anything of value and the winning offer was that 4 year old mare.

Note the plaid tie and plaid sport coat. I believe those are electrical transcription devices in the background. This photo will be of special interest to KILT alumnae. Unless I’m mistaken, that board was was still in use at the KILT studio at 500 Lovett Blvd, which McLendon built, up until the station moved to Greenway Plaza in 1995. It was in the News Production studio which may have been the original air studio. I wouldn’t be surprised if that Ampex in the background was still in use, too. I don’t know what McLendon’s policies were regarding equipment but LIN Broadcasting, which owned KILT when I went to work for it in 1983, did not believe in spending money for new equipment (or salaries); the KILT engineering staff did an amazing job of keeping ancient equipment working.

The Google Life Magazine Photo Archives

Edited 5/3/2014 to add:  Galvestonian Bill Cherry's feature story that brings up the flagpole sitting incident.


Anonymous said...

That’s Joske’s Department store in the background. My sister and I used to fight over the radio when we were young. She would put on KNUZ and I would come by when she wasn’t around and put on KILT. Of course, my Mother took control and listened to Beautiful KXYZ 1320. She put the competition to an end. Ironically, years later I would find myself on the air 1st on KNUZ in 1975 and in November 1984 at KILT. By the time I got to both stations they had become country stations.

greatsally06 said...

I went to work at KILT, downtown in the Milby Hotel (directly across from the Rice Hotel) in June of 1958. We moved to 500 Lovett Blvd the following spring. Somewhere (!) I have an invitation to the grand opening which has Beverly Bales Weaver and me, in Kilts, out by the fish pond. Actually she was just Beverly Bales then but when I returned to Houston after being a Navy wife and went back to work, then she was Beverly Weaver, married to Bill, the first General Manager for KILT. It was he who worked the deal to bring the Beatles to the Coliseum.

Bruce said...

Thanks Sarah,

Great to hear from you.

Would love to see that invitation.


El Sugar said...

Does anyone remember a canteen held in Houston in the late 50's. I was around 7 or 8 at the time but I remember it being called something like (spelling will be crazy but sounds like...) sibtanteen canteen? There were several black acts performing. The group that sang "Charlie Brown", and another group with a female lead singer along with many others. I am trying to put this memory together. A night to remember for me. Big event at the time.

Bruce said...

I think you're probably referring to the Civitan Club Teen Canteens. You can read about the organization in Wikipedia and some local memories in this thread;

El Sugar said...

Thanks Bruce. That is it.