Thursday, October 29, 2009

The 1960s - KIKK, Talk Radio, KODA, KENR

Most of the new station activity in Houston in the 1960s would take place on the FM dial; it was to be as active an era on FM as the 1920s or 1940s had been on AM. By mid-October, 1960, there were already two new FMs on the air as KARO-FM took to the air at 94.1 megacycles the weekend of the 15th and 16th. There will be more about this in the FM Chronology. Normally the launch of a new station would have had the radio industry buzzing but not only was there little publicity regarding the launch of KARO, industry types and many others were busy talking that weekend about the news of a Vice Squad raid at the offices of KILT. It was front page news in the Chronicle on the 15th with a follow-up story on Sunday. It seems the HPD Vice Squad had gotten a tip there was an office pool at KILT and, equipped with a betting slip provided by the anonymous tipster and a marked $1 bill, moved in on Friday afternoon. An undercover officer entered the station at 500 Lovett Blvd. and said he was there to place a bet. The slip and money were taken by a young copy writer, whose name is omitted here to protect the innocent. The officer then went back outside and motioned to the uniformed officers to move in. The copy writer was promptly arrested and just as promptly fainted.

The problem seemed to be that bets had been taken from persons outside the employ of KILT; one account alleged an employee of Air Call, which was located across the lobby from the KILT offices and I believe co-owned, had been allowed to place a bet the previous week and the young woman said she thought the man was an employee of one of the other companies in the building; she also had reportedly commented after the undercover officer left that she didn’t think they should be taking bets from non-employees. Felony bookmaking charges were filed; the $1000 bond was posted by the station.

Station Manager Bill Weaver was indignant. The next day Mayor Lewis Cutrer called Weaver to apologize for the raid and both men agreed the Vice Squad should have better things to do, but the Vice Squad officer who set up the raid, Capt. H. L. Ellisor, and the Police Chief both backed the action. The total netted in the raid was 11 betting slips and $9.00 (two of the bettors had not anted up). Weaver observed the Vice Squad must have been very busy the previous week during the World Series as there had been rumors of $1000 betting pools in town; Ellisor said no raids had taken place because no complaints had been filed. Weaver also said he had been told there was a betting pool at HPD the previous week.

In mid-December the Chronicle’s Open Mike column published an article headed ‘Dial a Station and Talk, Talk, Talk’ noting a growing trend of telephone talk shows on the radio. KXYZ had launched an evening program called Expressions a few months earlier and was so pleased with the results, plans were already being made to add more talk shows after the Christmas season, according to GM Cal Perley, but this did not come to pass. A change of ownership in a few months led to cancellation of Expressions and dismissal of some employees; the show would resurface later on KFMK-FM.

KTRH had noted the trend and launched a call-in program called ‘At Your Service’ which took calls on a wide range of topics. The Chronicle article opined that eventually talk, talk, talk might become so pervasive there’d be little room for rock ‘n roll on the radio. It took the rise of FM radio and a couple of other factors but that prediction, which must have seemed highly unlikely at the time, eventually came true.

Whether Expressions was the first listener participation talk show in Houston is not known and the Chronicle did not mention any other local stations that had latched on to the trend.

In the same column the Chronicle reported that KNUZ program director Ken Grant was talking about an unusual success story for that time of year, an album doing a brisk business and drawing lots of listener calls that had nothing to do with Christmas. The Humorous World of Justin Wilson had been aired on both KNUZ and sister station KQUE-FM and there were reports it was breaking sales records.

On March 19, 1961, formal transfer of ownership of KTHT to Winston-Salem Broadcasting from Texas Radio was completed. General Manager Sam Bennett resigned and the new owners unveiled a new moniker for the station, Red Carpet Radio. Within a few months the station would become known as Demand Radio 79.

On May 1, 1961 KRCT changed call letters to KIKK, again proclaiming the switch in a big ad in the Chronicle. A story in the TV section of the Chronicle the previous day helpfully noted the DJs would refer to the station as ‘kick,’ ‘for kicks.’ Owner Leroy Gloger told the Chronicle reporter the change came about because research had shown call letter confusion among listeners. By that time, the station had studios in the Montague Hotel at 804 Fannin at Rusk as well as in Pasadena.

According to Roy Lemons, who worked for KIKK during most of the 1960s as Sales Manager, the KIKK call letters were the idea of a San Antonio country broadcaster A.V. 'Bam' Bamford, who owned KBER in San Antonio. Bamford knew that the calls had been dropped by a California station. He also came up with the "boots" symbol over a drink at the Montague. The logo was designed by Don Newcomer, a Heights resident who charged $250 for the soon-to-be-famous KIKK design.

This ad in May, 1961, just used block lettering for the call letters; it is not known yet just when the familiar boots came to be used for the ‘K’s.

This image appeared in the Sam Houston High School yearbook for 1963 and is apparently of the side of the KIKK studio building on E. Sterling.  At the left end of the fence, note the partially obscured sign for the station hanging on the front of the building.  According to other information found online the building also housed a recording studio, perhaps after KIKK moved out.

This business card type ad appeared in the Pasadena High School yearbook for 1964.

I am grateful to Tori Mask of the South Belt Houston Digital History Archive who found these images and allowed me to use them.

In the first week of June the FCC approved the transfer of KXYZ from NAFI Corp. of Los Angeles to Public Radio Corporation of Houston. The new owners consisted of Lester and Max Kamin of Houston and Morris Kamin of Victoria; they also owned stations in Tulsa and Kansas City. Lester Kamin had been involved in advertising and radio since at least the 1940s when he was a disc jockey in an era when disc jockeys were often well known people who hosted shows spinning records in addition to their other jobs. Sam Bennett, formerly of KTHT, came aboard as GM and Milt Willis, PD of KTHT, came aboard as the new Program Director.

Within a few days, Bill Roberts’ column in the Post announced that Cal Perley and Ken Collins had departed KXYZ. They had been closely associated with the Expressions program and announced they were already talking to KFMK about re-launching the program there.

 July 31, 1961 saw the beginning of KODA-AM at 1010 kc, a daytimer and the first new Houston AM radio station in more than a decade, joining its sister station KODA-FM which had taken over KPRC-FM in 1958 as KHGM-FM and recently changed call letters to KODA-FM. KODA-AM brought the ABC Radio Network back to Houston; ABC had been dropped by KXYZ several years earlier and carried for a while by KWBA, Baytown. The station featured ‘good music’ news, sports and a traffic helicopter, the KodaBird. KODA-AM and FM were owned by Paul Taft of Taft Broadcasting who originally had been General Manager of KGUL-TV, Channel 11, Galveston in 1953. Taft also owned the Muzak franchise for Houston. Westinghouse Broadcasting, Group W, bought KODA-AM and FM in 1978 and quickly spun off KODA-AM which changed call letters to KLAT, La Tremenda, obtained permission to become a 24 hour operation, and still operates on 1010. The KLAT calls went into use on August 29, 1979.

The picture above shows the new building at 4810 San Felipe which housed the KODA-AM and FM operations.   Roche Bobois now occupies the building.  The building in back, added sometime after 1961, housed Taft's non-broadcast businesses.

KANI, Wharton, signed on June 17, 1962, at 1500 kc and those calls are still in use.

At the end of June, 1967, LIN Broadcasting of Nashville purchased KILT and KOST-FM from Gordon McLendon for $15 Million dollars. McLendon said he had plans to purchase a UHF station in the market when one became available.

January 17, 1968, KENR, ‘Keener,’ became only the second new AM signal in the market in the decade at 1070 kc. Originally a daytime only station, KENR expanded to 24 hour a day operation within a couple of years. The format was country.

Bill Edwards of Saginaw, MI, was the owner and he told Chronicle TV/Radio reporter Ann Hodges the station was the culmination of a nine year dream. Edwards, who had apparently never even been to Houston before his permit was granted, said nonetheless he had been fascinated by Houston for years and considered it the ‘most exciting and most profitable of major radio markets’ and was proud of his engineers for finding a way to squeeze the station in on the crowded dial. Jack Fiedler of WNUS, Chicago, was to be the first General Manager. Edwards also owned WKNX-AM/TV in Saginaw.

Although the station had a good run as a country station, it eventually left that field to KILT-AM/FM and KIKK-AM/FM. The station tried country gold and then aired a radio magazine format for a while. For a while it was known as KRBE-AM and carried classic rock and simulcast KRBE-FM. The call letters in use on 1070 now are KNTH; it is a newstalk station.

Brief Postscript on the 1970s

In 1974, KEYH, started broadcasting at 850 kc; originally a news station it’s now a Spanish station, still operating with the same call letters. Also that year, KACO, Bellville, signed on at 1090 kc. The station on that frequency now uses the old Houston call letters KNUZ and is a Hispanic religious station.

To be Continued.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

FM Chronology - The 1950s - Part 2 - KFMK-FM, KHGM-FM, KHUL-FM, KRBE-FM and a Gordon McLendon permit

It was not until 1958 that there were any further changes on the FM dial in Houston. A list from ‘North American Radio and TV Station Listings’ by Vane A. Jones for that year has four FMs again listed for Houston: KFMK, 97.9; KPRC-FM, 102.9; KTRH-FM, 101.1, and KUHF, 91.3 KFMK-FM was the first commercial FM on the air in Houston without a sister AM. The station was apparently ready to go on the air in mid-January, 1958 but had to await regulatory approval and finally got on the air Sunday, February 2nd at 5pm. The station operated with 10,000 watts from the Medical Towers Building at 1709 Dryden. The newspaper listings showed the frequency just as 98 mc but later as 97.9; the format was popular music. Bob Gardner, who had previously worked at KLBS before it was taken over by McLendon and in Beaumont radio and at KTRK-TV, was the General Manager.

Interest in FM broadcasting was beginning to pick up around the country and before the year was over there were more developments on the FM dial in Houston. In November of 1958, Paul Taft purchased KPRC-FM and changed the call letters to KHGM-FM which stood for ‘Home of Good Music’ or ‘Houston’s Good Music.’ The call letter switch took place at 1pm on Sunday, the 9th of November. Taft had resigned as General Manager of KGUL-TV, channel 11, earlier in the year and formed Taft Broadcasting.

Just before the switchover, KPRC-FM had been operating only from 6pm to 11pm daily and the new ownership meant an expansion of broadcast hours. KTRH-FM was on from 1pm to 12 Mid, KFMK-FM from 8am 12 Mid and KUHF-FM from 7am to 9:30pm.

On April 26th of the following year, KHGM-FM moved to 99.1 mc, signing on at 12 Noon after being off the air for 24 hours to complete the changeover of equipment. The station boasted 49,000 watts and claimed to be the most powerful FM in Houston. This apparently coincided with a move to a new facility at 4810 San Felipe on the city’s far west side. Ads highlighted the station was to be a showcase of ‘tasteful music,’ 17 hours a day with the library having been selected as a result of a survey of 2000 homes. The regular broadcast day was to start at 7am.

On July 1, 1961, the call letters of KHGM-FM were changed to KODA-FM to match an AM sister station. KODA-FM is still on the air today on 99.1 MHz and as the heir to KPRC-FM is believed to be the oldest FM in Houston and either the first or second oldest FM in Texas, depending on whether KPRC-FM was on the air continuously in the 1950s. KODA-FM was later to claim to be only the second station in the nation to broadcast full-time in stereo. Meanwhile the KHGM-FM call letters were later used on a station on 95.1 mc in the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange area.

Taft Broadcasting was also to operate the Muzak franchise for Houston in addition to an AM station, KODA-AM, and was also involved with the first sound system at the Astrodome and as a contractor for NASA. Taft Broadcasting LLC is still in business, run by Paul Taft’s son, Philip, although they have not owned any broadcast properties in Houston since 1978.

At least two more and possibly three new FMs started broadcasting before the end of the decade. A story in the Chronicle in eary September said KHUL-FM would be on the air on September 22 but it was not until 7am on October 4, 1959, that the station started broadcasting on 95.7 mc. The call letters of this station were pronounced ‘cool’ and initially it operated 24 hours a day. Studios were located on the 15th floor of the Park Towers, a high rise apartment building at 1700 Holcombe Blvd. at Braeswood which is no longer standing. T. A. Robinson, Jr., President and owner, said the station would program ‘tasteful arrangements’ of music by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Vernon Duke, James Van Heusen, Lerner and Lowe and Duke Ellington.

KHUL has been remembered fondly as a jazz station by many but that can not be confirmed from the newspaper accounts and early listings; it may have evolved into a jazz station later. An ad in 1963 touted ‘All Night Jazz’ and ‘Swinging Standards all day and evening.” An ad for the station in 1964 mentioned ‘Jazz after Midnight’ in addition to other special programs and did not claim it was a full time Jazz station.

A typical program schedule in the papers in late 1959 showed KHUL Start at 6am, KHUL, Calm and Collected at 12:05pm, KHUL and Refreshing at 3:05pm, KHUL of the Evening at 6pm and KHUL All Night at 12M with news 4 times a day. Those program titles could refer to easy listening programming.

The twenty-four hour a day broadcast schedule did not last at KHUL-FM. An ad for the station in early 1962 said KHUL ‘Stays up til 2am, Friday Saturday and Sunday, Midnight Monday thru Thursday’ and could be found ‘Just Under 96 on Your Dial,’ for ‘Good Music and News.’

The station changed hands and call letters in the mid to late 60s becoming KIKK-FM and operating as a country station for more than three decades before becoming a smooth jazz station, KHJZ-FM, The Wave, in 2001. It is now Hot Hits 95-7 (KKHH).

On the same day the paper announced KHUL’s impending launch it also noted KUHF-FM was installing the first stereo control room in the city and KHGM-FM had published a program guide.

At 6pm on November 8, 1959, KRBE-FM came on the air at 104.1mc. This was originally a full-time classical music station with studios in the 1400 Hermann Drive high rise apartment building across from the Rose Garden in Hermann Park. Some have asserted the calls were because the station was located on Kirby drive just north of US 59 but the station did not move there for almost a decade. Ads appearing in the papers the day the station launched indicated the call letters stood for ‘The Key to Radio Broadcasting Excellence” but it has also been noted the calls happened to be the initials of the owner’s business, Roland Baker Enterprises.

Ellis W. Gilbert was the President and General Manager and also had an air shift. Gilbert had just recently resigned as manager of KTRH-FM, which also scheduled a lot of classical music, and according to a story, had been known as ‘Mr. FM’ in the early 50s when he hosted ‘House of Music’ on the ‘now defunct’ KYXZ-FM. Other air personalities included Roy Landers, Eamon Grant and Eddie Bates. The station has had the same calls throughout its history.

According to the history of Dallas radio station KLIF Gordon McLendon owned an FM in Houston in 1959 with the call letters KZAP-FM but exactly how those calls figure into Houston radio history is not clear. Gordon McLendon was one of the first to recognize the value of ‘parking’ call letters that he wanted to use and that may be what happened in this case. When McLendon bought a San Francisco AM and flipped it to KABL, the previous call letters KROW were assigned to his proposed FM in Houston. Later, McLendon switched the KROW calls with his proposed calls for an FM in Dallas, KOST-FM, and that is the call the Houston FM signed on with. Just how KZAP figures into to this is not clear. The first mention of KOST-FM, 100.3 mc, is not found in radio listings until mid-1961 and when it actually first got on the air is not known. I have found only one listing in the Houston papers for a KZAP-FM, much later in the 1960s.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

FM Chronology - The 1950s - Part 1 - KUHF-FM, the end of KXYZ-FM

At the beginning of the decade of the 1950s there were four FMs on the air in Houston. The first year would see KOPY cease operations in the Spring and KUHF-FM launch before the end of the year. A list published in the Broadcasting Yearbook for 1950 shows KXYZ-FM, 96.5 mc with 15,000 watts, KTRH-FM, 101.1 mc with 33,000 watts, KPRC-FM, 102.9 mc with 57,000 watts, and KUHF-FM, at 91.3 mc, which had a Construction Permit for 9600 watts.

Both KUHT and KUHF have station histories on their websites and the story of KUHT as the first educational TV station in the nation is well known. According to the KUHF web site, that station signed on November 6, 1950, making it at least the 4th oldest FM station still on the air in Houston and the oldest one with the original call letters. There have been several hiatuses in KUHF’s history and some may have lasted as long as several months but at the present time there is no evidence the license ever lapsed.

The Chronicle took note of the launch of KUHF-FM on Sunday, November 5th, noting the station would go on the air at 91.3 megacycles for six hours a day on the 6th with the formal dedication services set for December 1. The facilities were in the tower of the new Ezekiel W. Cullen building which had just been dedicated the week before; 5 stations had provided live coverage of that dedication, a big day in the history of the University. The new station’s facilities included two studios that could hold more than 100 people each. Dr. Wilton Cook, Chairman of the Fine Arts Department, was in charge of the station. He said the plans were to use as few transcribed programs as possible, to allow radio majors at the University to get as much experience as possible and expose as much on campus talent as possible. A leased line to KTRH would make it possible for that station to air simulcasts and re-broadcasts of some KUHF programs to reach a wider audience that didn’t have an FM receiver.

I understand the staff of KUHF-FM has been researching the station’s history for the upcoming 60th anniversary in 2010; I’m hoping they will come up with an audio retrospective. The station website includes a brief chronology of important milestones in the station’s history.

Besides the 4 Houston FMs, White’s Radio Log for Winter, 1951, a national monthly publication, listed KREL-FM, Goose Creek (Baytown) at 92.1 and KLUF-FM, Galveston, at 98.7. Neither of these were to last.

For the next several years the FMs that were on the air in Houston struggled with the same problems facing FM operators across the country: few listeners and poor advertising revenues. As far as is known there were no new stations either applied for or on the air in Houston until late in the decade and as of September 10, 1953, the number of stations dwindled to just three as KXYZ-FM ceased operations. The station was to remain silent until late 1961 when it returned to the air with the same calls and frequency. Fred Nahas was President of the radio station when it ceased broadcasting; it had been programming Classical and semi-classical music. Nahas said all the staff would be devoted to putting KXYZ-TV on the air, a UHF station that they hoped to launch on Channel 29 in 1954 but never did.