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.


Anonymous said...

I worked at KFMK in the mid-70s. At the Medical Towers the studio and transmitter were co-located. RF energy permeated the studio. The station had converted from progressive rock to an amateurish and dreary sectarian format. Probably the only fun part of the job, besides signing the station off the air, was climbing a staircase nightly to pop open a trapdoor and staring into the Houston sky (to visually inspect the tower lights).

Charlie Young said...

I was working in the studio at the top of the Medical Arts Building during a hurricane in 1960. The whole building was swaying back and forth. Our offices then were on the fifth floor. If I remember correctly, the window next to the equipment where we recorded commercials was knocked out. The owners of the station were brothers who operated a music store. The last time I visited, the business offices were upstairs on the same floor as the broadcasting studio. I believe we were among the first to broadcast in multi-plex stereo. I'm not sure whether my air name was Charles Young or Spike Young. Across town, Gordon McClendon's station, KILT employed Tom Beck. Sweet memories.

Unknown said...

Regarding KRBE, I am a son of Roland Baker. There was never a "Roland Baker Enterprises". The reference "Key to Radio Broadcasting Excellence" is certainly more correct. However, there had been a family joke that the call sign referred to "Roland Baker Edith" because Edith was my mother's name. A memorable moment of mine was driving up to the station on Hermann Drive just in time to see the radio tower twist and crash to the pavement below the 14 story building. My father had stopped the car and was getting out of the car at the exact moment. He never saw the event! My father and mother went on to acquire KQQK-FM 106.5 in the 80's and make it into the powerhouse bi-lingual Tejano station which set the standard for that format nationwide.

Bruce said...

Thanks for the clarification on the name and the additional facts.

Woody Roberts said...

I did a stint as the morning DJ at KHUL FM 95.7 stereo and it was an excellent 24 hr jazz station. Everyone was amazed when my M-F 6-10 a.m. program showed up on a Pulse, it was an FM first.

The studio on the top floor of Park Towers was magnificent with a panoramic window view of downtown Houston.

One of my off-air jobs was editing the cuss words out of a comedian's routine so I could use in the 5 minute Comedy Corner features which ran daily :-)

The station logo for KHUL ("cool") Jazz was a french horn with a rose growing out of it, the window stickers printed on transparent film were popular. DJ staff and PD lots of fun and talented, station manager was a woman.

Anonymous said...

I listened to the first day of FM broadcasting on KRBE, with Ellis Gilbert. Ellis knew his music and knew his artists. In the very early days of stereo ( @1955), KTRH and KTRH FM, as well as KPRC and KPRC FM, weekly stereo programs of about one hour were presented. One channel, left or right, was AM, and the other was the FM channel. The programs all used pre-recorded tapes, mostly by RCA. Gaite Parisenne with the Boston Pops and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1, with Gilels and Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were frequently played. These were pioneer broadcasts.