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.


AB said...

Great to get the date when KRCT became KIKK. The person credited with the name was "Bam" Bamford, not Mamford. Here's more about him:

Bruce said...

Thanks again, Andrew. I'd never known the name before. I looked him up in the Encyclopedia of Country Music - he managed radio stations in the 30s, promoted big bands before switching to country, managed some early dates for Elvis. Quite a history.

Wayne Warmack said...

My name is Wayne Warmack. I now live in northwestern Arkansas, and from 1969 to the mid 1980s I was an announcer at KLEF-FM 94.5 (classical), KODA AM/FM (Beautiful Music, Paul Taft Owner, James Rhett Butler PD), and KYND-FM (Beautiful Music) At KODA I had the awesome privilege of working alongside my mentor, the great Milt Willis, whom I had grown up listening to on KXYZ-AM. Other co-workers at KODA included sportscaster Gene Arnold, commentator Fred Nahas, and announcer Bruce Williamson. Those were amazing years in my life, and the people named above left enduring impressions on me. I still consider Milt Willis particularly to have had the most elegant and persuasive radio voice I have ever heard, and I patterned my own voice inflections and delivery after Milt's for the 26 years of my radio career. I could tell many stories about my wonder-filled years in Houston radio. If anyone knows anything current about the people I named above, I would appreciate hearing from you. Email:

Bruce said...

Thanks Wayne. Note: I have corresponded with Wayne and determined that I am not the Bruce Williamson he worked with at KODA. I never knew there was another Bruce Williamson in Houston radio. Wayne is on the track of Gene Arnold but would love to hear from any of the others mentioned or anybody who worked with him, and of course, I'd like to be kept in the loop on any unearthing of long lost Houston radio personnel.

Unknown said...

I haven't seen anything about KPRC and country music in the 60s so I'd like to set the record straight.
In June 1968 KPRC hired me away from KBUY in Fort Worth and I began July 4th weekend on the 7pm-1am shift. As Charlie Brown, I was to play country music before or after the Astros baseball games. Since KIKK went off the air at sundown, there was no country music for a city of one million. There was much discussion between me and the PD Sam Sitterlee about what "country" was. I insisted on playing Hank Williams, sr, Waylon, Willie, Tammy Wynette, etc and he thought a softer side like Dean Martin. I won (but Sam was as nice a man as you'll ever meet.) After baseball season it was all country after 7pm for KPRC. Tim and Bob rode me something else. But it was all in fun and we respected each other and got along very well. I felt very included in the KPRC radio/tv "family." Later, since country on KPRC was such a success, management (The Colonel) decided to open up all night and so hired my choice, Ron Rice, also from Fort Worth.
The reaction from Houston was tremendous. I had a spot for country "heavy hitters" in VOXJOX and every week put out a "top 40 country songs" list. Things couldn't have been better.
Then, without my knowledge, KPRC decided to cut off country and go back to MOD. Ron Rice stayed and I was offered a job but decided to stay country. I went as PD to WYAM Birmingham, Alabama. Big mistake. Only 7 months later I was back in Texas on Fort Worth's WBAP which had just gone country.
I stayed with WBAP some years but returned briefly to Houston, KIKK and KYND-FM. Finally I went back to college, became a computer "scientist" and programmed computers 21 years till I retired. Ron Rice and I stay in touch to this day and I follow Facebook, KPRC former employees.
David Perkins
Fort Worth

Bruce said...

Thanks for all the history, David. I arrived in Houston in September, 1970, and was totally unaware there had been country on 950 as late as 1968.

Unknown said...

Actually, Bruce, I forgot to mention the date KPRC stopped playing country. It was January 1970. So, I guess one could stretch the facts and say KPRC played country during the 60s and 70s. LOL. Anyway, whenever we visit the Houston area, I see KPRC is totally talk (and way conservative talk, at that!) I don't understand since the large NBC radio station I was on up here in Fort Worth, WBAP, also went from number one in DFW country to maybe 8th or 9th talk just as KPRC did (we were number one in Houston in evenings...granted the Astros will get that for you, but being the only country station in Houston at the time will get great ratings, too.) I will say Bill Bailey on KIKK and Arch Yancey of KNUZ, both country of course, were so nice to me. Funny story, I don't remember the afternoon drive time jock's name on KILT but we met at a party and I told him I listened to him on the way to work at KPRC. And he says...he listened to me and my country after getting off the air! Man oh man, lots of good times. Single and on the air in the sixties couldn't be beat. And BTW that's a picture of me at the studio on Post Oak, the old one in the quanset huts.
Sincerely David Perkins

Bruce said...

Love your comment. Yeah, radio was a blast. Thanks for the additional clarifications and the id of the picture.

Anonymous said...

This is totally off but I was a kid and lived in Houston until 1971. I use to go the concerts that KILT had in the mid 60s. I am looking for posters, radio spots or anything related. I almost sure they were called "End of School" or "Back to Schoo"...I saw bands like the Byrds, 4 Seasons, The Shangra Las, etc...I can't find anything online...
Does anyone have anything on that?

Bruce said...

Use KILT in the search box or click on KILT as a label at the bottom of a post to pull up a list of all KILT material on the blog including a link to a flyer for a 1966 Hootenanny sponsored by KILT.

Unknown said...

I recently read your comments on this blog and thought I might have some history that coincides with at least part of your time frame at KODA. I worked for Taft Broadcasting Company (KODA) in the mid sixties in the Systems group. We installed sound systems in places such as the Astrodome, Intercontinental Airport in addition to all the Muzak and sound systems in many buildings in a growing Houston. I was a frustrated would-be DJ so I spent a lot of my free time up front in the studios.
As a kid in my hometown, I had built and modified a small Lafayette AM transmitter (5 mile range). I'd play my favorite records and we would ride around town and listen to them. I had a mike and even gave weather bulletins (i.e. There will be No weather in Chesterville today), and told occasional jokes. My buddies would always ask me to keep it on - playing Johnathan Winters, Smothers Brothers Never got caught!
I developed a lot of friendships in radio during my time at Taft. Gene Arnold, Rhett Butler, Milt Willis among many other great personalities. I became friends with their chief engineer, Eddie Bates. He designed and built the first completely automated FM broadcast station in Houston, if not the industry. The FM people would make tapes of all the music, news, weather and even bulletins and load them on "OTTO" and a sequencing program would play them in the order the director chose. The "Correct Time" device was very clever. Mr. Taft would add his tempo and style preferences as his personal "touch".
I met a lot of celebrities during my 3+ years there - Paul Harvey, Howard Cosell, The Four Freshman, along with several C&W singers and their bands -- Willie Nelson and Ray Price. We were the local franchise for Altec sound equipment which was found on many professional sound stages. I guess the most exciting for me was Otis Reading (Sitting on the Dock of the Bay). I rented a complete Altec setup to him and his band. He invited me to be his guest and I ended up going into his dressing room (with my date - Boy! Was she impressed!)! Then he asked me to show him Houston the next morning. We drove all over - even ended up getting a Princes hamburger for lunch. There's a lot more to that story!
I was going to night school at the U of H at that time and would stop by the station on the way home. Rhett had the night duty most of that time and he and I would get in a production studio and cut some neat tapes of our own. One of our targets to mimic was Gene Arnold’s patented sign-off. One Christmas one of our tapes almost got put on OTTO. We would have both been looking for work the next morning if it had.
Lots of great memories. Every now and then Rhett would actually let me do the FM weather report. Closest I ever got to being a radio personality. Ha!

I guess you know Rhett has passed away. I got a lead on Gene Arnold the other day. Need to follow it up. Will let you know what I find!

If this doesn't bore you I have some more.


Anonymous said...

Mr Warmack and Duyka, My name is Laura Willis Hixon My father is Milt Willis. He passed away in 2005 and Today I have been missing him so I Googled KODA and his name and it warmed my heart to read the nice things both of you had to say about him. I also grew up with Gene Arnold visiting our house as a child Daddy and Mr Arnold traded Move Lobby Cards. Thank You for holding them in your Happy Memories

Bruce said...

Sorry to hear of your father's passing, Laura. Thanks for checking in with us.

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Scott Young. My father was DJ/PD at KILT back in their hayday. In the mid to late 60's though, my mother did a live broadcast from her home phone under the name 'Tiger'. She provided a traffice report using a sexy/sultry delivery. If anyone has a link to one of her 'broadcasts' I'd be very grateful. Next Monday (5/31/15) will be a year since Day's passing. Here is my tribute video for those that don't know him...

Bruce said...

Thank you so much, Scott. That is fantastic. It will be a long time before your Dad is forgotten. I'm posting a link to the video on the obit notice, too.

Unknown said...

anyone know or heard of Rick Jason from KENR in the 70's?

Rage said...

Holy crud!! It makes sense now! I remember seeing a KODA sign right there in front of that parking garage (a time or two in the mid to late 80s) on San Felipe and near the W Loop and never knew why it was there. Now i know it sat at the end of their parking lot. Crazy it never dawned on me to realize that building was where the station was at.

Steve said...

I remember Rick Jason! We played together Bobby Mill's band in Seabrook back in in 1978. Nice fellow... I heard that he died in an auto accident on Red Bluff Rd in 79 or so.