Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A History of Houston Broadcasting, 1990

Twenty years ago an employee of KTRH, Philip H. Boudreaux III, produced a history of Houston Radio: The First Sixty Years. The 33 page essay is fully annotated and was based on newspaper research and personal interviews, particularly concerning events in the more recent years. I think what I have is only a draft, judging by editing marks and simple typos; there are some facts stated which are in conflict with some information I came up with but Boudreaux also uncovered some important facts that I had not been able to find.

I'll be incorporating this material in articles already posted on this blog, giving credit to Boudreaux, but here are a few of the more significant findings:

In my article on the launch of Alfred P. Daniel's WCAK I reported that Anna Clyde Plunkett had claimed in 1955, commenting on Daniel's death, that she had participated in the first radio broadcast in Houston on Daniel's station but failed to give the date or what station. Boudreaux reports the concert was on May 22, 1922, on Daniel's WCAK, not his earlier amateur stations, and it was one of the Houston Post-Dispatch sponsored concerts. From this we know that this was certainly not the first radio broadcast in Houston. Hurlburt-Still's WEV had commenced weather broadcasts on April 12 on 485 meters and the Post-Dispatch had reported on May 11 on a broadcast of an entertainment program on 360 meters on WEV which clearly was not the first by that station.

Plunkett had apparently actually claimed to be the first soloist to perform on Houston radio but even that claim does not hold up. David Westheimer, Radio-TV editor of the Post in 1955 had headlined the story 'First Performer Tells of Initial Broadcast.'

Regarding the decision of Ross Sterling, Sr., to start a Post-Dispatch radio station, it's been reported in several sources that it was his son Ross, Jr., who was interested in radio and talked his dad into taking action. Boudreaux says Sterling had two sons, Walter and Ross, Jr., and both were interested in radio and convinced their dad to buy the 500 watt Westinghouse Electric transmitter. Additionally, when the decision had been made to proceed with the station after a period of mourning over the death of Ross, Jr., Sterling turned to his son Walter to name the station. He picked the call letters KPRC to stand for Kotton Port, Rail Center. I don't know that anyone has claimed for sure who picked the call letters though I had speculated it was Daniel's suggestion.

Later in the decade when the Post-Dispatch took over the Fort Bend School Board's KGHX and moved it to Houston to be a sister station to KPRC, Sterling again turned to his son Walter to pick some call letters. He chose KTLC, to stand for K-The Largest City, referring to Houston as the largest city in Texas.

These facts came out in an interview with Walter Sterling in 1982.

Regarding the naming of KTRH in 1929, it would seem to be self evident: Jesse Jones owned the Rice Hotel and the new radio station which was to have studios in the hotel, but according to an interview with John T. Jones, it wasn't quite that direct. The elder Jones had originally wanted to put the radio station in the Houston Chronicle building but met with resistance from the paper's editor, W. O Huggins, so Jones turned to his hotel manager who declared he would be happy to provide space for the station provided it was irretrievably tied to the hotel. Hence the call letters KTRH which were announced as meaning K - The Rice Hotel.

Everything I have seen has identified Tilford Jones, head of Harris County Broadcast, owners of KXYZ, as Jesse Jones nephew. Boudreaux identifies him as a cousin.

My thanks again to Charlie Pena of Clear Channel Radio for sharing this material with me.

A Wealth of Information

I recently had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Charlie Pena, Facilities Manager for Clear Channel here in Houston. He put together the very impressive tribute to KPRC's 85th anniversary and a display of the histories of the CC stations in the office and studio complex. I had the opportunity to tour that very impressive facility with Charlie and then we sat down and he shared with me even more. Charlie is a history buff and he's been in the position several times over the years to save memorabilia from the stations he's been associated with. And now, he's offered to share some of his material with the readers of this blog.

Over several posts I will be making use of that material including photos and documents from KTRH's 80 year history, an article on KTRH as an all news station in the 1980s and a history of Houston broadcasting put together 20 years ago by a KTRH employee.

My thanks to Charlie for sharing this material; all of us who are interested in the history of radio in Houston owe him a debt of gratitude.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tim and Bob

I have nominated Tim Nolan and Bob Byron, KPRC's Tim and Bob morning team for 15 years, for the Texas Radio Hall of Fame this year. The Hall is relatively young and there are perhaps thousands of broadcasters who deserve to be included yet to be nominated. So far those inducted have tended to be the still-living and there's a notable shortage of founders, pioneers and stars of earlier decades. I'm hoping readers of this blog and others who are voting members of the Hall will use at least one of their votes each year to recognize those who've gone before us in this industry.

I had to provide a brief bio of both guys for the Hall so I'm expanding upon that here and providing some retrospectives of their careers. My thanks to the children of both Tim and Bob for helping me gather this information. I will be posting a gallery of pictures in the near future. It will include at least 20 pictures, which will present a problem for some users, so I will post it in the archive and include a link here. There will be photos of their St. Patrick's Day Parades and other promotions and antics.

Tim Nolan

Robert T. Nolan was born in East Liverpool, OH, in 1921. According to his daughter Pat his mother urged him to leave town so he wouldn't end up working in the steel mills so he headed west to Hollywood and went to radio school, then took a job at KXLA, Pasadena, CA.

In 1947 he joined the staff of KREL, Baytown (1360 AM) when it first signed on and eventually rose to be the General Manager. By the mid 50s he was doing mornings on KXYZ, 1320; there's a picture of him in the KXYZ brochure in the KXYZ Gallery.

In March, 1957, Jack Harris hired him away from KXYZ to join KPRC where he was eventually paired with Bob Byron, who had previously worked at KLBS and was already on the air at KPRC, to do mornings. It's been said that Harris hired him initially with the intention of creating a team but it wasn't until 1958, apparently, that the team started working together. Initially they had separate shifts then Harris had them doing an hour of their shows overlapping. The team was to be together on the air until 1973.

According to son Tommy, Tim was a Little League coach, Usher at St. Thomas More Catholic Church and an all-round great guy. He had many serious health problems in later years but always bounced back and was back on the air in just a couple of weeks. He had offers to go elsewhere but his wife always convinced him that the Hobby's, owners of KPRC, had treated him so good that he should stay put and he listened to her.

Bob Byron

Bob Byron was born Bobby Eugene Allee in Martinsville, IN, in 1926. He is believed to have gotten his start in radio in the Chicago area. According to his daughter Judy Bonham he hated his name and had it legally changed to Robert Byron Allee, taking the name of a favorite uncle. In February, 1951, he accepted a job working for Roy Eisner at KECK, Odessa, TX, and spent a year or so there. In 1952 he took a job at KLBS (610) which had been taken over from the estate of W. Albert Lee by Gordon McLendon's Trinity Broadcasting in February. He stayed with KLBS after McLendon sold the station but left sometime before McLendon re-purchased it in 1957 to flip it to KILT.

In the late 1950s while teaming up with Tim Nolan on the morning show he also hosted a Teen Time Dance Party on Saturday afternoon on KPRC-TV. I had first heard Byron on KLBS and he was one of my favorite jocks on that station and part of my inspiration for eventually getting into radio. I liked Byron's dance show better than Larry Kane's much more popular show on Channel 13 but where I lived I couldn't hear KNUZ so I had no idea who Kane was.

According to Billboard Magazine in 1962 Byron spearheaded a drive to collect gifts for US Servicemen on duty in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This was just weeks after the final resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis; the US quarantine of Cuba had been lifted on November 20, 1962, and the US troops there had undoubtedly been much on the minds of people.

After the Tim and Bob show was taken off the air in May, 1973, Bob continued to work for KPRC on the TV side. Billboard, in noting the end of the Tim and Bob era, said he would be doing the announcing weekend evenings on TV. Judy Bonham says he was happiest entertaining people on the radio and awkward on TV; he also intensely disliked one of his bosses on the TV side and in 1978 contacted his old friend in Odessa and returned to West Texas to finish his career at KECK.

In 1964 the Houston Sales Association named Tim and Bob the Top Radio Salesmen for the year; that same year, a Billboard survey named them the top influence on album sales, according to record promoters, distributors and store owners. In 1966 a feature section on the Houston radio market in Billboard said comedy was the backbone of KPRC's programming and it hinged mainly on the success of Tim and Bob and their antics. The station and the team were again named overwhelmingly the top influence on album sales in the city. Program Director Tom Reiff said the station had gone to pains to encourage it's jocks to the extent that many advertisers refused to supply copy for schedules run on the station, instead preferring that the djs adlib and have fun.

Tim Nolan died in 1985; Bob Byron died in 1997 in Louisville, KY.

For additional information, here's an article on Tim and Bob by J.R. Gonzales of the Bayou City History Blog in the Chronicle.

And here's a thread about Tim and Bob in the Historic Houston forum on HAIF.

KGUL-TV Original Transmitter Site

When Channel 11 signed on in 1953, the transmitter was located at what was then Arcadia, described as half way between Galveston and Houston but actually much closer to Galveston. I've just learned that the original building is still standing, although perhaps not for long. Arcadia has since been incorporated in Santa Fe along Highway 6 and the site is just to the east of and behind Santa Fe High, on Tower Road at Maple.

View Larger Map

Here's the article on this blog about the launch of KGUL-TV.