Friday, October 28, 2011

Bill Zak - RIP

Sad to report on the passing of yet another long-time Houston radio man, Bill Zak of KTRH.

Here is the obituary in the Chronicle.

I have found references indicating he started at KTRH in the 1940s; others say the early 1950s. I have found a Billboard reference that seems to indicate he was a disc jockey back in the day when KTRH interspersed CBS network programming with local music shows; however, given the cryptic style of Billboard, it's not entirely clear he was a disc jockey. But he will be most easily remembered by most for hosting 'Garden Line' with Dr. Ben Oldag, who died less than a year ago.

Here is a tribute that I found a long time ago, entered into the House of Representatives Congressional Record by Representative Jack Fields, on the occasion of Zak's retirement.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A KILT Tour - 1961

My correspondent, John Hill, has provided me with a wealth of information about KILT in the early 1960s, including a description of the equipment in use at this time. This is fascinating information for radio and equipment geeks and for everyone who worked in the McLendon building over the years, and so I am reproducing it here as John related it to me. Note: KILT first occupied the facility in 1957 and moved out in 1995. Although the building is still standing, there is no broadcast equipment or operation at this location now.

In 1961, the KOST-FM (now KILT-FM) transmitter, a Gates 5KW kit, was located in the engineering workshop on the 2nd floor of the McLendon Building at 500 Lovett Blvd. The antenna was a 4-bay horizontally polarized "V" array atop the tower immediately behind the building. The UHF (News COMM) antenna was also mounted on the tower.

We ran KOST-FM from 6-midnight (the minimum time to keep a license current) and John Trotter would sign it on as "This is KOST'n KILT in Houston. At the time, KOST was "costing" KILT but, Gordon McLendon had the foresight to know what a more significant role FM would play in the future of broadcasting.

There was a lot of old paperwork at the AM transmitter site that indicated it was the original site. The Collins 5V main transmitter, and the 1V back-up transmitter, were not original. Since the McLendon's were pro-Collins, I'll guess the Collins gear was installed after they purchased the station. The antenna phasing cabinet, between the two transmitters, was earlier vintage than the Collins transmitters, but had been well maintained. The board and turntables at the transmitter site were definitely 'early marriage.'

With regard to the studio layout at the McLendon building, as you looked at the building, there were two sides. KILT occupied the left side. (John believes an insurance company occupied the right half of the building). The receptionist, copy, sales and management offices were on the first floor. The stairway, near the left front lobby glass window before the atrium, went upstairs to the studios.

On the second floor, the break room faced Lovett Blvd. Following the hallway toward the back of the building, on the left, there was the newsroom, On-Air studio #1, another much larger studio that we called "Studio B," On-Air studio #2/Recording Studio/Master Control Room, Engineering Office, and Engineering Shop. The right side of that hallway was solid wall.

Between the Newsroom and Studio #1, there was a double glass window so that the on-air newsman and on-air DJ were facing each for "tighter" production. Both had their boards in front of them.

There was another double glass window between Studio 1 and Studio B, which had a table and chairs. The back wall of Studio B had a double glass window so those at the table (voice talent) were normally looking up and through the double glass to the recording engineer, who had a board in front of him. Or, when in Studio B, the on-air DJ would have eye contact with me as I operated the on-air board in #1, there again for hand signals, nods...whatever cue, for tighter production.

With all that glass, we had visibility from the Master Control Room to the Newsroom so that the on-air newsman had eye contact with whomever was at the board of the Master. (In those instances, lights were usually turned off in Studios #1 and B...otherwise field glasses helped!)

Occasionally, the on-air jock would be in Studio B and I would be operating the on-air board while the jock was (usually) doing an interview, such as the train wreck we had when Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis came in. (We finally had to break that off, get John Trotter back in the on-air #1 and tape the interview which took over an hour for a 10 minute "clean" interview...not to mention the tape edit time). All our interviews were...uh, interesting.?!!

Equipment-wise, the Newsroom had 5-Model 19 teletypes, 4 on line and a back-up, a Collins board, several rack mounted recorders, patch panels, a Collins cartridge playback machine and our UHF transmitter/receiver for mobile news unit COMM.

On-Air #1 had a Collins board, 4 Gates turntables, 4 Collins cartridge playback machines, a rack/cabinet mounted Schaffer remote control system (AM transmitter remote controls), an FM transmitter control panel, and a rotating cartridge bin. It was pretty much a full house.

Studio B was for voice work only; it had a table with several phased mics, two wall mounted play-back speakers and about a dozen chairs. It was more like a small conference room.

On-Air #2/Recording Studio/Master Control had a Collins board, 2 Gates turntables, 2 Ampex 361 recorders on wheels, 2 Collins ATC record/playback machines, two racks with patch panels, McIntosh audio amplifiers and two rack mounted receivers for on-air monitoring. (The DJ was listening to the AM receiver, rather than his console output, so we would have another indicator if we went off the air.) On the back wall we had a cabinet with a disc cutter, its McIntosh driver amplifier and our cartridge and tape erasing devices, all of which I'm sure are long since dust-biters.

The engineering office was rather small with a desk, chairs and filing cabinets.

In the engineering shop, there was the 5KW KOST-FM Gates transmitter and the controls for the natural gas powered Onan generator that was mounted inside the FM tower base behind the building. There was also a sizable work bench with various test equipment and spare parts bins.

We replaced the older cartridge machines and all studio mics with the relatively new Collins ATC's and Telefunken microphones that were removed from the M/V Mi Amigo, which was home to McLendon’s ‘pirate’ radio ship operation off the coast of Norway, when Radio Nord was disassembled at Pier 37 in Galveston. KILT was the recipient of a good bit of studio gear.

Note: Although it was not a Houston radio station, its connection to Gordon McLendon and KILT warrants more information; for more on Radio Nord and it’s successor ship, see:

Radio Nord in Wikipedia

Pictures of Radio Nord, more pictures, and still more pictures.

Radio Atlanta in Wikipedia

Note: the Soundscapes site says the ship was outfitted at Copenhagen; John was told it was outfitted at Galveston by KILT transmitter supervisor Frank Maher. This was before John joined the station. Although both operations were referred to as 'pirate' radio stations, both actually operated under the laws of that time.

See also the KILT staff directory, the story of Bob Horn/Bob Adams, and the Hooper Ratings for this era.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Red Jones - KILT

Another KILT Ex has checked in.

Red Jones worked for KILT from 1957 to 1962, with a stint as Program director from ‘59 to ‘62. He got out of the Army in September, 1956, and joined KXYZ doing evenings in November of that year, working with Chuck Dunaway and Larry Kane among others. About a month after KILT signed on in March, ‘57, Don Keyes hired Red to do overnights but he soon moved up to Noon to 3 pm. After Keyes left to go back to Dallas, Jack Sharp was PD; Red replaced him in 1959 and moved to 3pm-7pm for the rest of his time in Houston.

Red says when he made PD, Bill Weaver told him ‘You run the upstairs and I’ll run the downstairs’ and he never went back on his word. As far as he remembers, they never had staff meetings - everybody did their own thing and it paid off. They had great Hooper and Pulse numbers and a dominant staff including the likes of John Trotter, Rob McLeod, Bob Presley, Bill Slater, Joel A Spivak., Cecil Tuck, John Land, and Thom Beck. Glen Cook was CE and Hank Poole was production engineer. It was fun times according to Red (and fun to listen to, too).

He was invited to interview for a gig at WABC, New York, and did. He didn’t get the job but when KILT heard about it he was ‘eased out.’ News Director Cecil Tuck took over as PD for a brief spell.

Red was hired by Kent Burkhart, another KILT alumnus, as PD of WQXI, Atlanta, and spent the rest of his career in Georgia radio. He’s retired now after 63 years in radio and living in Georgia. He was inducted into the Georgia Radio Museum and Hall of Fame in 2008 and recently celebrated his 80th birthday, still going strong.

His Georgia Radio Museum and Hall of Fame page (a much more impressive site than out TRHOF) contains more biographical information about his early years in South Texas and Austin and his stint with AFN in Germany before coming to Houston, plus much more about his long career in radio in Georgia, in a collection of clippings from his career.

The picture above is from the GRHOF site.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A KILT Footrace

J.R. Gonzales' Bayou City History blog in the Chronicle has posted a story about a big promotional event staged by KILT in the Astrodome in 1969 between Roy Hofheinz, owner of the Astros, and Mayor Louie Welch, a foot race to promote physical fitness and the KILT Jog Corps.

The Great Indoor Contest

It's a great little story about an event I never had heard of with pictures of Hudson and Harrigan and probably some other KILT staffers of that day.