Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A KNUZ-TV Gallery

Mark Whitehead of KWHI and KTTX, Brenham, has sent along these pictures of KNUZ-TV, taken in 1953 by his dad, Tom Whitehead, Jr.  Mark's mom, Bonnie Whitehead, is shown in a couple of the photos.  His uncle, Bailey A. Swenson, designed the studios.

Obviously this was a very new facility at the time.  I believe the orientation would be such that Cullen Blvd. was to the right of the picture.

Bonnie Whitehead, Mark's mom, in the lobby.

Checking out one of the DuMont cameras.  Behind Bonnie are the collapsible bleachers that were used for live audience shows.

Mark believes this is Bailey Swenson, his uncle and the architect who designed the studios.

I will appreciate any engineers who can offer some comments on the equipment.

See the KNUZ-TV Station Profile here.

Much thanks to Mark for sharing these photos.  He has promised to forward some more about his family's radio stations in the near future and I'm really looking forward to that.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Look At A New Station - Easy Country KKBQ-FM, 1991

From the About Town column, December, 1991, Houston Metropolitan Magazine

Friday, November 20, 2015

Looking Back - a Slide Show

A Houston Chronicle slide show of lost FM formats, including some interesting photos and some historical facts, mostly of rather recent stations and not all of which are true.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Houston Crime Stoppers Building will Honor KTRK-TV Anchor Dave Ward - UPDATED

As reported today by the Chronicle, the long time anchor will be memorialized in brick and mortar.

Congratulations to Dave and thanks for your decades of service to the Houston community.

Mike McGuff's coverage.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

KULF Production Studio, ca. late 1970s

Phil Konstantin sent along this picture taken in the KULF Production Studio in the late 1970s (later than 1976).  That's Phil on the left and the man beside him is Stan Barber from KTRU.

At the time the KULF studios were located in the Central National Bank building.  The air studio was right next door.

This picture shows the production of a Public Affairs program called Overview for the Jaycees.  The program aired on both KULF and sister station KYND.  Phil also later produced Dan Lucas' evening talk show.  He works in San Diego TV now.

Sam Putney, Dan Ammerman, Jim Young, Bill Leslie and Galen Grimes are some of the people from the KULF Newsroom at that time.  Kay (no last name on-air) Henderson worked on the ground and Dave Hale worked in the air doing traffic reports.  Jim Tate, Gary Ryder, Vashti Henderson, Joe Bauer, Roger St. John and Nick Rice were some of the other people he remembers working with there in that time frame.  He and Bauer also did some things together in San Diego.

My thanks to Phil for sending this picture and his recollections along to share on the blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rice University FM Returns to the Air

After a four and a half year hiatus, the station returns to it's humble beginnings in the 1960s as an on-campus, low power FM signal.  The new station's launch is ironic given the University of Houston's announced plans for the transmitter and tower it purchased from Rice and turned into KUHA-FM.

The official calls are KBLT-LP but the station will be referred to as KTRU except in the legally mandated hourly ID.

Culture Map article

Radio Discussions board thread

Thursday, August 20, 2015

KUHA-FM, Classical 91.7, Going Digital

Houston Public Media has announced plans to sell the 91.7 frequency.  KUHA programming will still be available on HD radio, via digital streaming, free apps and on TV 8.5.

Discussions going on here and here.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Letters from our Listeners - KXYZ, 1930

I received these images from Christina Bowker. 

The letter, a song request, was postmarked in November, 1930, just months after KTUE became KXYZ.  Both stations operated from the basement of the Texas State Hotel.  Earl Flagg and Al Hendly had a program on KXYZ called Pals of the Air.  One of the announcers has written on the letter 'will play soon.'

My correspondent expressed surprise that a request would be sent by mail but I think this was very common in those days, perhaps more common than phoning in, although that would have been possible.  Radio stations did not have the capability at that time to put phone calls on the air I don't think.

Earl Lawrence Flagg, Christina's grandfather whom she never met as he died in 1955.  It was said that he could play any instrument he touched but his specialty was the electric guitar.  He also was a photographer, as is his granddaughter. 

I was also asked if any recordings might exist from that era.  I think that would be extremely unlikely.  The only means of recording in those days would have been electrical transcription.  I think very few individual stations had such capability and even if they did, it would be unlikely the disc, a large phonograph record, would have survived.

If Flagg continued in radio for some years, there may be a possibility of a recording of him from later.

My thanks to Christina for sharing this photo, one of only a few she has.  I mis-filed the letter in my word processor and am happy that I finally found it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Phil Parr - R.I.P

Lufkin Daily News obituary.

Dave Westheimer writes:

"Phil Parr was at KTLW in Texas City from 1962 to 1970 and was bassist for Utah Carl during those same years. He moved to Lufkin in 1970 and worked at KSPL in Diboll. He also created and ran the Blind Handyman radio show on the ACB (American Council for the Blind) Radio network for years.

He may have been the last surviving member of Utah Carl's Gulf Coast Jamboree Boys. His predecessor on bass, Sam Reece, may still be living, but all the other 60s regulars are gone now."

Flickr photostream, posted by his wife, Luan, KTLW Once a Millenium Reunion, 2008.

Flickr photostream, posted by his wife, Luan, Blind Handyman Gathering, 2008.

My thanks to Dave for bringing this to my attention.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

More KTRH Transmitter Pictures

John Robertson writes:

"My uncle by marriage was T.L. Hinner, he was Chief Engineer at the KTRH Cedar Bayou transmitter facility during this period. I came across your "Houston Radio History" web site and remembered I had these photos.

I remember staying with my aunt and uncle at the transmitter as a young child. My favorite thing was being allowed to switch on the tower lights at dusk.

I remember Bob Sutton, that worked at the transmitter at the ame time as my uncle.  He went on to become Chief Engineer for the KTRK  TV transmitter facility near DeWalt Texas.

Thanks for your informative web site,

John Robertson"

Great pictures, John.  Thanks for sharing them and for the additional information.

See the original post on this transmitter installation here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Milt Willis, 1929 - 2005

He was born Milton T. Willis in Houston; raised in Montrose, he graduated from Lamar High School, class of 1948, and went off to the Navy. While stationed in Hawaii he met and married his wife and they returned to Houston and raised a family of four children.  He was known to family and his closest friends as Milton but to hundreds of thousands of listeners over the years and most of the hundreds of other broadcasters he came in contact with, he was just Milt.

I have not been able to pin down when he first got into radio but for the most part he was associated with KTHT, KXYZ and KODA.  Except for a very brief stint in Rapid City, SD, he spent all his career in Houston radio and in addition to air work he did a lot of voice work for advertising agencies and film production companies.  I first have a record of him at KTHT, listed as program director, on a music survey in August, 1959.  He was also one of the deejays as were Jack London and Larry Kane.  He would have been in his late 20s by then and with a voice like his he had undoubtedly been receiving admonitions all his life that ‘you should be in radio,’ so undoubtedly he got his start some years earlier.  He would not likely have been a Program Director in his first job, either.  Good friend Gene Arnold remembers him at KTHT and says he had worked earlier at KXYZ where Gene had also worked although not at the same time.

Arnold remembers Milt did the morning show at KTHT and hated the shift.  One time when he was interviewing a new over-night talent for KTHT that Arnold had referred he told the man he’d have to be willing to hang around some mornings until 6:15 or 6:30 when Milt couldn’t make it on time, a condition the prospective hire was not happy about.  By 1960 he had found another solution to that problem; a KTHT survey published in June of that year shows him working a split shift - 8 to 10 am and 2 to 4 pm.

In the late 50s, KTHT went by the moniker Downbeat, using Ray Conniff’s ‘S Wonderful’ as an hourly ‘downbeat’ to the launch the programming.  The Chronicle had reported in June, 1958, that Robert D. Strauss’s Texas Radio had purchased KTHT from Roy Hofheinz and it appears to have been a  few months later when the Downbeat moniker began appearing in the listings.  Gene doesn’t know for sure but doesn’t think Milt was responsible for coming up with the programming. 

The station was sold again in 1961, the formal transfer of ownership to Winston-Salem Broadcasting occurring in March.  The incoming owners installed new programming they called Red Carpet Radio and GM Sam Bennett resigned.

Three months later, in early June, Public Radio Corp. of Houston took control of KXYZ-AM and FM from NAFI Corporation of Los Angeles.  Public Radio was composed of Lester Kamin of Houston, an advertising executive who had himself been a deejay in the 1940s, his brothers Max of Houston and Morris of Victoria.  They also owned stations in Tulsa and Kansas City.  They named Sam Bennett as new GM and Milt Willis as PD.  GM Cal Perley and PD Ken Collins were out and would later team up again at KFMK.  Collins told Houston Post columnist Bill Roberts he found out he was no longer PD of KXYZ when he read it in the newspaper.

During the early 1960s, KXYZ-AM and FM were outstanding radio stations.  In an era when the GM of another big Houston station described the city as just a big over-grown country town, KXYZ presented the city as sophisticated and cosmopolitan.  A big key to the imaging were the stagers which introduced musical segments with glowing audio pictures of the city.  I still think of the KXYZ of that era as one of the best sounding Houston radio stations of all time.  Gene Arnold doesn’t know much about the years Milt Willis was at KXYZ and does not know if he was responsible for the programming concept but his voice was ubiquitous on the station.

In April,1965, Billboard Magazine reported in a market spotlight on Houston radio that Milt was still PD of KXYZ but in January of the next year reported he had been upped to Operations Manager and a new programmer, Bob Winsett of San Francisco, was moving in.  By June of 1966 Milt moved over to KODA as PD; Don LeBlanc was upped to Operations at KODA and yet another new PD was named at KXYZ.

Milt continued as Program Director of KODA for some years.  Another Billboard Market profile in March of 1967 shows him still in the post but sometime between that time and the time I joined KODA in October, 1974, Milt accepted an offer from a station in Rapid City, South Dakota.  I remember him telling me the call letters and I remember they were just one letter different that KODA - I believe it was KOTA.  He realized almost immediately it was a mistake and he stayed a very short time.  He called GM Martin Griffin at KODA and asked to return, Griffin asked the staff and it was agreed they would welcome him back.  This may have been when he transitioned into sales.  By the time I got to KODA in ‘74 he was Sales Manager, having moved into that chair when Tom Hoyt was upped to General Manager not long before.

I worked as an announcer in the same building with Milt for four years until Tom Hoyt named me Operations Manager to replace the departing Jason Williams.  Just a few months later Hoyt left and Paul Taft promoted Milt to General Manager and then just a few months after that, Taft sold KODA-AM and FM to Westinghouse, Group W.  Milt and I worked together for the next three years to try to build KODA from an also-ran for years in the beautiful music war with Harte-Hanks’ KYND.  We talked everyday, went to lunch together often, but I wasn’t into radio history at that time and never asked about his career even though I had been aware of him since the 1950s.

We sometimes shared  bits of our personal lives, though.  I knew he collected movie theater lobby cards.  One Monday I remember him looking very bedraggled and I asked why.  It turned out he had spent the whole weekend on puddle-jumper flights to South Carolina and back to pick up some prized cards and he was beat.  He was as proud as a new Daddy of the cards he had scored, telling me all about them and their significance,  but he vowed never to do that again.  I also remember him sometimes beaming on a Monday morning after a weekend jaunt to the casinos in Louisiana where he apparently regularly did quite well.

Gene Arnold shared a passion for collecting movie lobby cards and got Milt into the hobby and they went to conventions together.  Gene says Milt liked to linger at the airport lounge and he warned him repeatedly he was going to miss a flight sooner or later but it was Arnold who almost missed a flight when he mistakenly boarded a flight to Seattle and didn't discover the mistake until the last minute. Gene says he and Milt also enjoyed betting against each other on college football games. 

Success in the Beautiful Music format on FM depended a lot on external advertising, chiefly on TV and billboards, to get the call letters across, since so much listening to that format was done at very low, background levels.  Harte-Hanks KYND had always had a much bigger advertising budget than KODA but when Westinghouse came to town, the tables were turned.   By the end of 1982, KODA's ratings success was so complete, Harte-Hanks pulled the plug on KYND and turned the frequency over to their wildly successful AM, KKBQ, the successor to KTHT and KULF on 790.

In February of 1983, just a little over a month after KYND called it quits, Milt was promoted to National Sales Manager of Group W’s Texas stations and he finish  his long career in Houston radio with Westinghouse.

Personal Postscript:  Milt lasted longer than I with Group W.  I clashed with the consultant Westinghouse assigned to their FM stations, all of which at that time were struggling except for KODA.  Finally I gave up and left The book that covered my last months as PD was the first one in KODA's history when it edged KYND but I was not there for the celebration.  I talked to Milt only once after leaving but some 20 years later, sometime in the first decade of this century, I was coming back from Austin on I-10 and decided to pull into the San Felipe de Austin State Historical site in Austin Co., the unofficial capital of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony.  I had known about the place since the 7th grade when every Texas school child took a Texas history course but I had never visited.  The town was an important commercial center before independence and  hosted several important meetings leading up to the Texas Revolution.  I walked around the grounds soaking up Texas history and as I stepped into a meeting hall, an audio track started playing.  It was Milt’s voice.  Son-of-a-gun, I thought, This guy is everywhere. I wonder how many other state historical sites have audio tracks voiced by Milt?

I am indebted to Laura Willis Hixon for the pictures above and to her and Gene Arnold for details of Milt’s life and career and their personal remembrances of him.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Arbitron Trends, '74-'76

Five book trends, October/November '74 to October/November '76 (there were only two Arbitron ratings periods per year at that time).

A big spurt for KAUM in '75, a  nice bump for KCOH, too.  KYND continued to dominate the Beautiful Music field as it would do for another several years.  KILT-AM (still rock at that time) holding out against all competitors but KRBE nipping at its heels especially in teens.  KLYX was running the NBC News format at that time and had not yet switched to Majic 102 so KYOK continued to dominate the Black listening audience numbers.

From a special edition of Radio and Records, the Industry's Newspaper, 'Arbitron Breakouts, October/November '76' devoted exclusively to reports like this on the top 75 markets.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

KYOK Mobile Studio

These pictures are from March, 1978.

Don Nash, Chief Engineer of KYOK in the 70s, built the studio which was in use frequently.  The turntables and cart machines were DC because AC wasn't stable enough back then.  Don reports there were frequent breakdowns of equipment which necessitated rebuilding the whole studio including the console within about 2 years.

The studio could be taken out cruising around Loop 610 and never lose a signal (the receiver was on One Shell, the tallest building in town at the time), but if they got too far west they had to pull over and raise the antenna.

When Don started at KYOK in 1971 he had a staff of four, necessary to operate the station at night.  By the time he left in 1980 he was the only person on the engineering staff.  He had designed and built a totally automated system which he wound up selling to Potomac Instruments of Silver Spring, MD.  He then left KYOK and went to work for Potomac for 10 years where he developed their RC-16 Remote Control System as Chief Digital Design Engineer.

As a side note, he was into computers early.  He bought one of the first Altair computers (serial # 26) which he took time off from KYOK to drive to Albuquerque to pick up.

KYOK was the last station Don worked at.  Previously he had been at WTOC (now WTKS), Savannah, GA, WRIP (now WYDN) Chattanooga, WEAM (now WZHF) Arlington, VA, WOKO (now WOPG), Albany, NY, KTLK (now KKZN) Denver, and WINQ, Tampa, before getting the offer from KYOK which was owned by the Starr Brothers at the time.  He served as either Chief or Assistant Chief at all those stations except the first one.  After he got into design work he let his license lapse.  He's retired now, living overseas, and maintains this website.  I am grateful to him for sharing these pictures and history.