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Houston Retro Radio

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Water fountain at north end of South Belt Bike Trail

Above: Park at the north end of the South Belt Bike Trail, December 27, 2009.

Music for gallantly dreaming on a summer night...

Two KXYZ intros and a midnight time announcement, June, 1966

By this point, KXYZ had quit giving names to each period of the programming schedule. Nonetheless, the poetic prose and music still evoked a particular mood for each time of day.

The music on these promos is "Mine at Last" and "Reflection," both by the Otto Cesana orchestra. It took me until June, 2014, but now I finally know where KXYZ obtained most of its promo music. I remember hearing other Cesana music on other intros that I never recorded.

If I am not mistaken, the voice giving the time and the phone number of the time service is Pat Brown, an announcer who had worked for KTRH when they were still playing music.

KXYZ simulcast 24 hours a day, and I recorded these items off the AM 1320 side. Even though they are bit over modulated, I had a better tape recorder at this point, so the overall quality is decidedly better than my 1964 KXYZ-FM material.

I liked both the music and the format, and, unlike the typical conformist teenager, I moved easily between KXYZ and the top 40 stations.

Beautiful music formats are rare today. I know of none in Houston. The few which exist around the country function more as background music services than as creative radio forces. Their main audiences are in retirement communities.

Nowadays, the mere mention of light orchestra music invites derisive remarks about "elevator music" (as if you could still actually hear that kind of music in elevators).

If you listen to Henry Mancini, Mantovani, or the Hollyridge Strings, don't tell anybody. Otherwise, you'll get clobbered by Cool Dudes and classical purists alike.

By the way, if you like the kind of music on these KXYZ airchecks, I recommend the Golden Age of Light Music series, available from Some recordings in this series would have been too dated even for KXYZ in the 60's, but the material from the 50's and 60's would have fit right in with the KXYZ beautiful music style.

If you know where I can obtain more KXYZ recordings from the 60's, please let me know.

I have this fantasy that someone will send me a crate of unscoped KXYZ airchecks, recorded at 7.5 ips. I will then turn the entire collection into one 20-hour mp3 CD and listen to it for a few months in my car.


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1961: KXYZ turns Houston into Brigadoon on the Bayou

Web master's note: I coined the phrase "Brigadoon on the Bayou" myself. Houston used to be called "Baghdad on the Bayou," but that phrase has lost its original romantic flavor. In fact, everybody I know would rather be in the mythical Brigadoon than in Baghdad.

In its generic sense, Brigadoon means, "a place that is idyllic, unaffected by time, or remote from reality."

Announcer One: "The feathers of the sunbird dangle down from the sky to dazzle on the asphalt of Houston streets."

Announcer Two: "The great waves of verdant foliage in Houston parks seem capped with crests of gold."

Announcer One: "Veils of mist rise from lakes and rivers like water sprites dancing into day."

Announcer Two: "The green, glistening sides of a fish are seen as he shatters the glass surface of a lake against a background of . . ."

Announcer One: ". . .Prelude."

KXYZ, Houston, August 25, 1961, Part 1

KXYZ, Houston, August 25, 1961, Part 2

Come with me now mentally to a leaner, greener, cleaner Houston.

Light classical favorites and Irish folk songs on AM radio? Such things were still possible in the Houston of the 1960's. So much for the myth that Houston was just an oversized cow town. So much for the myth that sixties' radio was just rock and roll.

Although the audio quality is low, this recording captures the KXYZ beautiful music format just weeks after it was launched. It was a distinctive formula which served Houston well for the remainder of the decade.

I obtained this material by trading a copy of one of my own original recordings.

KXYZ exuded a wit and ingenuity rarely heard in stations playing light classical and orchestral pop music.

They constantly ran announcements to promote their own image, but the items were often hard to classify as promos, PSA's, commercials, or brief feature stories. You'll see what I mean in the above air checks.

They promoted odd products such as a Chinese junk and an executive yo yo. On one pseudo snooty occasion, a product was offered only to "those with proper references."

In 1962, KXYZ recommended competing stations by name for people who wanted a "change of pace" from beautiful music.

In 1964, they read lyrics of rock and roll songs to help parents keep up with their teenagers.

One of them was "UM, UM, UM, UM, UM, UM" by Major Lance. I don't have a recording, but that poetic reading would have gone something like this:

Walking through the park, it wasn't quite dark
There was a man sitting on a bench
Out of the crowd as his head lowly bowed
He just moaned and he made no sense
He'd just go
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
I just couldn't help myself
Yes, I was born with a curious mind
I asked this man just what did he mean
When he moaned if he'd be so kind
And he'd just go
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Now that I've grown up
And the woman I love she has gone
Now that I'm a man, I think I understand
Sometimes everyone must sing this song
Listen to me sing
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Can't you hear me, now
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Everybody now
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um
Um, um, um, um, um, um...etc...

That is a lot of "ums." Naturally, KXYZ edited the lyrics when they read them over the air. They cut the verses but left in a lot of ums. The Percy Faith orchestra soon recorded that song, and it was a version fit for KXYZ.

The KXYZ broadcast day was divided into segments of several hours with names like Prelude, Allegro, Rhapsody, Firelight, Nocturne, and Reverie, Each half hour opened with some poetic prose aimed at setting a mood for that time of day.

Here is some theme music for Rhapsody, a show that ran from noon till afternoon drive time.

Here is some theme music for Nocturne, a show that ran from 9:00 PM till midnight.

When taken as a whole, KXYZ promos made Houston sound like a majestic place to be, creating an electronic Brigadoon on the Bayou.

The original Brigadoon story was about a lost village which mysteriously appears in the wilderness. Similarly, one KXYZ promo quoted a 19th Century writer who called Houston "a city lost in forest."

I only dimly recall that quote but I think they attributed it to a Frenchman, possibly Alexis de Tocqueville. I need some Houston historian to help me put that quotation in context and identify its true author.

Houston lost in a forest — what a concept. I think Houston must really be lost in a forest. Just look at the names of places surrounding Houston: The Woodlands, Kingwood, Roman Forest, etc.  Of course, if you grew up on the southeast side as I did, the forest fantasy is a bit of stretch.

KXYZ was so stylized that it almost seemed to lampoon itself. But it was never dull, except to the dullards. The nameless KXYZ announcers projected an attitude of high mindedness mixed with whimsy.

In short, KXYZ was a far cry from what people think of as 60's music. Even then, it had an anachronistic quality, and much of its style seemed removed from its own time and place, perhaps a hundred years out of place, either forward or back.

In the original Brigadoon story, the village awakens only after sleeping for one hundred years. Maybe, something like KXYZ will arise in Houston in 2061. Let's wait and see.

Grady McAllister, M.S.
(Occupational Technology Education)

Revised January 19, 2015.


The above slide show has the same music as the fishing reports in the KXYZ airchecks from 1961.

KXYZ: Slowly, silently now...

KXYZ-FM, Houston, October, 1964

The quality here suffers from a cheap tape recorder. Also, I dubbed this down at least one generation in editing. With analog recordings, you lose qualilty every time you copy something.

Keep this in mind when listening to old airchecks: The audio for both AM and FM radio was nearly as good in the 60's as it is now. Any lack of aircheck quality is usually due to the recording, not the broadcast itself. Good home recorders were both rare and expensive.

I recorded all this material off KXYZ-FM (96.5 MHz) on at least two different days in October, 1964.

Notice how each music segment opens with an intro to create a mood for each time of day:

You can almost tell time by the distinctive sounds of the city. Traffic becomes quieter, less raucous. Footsteps of leisurely window shoppers replace those of impatient pedestrians. It is mid morning in Houston as KXYZ continues with beautiful music.

Or, how about this one from the nighttime:

Slowly, silently now, the moon walks the night, lighting her way with silver beams. Below, men marvel and are inspired by her grace and serenity, matched only by the beauty of KXYZ music on Nocturne.

The first words of this doggerel are lifted straight from a poem by Walter de la Mare. To view the original, go to my full moon page and check out "Silver," the second poem listed by Walter de la Mare.

I place an especially high value on KXYZ materials from the sixties. You simply can't hear programming like this any more. Material prior to the switch to beautiful music is also wanted.

If you have any KXYZ recordings , please send them to me NOW.

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Theme from Mondo Cane No. 2

Here is about the last piece of music I expected to find
on line. The album has been out of print for decades. This is a recording by Enoch Light, an orchestra leader who tried to make his kind of music relevant to the 60s. This record was one of several albums aimed at audiophiles.

This music is the theme from the movie Mondo Cane 2 (also known as Mondo Pazzo). This piece is nowhere near as well remembered as the song 'More,' the theme from the first Mondo Cane. That first Mondo theme is a hard act to follow, but this one is not bad.

I used to do a "radio show" over the phone line when I was in high school. I once used this in the background while I did a bunch of talking. About this music I stated, "This is what the song 'More' sounds like if you play it backwards." That's not technically true, but at the time it seemed like a clever thing to say.

Until very recently, no version of this song was available for purchase on CD or mp3. Amazon is now offering the Four Preps vocal heard at the beginning of the movie. The actual title of the song is, "I'll Set My Love to Music."

Most of the better Enoch Light materials have not come out in digital form. I keep hoping this and similar albums will appear on Amazon. In the meantime, I am pretty happy with my mp3 file from the record.

Like Mondo Cane No. 2, some of the albums's other movie themes are a bit obscure at this point.

One widely remembered theme is from the Beatles' movie, A Hard Day's Night. The Enoch Light version came out at about the same time as the original.

It quickly became obvious that the Beatles music would go beyond the top 40 category. During the same period, I acquired other orchestra versions of Beatle songs, mainly by the Hollyridge Strings and the Jimmie Haskell Orchestra.

The first part of the video below shows how the song, "More," the theme from the first Mondo Cane, is used in the movie. The voice over here is in the original Italian. I can't translate Italian, but I have heard the English version enough times that I can give it to you in my own words. Here is my paraphrase:

Australia's Life Savers Girls have been thoroughly trained to spot boys who are in danger of drowning. Unfortunately, in spite of the enormous skills that the girls bring to their work, the boys keep getting into trouble whenever they go near the water. As a result, the Lifesavers Girls are forced to use their rescue and resuscitation skills over and over again. When will the boys ever learn to stay safe in the water?

Much of the Mondo Cane material is really grim, but the Lifesavers Girls enter like a breath of fresh air.