The Vasthead Masthead

Houston Retro Radio

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"The radio business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

–Hunter S. Thompson

O.J. GYPPED! OR, Is this a radio fan site?

A while back, the operator of a radio web site referred to me as a "radio fan" even though he knew I had actually worked in radio. The term "fan" was used while challenging the accuracy of the material on this site.

All of the material on this Houston Retro Radio site is tentative. When recalling events from 30 or 40 years ago, individual memories can vary.

In my own case, I am often writing about something from between ages 12 and 19. Those were the years when I paid the most attention to radio as a listener.

Because so much relies on memory, many of my statements are qualified or cautiously written. Sometimes, I have gone back and changed my own words because someone might infer something I had not actually stated.

On two occasions, I have found myself caught in the middle of a dispute among people writing to this site. The words disputed were not my own, but words included in an email I quoted. I had no direct personal knowledge either way.

On both occasions, I removed the material altogether rather than let a trivial controversy linger. I simply don't have the time to personally research every claim and counterclaim to the point of absolute certainty.

Sometimes I just have to give people the benefit of the doubt. When a man in Austin identified himself as the voice on one of my airchecks, I took him at his word. I have little fear of anyone challenging that claim.

Back to that webmaster's remarks: Whether intentionally or not, referring to me as a "fan" rather than a former broadcaster had the effect of minimizing my authority to write on the subject. In any event, "fan" is not a term I would use for myself in connection with this web site.

Please allow me to elucidate...

Here is my image of a fan. It is loosely based on something I once saw in a Mad magazine in the 70's. A football fan is yelling at his TV screen while holding a newspaper sports section.

The headline reads "O.J. Gypped!" The man doing the yelling makes $180 a week. That wasn't a lot even in the 70's.

Here is another O.J. Moment from 1994:

O.J. is riding along in a Ford Bronco. He is being pursued by police in that famous slow motion chase. Along the side of the road, fans are yelling, "Go O.J., Go!"

O.J. always had a few million fans.

Just like O.J. himself, sometimes fans can be dangerous to have around. Don't just take my word for it. Ask John Lennon or Selena.

So, I am not a fan of the idea of turning myself into a fan. If I were a real radio fan, I would be seeking head shots of DJ's done with main lights, fill lights, background lights, and hair lights. If it is fan photos you seek, you will find none of that here.

You may have also noticed that my attitude toward radio and its personalities does not always take the form of worship. A real fan would go into a state of euphoria at the sound of a DJ's super voice. A serious fan would never, ever utter a word of criticism about the state of radio today.

I may have been a mere fan when I was twelve years old, but, since 1974, I have had a four year university degree in Radio-TV. Nobody gets one of those because they want to be a fan.

Also, since 1997, I have had a master's degree in Occupational Technology Education from the University of Houston College of Technology. This later degree leaves me particularly qualified to research and write about skills used in employment.

What about practical experience? As far back as 1969, I was conducting interviews later used in a KILT program on illegal drugs.

Radio was my primary occupation during the last half of 70's and into the early 80's. My main radio job was as news director at KIOX in Bay City.

I also held an on the air news and public affairs position at KIKK (AM & FM), then the number one station in the Houston market. My public affairs show was not one of those recorded shows that run at 5:00 AM. The program was live and aired in the early evening on Sundays.

Although part time, the KIKK job ran to about 20 hours a week when I include show prep time and extra newscast shifts. In addition, I did newscasts for KENR in 1977 and 1980.

I was also a DJ in both Bay City and Baytown. At the time of my involvement, the Baytown AM operation, KBUK, was one of the most professionally run stations in the outlying Houston market.

So, if I wasn't exactly big time in radio, I have certainly paid my dues in the field.

There is another way of looking at this "fan" business:

Suppose that you had followed me around since 1975 and kept a time log on everything I did. If you evaluated the total data all the way up to the present, I am sure you would discover I had spent far more time working in radio than listening to it.

Even though I haven't worked in radio lately, I'm not much of a listener either. You would have to be doing a lot more listening to be a real radio fan.

I am not twelve years old anymore, and radio has changed a lot. There is very little about radio that appeals to me today. That is why the main focus here is on the history of Houston radio.

I don't cover things like who just got fired at what station last week or who just became PD at a hip hop station. This is not that kind of web site.

Normally, the only current radio news is whatever might appear on one of my RSS news feeds from an outside source.

Another thing that qualifies me to write for this web site is that I really know how to write. I have been a paid writer for such corporate giants as Du Pont and BP Amoco.

Having also been a radio newsman, I know how to write quickly. Yet, I never assume that my first effort is my best. Almost everything on this site has been rewritten three or more times.

That's enough about my qualifications to run this Houston Retro Radio web site. I have had other people's airchecks on line since 2003, and I am only now giving information about my own background.

If I write any more, it will look like bragging.

I will conclude this soliloquy by turning to the subject of bragging in general. There are, after all, a lot of big egos floating through the air waves and cyberspace.

I am reminded of one of the many profound song lyrics by the eminent philosopher Kid Rock. In the song, "Cocky," Kid Rock raps vociferously about his favorite subject. His favorite subject is himself:

They say I'm cocky, and I say What?
It ain't braggin'
if ya back it up
They say I'm cocky, and I say What?
It ain't braggin'
if ya back it up

Such is the state of music today. Kid Rock actually has some talent, but he tries hard to hide it from adults. It must be hard to be The Kid when you were born in 1971.

Speaking of kids, I came to Houston from Alabama at the age of nine. (I was looking at my birth certificate recently and was surprised to learn that my first legal residence was the University of Alabama campus.)

As a kid in Alabama, I dreamed of living in Texas. It was where Davy Crockett had died. I had a toy Alamo set and a coonskin cap.

I liked cowboy movies. Sometime during my last year in Tuscaloosa, I saw a cowboy movie that included that old bit about, "It's not bragging if you can back it up."

Even at that age I detected a logical fallacy. I knew that bragging meant to assert boastfully. If you asserted anything boastfully, you were by definition bragging. Whether or not the claim was true was a separate issue.

I have since come to the realization that you should be careful about basing your life on lines heard in movies and songs.

That Kid Rock song not withstanding, bragging is still bragging whether you can back it up or not.

— Grady McAllister

Revised February 12, 2012.

Houston Retro Radio is hosted as part of VASTHEAD.COM.

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The anamorphic photo below is adapted from a slide shot in Galveston in 1980. The arrow, which pointed to the 61st Street fishing pier, is no longer there. Hurricane Alicia may have destroyed it in 1983. This arrow image is the emblem for all of The Vasthead web pages.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all commentary and photography on this site are by Grady McAllister.

Frequently Asked Questions

"What kind of airchecks are you seeking?"

This site will never become a general depository for any and all airchecks. It is not the DJ warehouse. It is not the audio equivalent to a newspaper morgue. There are already other sites which can do a better job at that.

This collection is mainly things I recorded myself.

Beyond that, I am only looking for a few good airchecks from other people. I hope to find recordings relevant to Houston radio history, especially things that I wish I had recorded myself.

As a rule, I avoid the following kinds of materials:

1. I generally avoid highly scoped airchecks which don't really go anywhere of interest. Hacked up recordings of radio hacks simply frustrate the listener. An aircheck should reveal more than a DJ's voice quality and ability to conform to a Bill Drake format.

Highly scoped tapes served their purpose in that they didn't waste the time of the program director when a DJ looked for a job. However, what we are looking for here is something which helps capture a zeitgeist, or spirit of the times.

I ask myself, "Is this something that would interest someone who listens to radio but never worked in radio?" So far, my readers have exercised good sense in what they send me, and I haven't turned anything down.

2. I generally avoid recordings from other web sites which have already been heavily circulated among Salty Old Radio Dogs.

3. I generally avoid photos or scans from outside sources. You can post images directly to our Facebook page:

Houston Retro Radio on Facebook

When people send recordings, some of them take up more of my time than others. The airchecks I most like to receive are the ones that are the most trouble and the ones that are the least trouble. Here are the categories:

  • Reel to reel tapes or audio cassettes containing original airchecks that have never been digitized or widely heard. Those airchecks are the most trouble for me, but they also offer the most rewarding results.
  • Digital recordings that are already in mp3. Those are the easy ones I like. I figure that if someone has sent me something, and it is ready to go on line, I should try to use it.

"Why don't you have an aircheck of my favorite DJ?"

The reason I don't have a particular aircheck is because I never recorded it. This collection began as just a place to list my own airchecks. My original aircheck collection tends to have a lot of some types of material and not enough of others.

They emphasize news and talk at the expense of the music formats. Without consciously thinking it all through, I thought that similar music formats would always be available.

That has not been the case. You can find the old music if you want it, but some of the best radio formats are long gone.

I made no systematic effort to document the various stations. I just tended to record what I was listening to at a given time.

If I could jump into a time machine, I would go back and make more recordings of the major DJ's and key music formats. It would be great if I had taped more long "night in the life of" airchecks such as my KILT material for 1980.

I started accepting outside material because I wanted a more balanced collection. However, this web site makes no attempt to cover all DJ's or to cover all formats.

I don't try very hard to get new airchecks. They just come to me when they do.

Revised August 20, 2011.

This FAQ continues at the top of the next column.

About the photography on this site

There is a clear divide between the pictures I took before and after the beginning of the 80's.

Prior to 1980, the camera was a Kodak Instamatic 100 for which I had paid about $11. It had a fixed focus lens and only two exposure settings. 

Surprisingly, in its April, 2008, issue, Shutterbug magazine listed the Instamatic 100 as one of the top 20 cameras of all time. I'm sure that is based on sales and product line extension, not on lens quality or mechanical precision.

I used my Instamatic to shoot 126 slide film. That was a square format that yielded images 26.5 X 26.5mm. That was a good size compared to the 110 "Instamatics" which appeared in the 70's.

A number of my 126 shots from the 60's and 70's are currently in the right column of my news & talk page.

From age 14, I always thought of myself as a serious photographer — somebody aiming for something artistic. I just didn't have much equipment or technical knowledge.

With all of my A-V money going toward audio, my photography had dwindled to almost nothing by the end of the 70's. I would leave the film in the camera for so long that that the resulting slides had a blue or magenta cast.

Then, a chance conversation revived my interest in photography. It also affected my overall career.

It happened in 1980 when I was doing some work for Houston Metro Traffic Control. One of the anchors was Len Hart, a newsman whom I had met previously at KENR, 1070.

Len was developing a photography business on the side and showed me his portfolio. I said to myself, "This is it. I am going to get a real camera. I have put it off long enough."

Although my income from my short lived Metro Traffic job was far from opulent, I headed to the Pasadena Sears and bought a Sears 35 mm camera made by Ricoh. (I had already bought a similar Sears camera back in 1976, but the only roll I shot came out blank, and the camera was stolen before my learning went any further.)

For the next year, I immersed myself in photography. I shot hundreds of slides and and went through a few dozen photography books. My Galveston seawall photography that you see on the radio home page began as a way to practice my new skill.

That decision to take up 35mm photography made it possible for me to create audiovisual training materials for Du Pont in 1980 and 1981. It was also a deciding factor when I was hired to manage audiovisual services at Texas Woman's University in the Texas Medical Center.

—Grady McAllister

A Word About Metro Traffic Control

Metro Traffic Control was a commercial enterprise, not a government agency as many inferred from the name. It is the same radio traffic report service that you hear during the chase scene of the movie, To Live and Die in L.A. (1985).


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About These Pages

"Why don't you have more airchecks of Big Harry?"

There is little point in writing to ask for an aircheck. Everything I have is already here. Yet, people still think I am hoarding a pile of unused airchecks..

Every now and then, I get an email which consists of nothing but a complaint.

It goes something like this:"Why don't you have more airchecks of Big Harry?" This is just an example. You can insert the name of the DJ or radio station of your choice.

It only takes 30 seconds to dash off a "why don't you have" email, but it could take me many hours over many months to fulfill such a "request." That is assuming that I could find the demanded airchecks at all.

Therefore, I am announcing a new policy: Any email which amounts to nothing but a complaint that I don't have a particular recording or a particular type of aircheck will be ignored.

The reasons why I don't have every possible aircheck are carefully explained on this page. There seems to be a general tendency for people to think that there are more airchecks out there than there actually are. Nonetheless, I have set up a Facebook page where anybody can make an appeal for a type of aircheck.

"Why don't you go to the other aircheck sites and download their material? Wouldn't that fatten up your collection?"

The big problem with questions like this is that people think I am more enamored with airchecks than I actually am.

There is nothing wrong with those sites, but if I were that thirsty for airchecks, I would already be going there for material.

If you know of a good web site, it's OK to tell me about it. Maybe I can set up a link to it. Just don't expect me to do anything in particular with their recordings.

I wouldn't want someone else to launch a site based mainly on what I have, and that is one reason I don't do wholesale downloads from other sites. Besides, my time is valuable, and it is much easier to just link to the outside material.

I am not trying to collect every thing in sight for this site.

Although I don't totally rule out airchecks which have been heard elsewhere, my main focus is on recordings which have never been widely heard before.

I think that aiming for quality rather than quantity has paid off. Without too much of a hard hustle on my part, I have uncovered—

1. A rare Jim Wood studio air check

2. An exclusive recording of the KILT coverage of the Kennedy assassination.

3. A KILT interview with Mick Jagger in connection with the 1966 Rolling Stones Houston concert.

4. Two unscoped KNUZ airchecks.

5. An extensive collection of KULF material from 1972 and 1973.

6. A KODA collection which includes new materials about the Kennedy assassination.

Most of these recordings appeared here for the first time on line. This site is actually more of an historical archive and writing project than a DJ Warehouse.

"Are you the Answer Man for all Houston radio questions?"

Think twice before asking me some question about who was morning drive at what station in the 70's. I am not really the person to hit with questions like that. My most intense interest in such trivia peaked while I was still in my teens, and my most arcane knowledge concerns easy listening stations, not top 40.

Even while I was working in radio I often listened to tapes (educational tapes as well as ones with music) rather than radio stations. Also, I was stuck in Bay City a good deal of the time, and KILT and KTRH were the only Houston stations I could pick up clearly in my car.

In short, a web site does not make me a fountainhead of radio knowledge. I have trouble answering the most ridiculously simple questions, such as, "What was the name of the parakeet on the Ron Elz Show on KXYZ in 1961?" That is a real question, but I don't know the answer. All I can do is stammer and stagger a few steps backward and stare at the ceiling and hope that the next question will go to someone else.

Put me on a quiz show with Salty Old Radio Dogs (people who take old top 40 radio seriously), and I will be the first one voted off for being the weakest link.

There may be a few dimly remembered areas where I know more than anyone else in town, but they are not the kind of topics which spur people to write to me.

"Since you are such a Dummy, how can I get my questions answered?"

The answer is out there.

I suggest that you post your question on a radio blog. There are plenty of them.

I recently set up this Facebook page for posting questions:

Houston Retro Radio on Facebook

That is a public page loosely related to Houston Retro Radio. Anyone can express an opinion or ask or answer a question.

If you ask your question there, the entire Free Corps of Free Lance Advisors can take a shot at providing an answer.

You can also send your question to

Jim Rose Remembers Radio

Mr. Rose is a former Houston DJ who writes about radio and entertainment. Everybody who has ever been anybody in radio visits the site, and someone can probably answer your question.

"I don't have any use for all of this Old School stuff. Why don't you have more about what is happening now on the radio?"

This web site is No Country for Young Punks, so expect short shrift for trendy to the max formats. We do not hop to Hip Hop.

I am not even much of a radio listener.

In some recent years, I have sometimes gone all year without listening to radio for a full half hour.

I have had my relapses when I gave radio a Last Chance, such as the mid 90's when syndicated talk radio got so big.

And in the late 90's, I listened to the KBME oldies format when it took over the 790 AM frequency. But when KBME became "The Sports Animal" that pretty well wrapped up radio for me. I'm not a Young Cool Dude with an insatiable appetite for spectator sports.

Of course, not every format change causes Houston to be blessed with a new all sports station.

Take a good look at what happened to KQUE, KNUZ, KLOL, and classical station KRTS. Did you detect a pattern in what happened to those rather unrelated formats?

I do still listen to talk radio from time to time, and sometimes I will listen to a music format just enough to get a feel for what is happening. However, it usually takes something as big as a hurricane to get me to turn on a radio for a substantial amount of time.

When I am out and about in my travels, I mainly listen to educational recordings, not the radio. Reason: I'm don't have a seventeen year old mind anymore.

A single mp3 CD can contain an entire book or an entire college course from The Great Courses series. I know you think I'm weird, but I find that to be better time management than listening to The Sports Animal. The mateial is far more useful than hearing which football player just "made it rain" in a strip club.

I listen mostly to business oriented recordings, but I also like to further my general education.

For example, I have listened several times to Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd. I figure that if you listen to good writing, some of it will rub off. I also have the Julie Christie movie. (I just learned yesterday that there is a new movie version out.)

Altogether, I have over 300 gigabytes of spoken word audio. Only a tiny percentage has anything to do with radio.

Realization: I have said all of this so people will understand that I am not even much of a radio listener, much less the one to hit with current radio questions.

Yes, I know that I was being redundant when I just wrote, "I am not even much of a radio listener." I am trying to be redundant.

On an FAQ page, redundancy in the pursuit of clarity is no vice.

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

Revised May 23, 2015.