The Vasthead Masthead

Houston Retro Radio

silhouette of arrow sign with water in background

"Radios of the world
are tuning in tonight,
Are you on the dial,
are you tuned in right?
One of our D.J.'s is missing . . .

"F.M., A.M. where are you?
You gotta be out there
somewhere on the dial . . .

 "Where did you go Mr. D.J.?
Did they take you off the air?
Was it something that you said
to the corporation guys upstairs? . . ."

— The Kinks, "Around the Dial" (1981).

Written by Ray Davies.

Click here for the complete lyrics

Click here for a 2008 Ray Davies song

Listening to KFMK during my first drive to Galveston (without having an FM radio in the car)

"So I grabbed out the car,
convertible '59,
Headed to the freeway,
tried to find the Pasadena sign"

— The Bee Gees, "Marley Purt Drive" from the album Odessa (1969)

This essay describes the time I drove the Chevy to the levy. It was actually a seawall. The KFMK program mentioned is the long aircheck in the left column.

Saturday, August 24, 1968, 3:00 A.M. A house near the Gulf Freeway on Houston's southeast side...

While drinking a first cup of coffee, I started taping KFMK on my recently acquired Tandberg reel to reel unit. I then began to simultaneously record the same broadcast on a portable cassette unit. My intention was to drive to Galveston and to take the cassette along.

Before leaving, I stepped into the front yard to take in the refreshingly damp pre-dawn air. I was suddenly approached by a young man who lived nearby.

He told me that he had been up all night. He told me that there was a prowler on his roof. ("Prowler" was not the precise term he used, but I try to keep these radio pages as family friendly as possible.)

This is the Edgebrook - Almeda Mall area we're talking about. It's not much to look at today, but in 1968 it was the epitome of the clean, suburban dream.

Nowadays, a prowler on a roof might seem like an everyday thing in Houston. But in 1968, we didn't tolerate that sort of nonsense. It hardy ever happened.

I saw no phantom prowler perched atop his home. I saw nobody around but the young man and me.

He also told me he had taken LSD. That helped explain things a little.

Assuring myself that the area was secure, I got into my flat-finned '59 Chevy Impala convertible and headed to Galveston on the Gulf Freeway. It was the first time I had ever driven a car outside of the immediate Houston area.

As you might expect , the Chevy had no FM radio and no cassette deck. However, I would make good use of my portable cassette player. Cassettes were still a novelty, but I had already carried them here, there, and everywhere for over two years.

As I hurled the Impala cautiously toward Galveston, I made that KFMK recording my soundtrack. The cassette also had a short segment from KILT-- a recording of a newly released song called "Hey Jude."

It was by some band that was somewhat well known at the time. I rewound that tape repeatedly. The KFMK segment had "Revolution," the flip side of the same single.

At that age, a song like "Hey Jude" might seem to embody all the hopes that the future had to offer. Cassettes allowed you to take your audio inspiration anywhere and to play it over and over. That is exactly what I did on the way to Galveston.

I was a bit nervous driving, encountering a thunderstorm as I approached the island and passing an accident on the causeway.

As the storm let up, I headed down Broadway and made a right on Seawall Boulevard. I stopped the car at the Flagship Hotel, a building which rested on a Galveston pier from 1965 to 2011.

I walked onto the pier and noticed a car marked "just married" with a bunch of tin cans attached. Until then, I had only seen that in the movies.

A sign on the couple's car said, "Now it's legal." I assumed that meant an existing cohabitation now had the full endorsement of the government. I never even saw the couple, but I have often wondered whether that particular marriage lasted.

I went into the hotel coffee shop just for a cup of coffee.

While on the pier, I shot a picture of the storm clearing over the water. See the photo with clouds over water in center column.

I also took pictures of some surfer girl types. (Unfortunately, the girl photos have not survived.) These were the first of hundreds of pictures I would eventually take in Galveston.

I took down the top of the '59 Impala. I stood there drinking some Constant Comment iced tea, returning to my recording of KFMK.

After that, I went to Saint Mary's Hospital. I had a delivery to make there for the family business. That was the real reason for the trip.

I headed home. When I got back, I listened to the playback of the reel to reel tape. Somehow that Elvin Bishop song had an effect on me. It was something about "Drunk again." I had never actually been drunk, but the song made me realize that I was tired. I went back to sleep for a while.

A few days later, I made a similar trip to Galveston, again parking by The Flagship. That time I took a friend along. (The second sunrise picture in the center column was probably taken during the second trip.)

At St. Mary's, we found that we couldn't open the trunk of the car to get the package out for delivery. A hospital maintenance man came to our assistance.

This trip followed several days of turmoil at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. After he rescued our package, the maintenance man looked at us and asked with a straight face, "Are you some of them there Yippies?"

That was the way life was late in the summer of 1968.

I shot the two pictures below in connection with the two trips to Galveston described in the above essay.

The film was Kodak Kodachrome-X, a film later replaced by Kodachrome 64. On June 22, 2009, Eastman Kodak announced the end of Kodachrome 64, the last film of that type still in production.

Below: A dawn storm clearing at Galveston, August 24, 1968. I probably shot this from the Flagship Hotel pier.

I am only including this picture because it was the first one I ever took in Galveston. I don't recommend that you take a shot like this.

This picture would have been better if there had been some object or person in the foreground. With no point of reference, it is hard to tell whether this was taken from a pier or on the open sea.

Below: Another dawn at Galveston, August 29, 1968. For a long time, I thought that the photo above and the photo below were shot on the same day. That now seems unlikely.

For one thing, the date I stamped on the slide below differs from the one on the slide above. Also, the Kodak number sequence on the slides indicates that my August 26 Gulfgate sunrise image was shot between the two dawn shots in Galveston. That tells me that the photo below was probably taken during the second trip to Galveston mentioned in my essay. That also explains the difference in the weather for the two dawn shots.



The Vasthead
Work Samples
What Others Say

Houston Retro Radio
The Galveston Arrow
The Houston Balloon
Texas Weather
News Fronts
James Thomson
Full Moon Nights
Vast Headroom

Radio Home Page
Mainly '80's
Mainly '70's
Mainly '60's
KILT A-GO-GO: KILT in 1966
Album Rock
KXYZ: When music could still help you relax
Adult Formats
News & Talk
Ads, Promos, PSA's
Alex Bennett
Suburbia, Exurbia & Galveston
Distant Signals
Outside Links
Blurb Page
About These Pages
Radio Email Page

Email this site
If you don't want your name to be used or an email to be quoted, please state that at the beginning of your message.

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

Write to this site
If you don't want your name to be used or an email to be quoted, please state that at the beginning of your message.

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

This page last changed September 10, 2017.

Galveston Seawall

Above: Galveston Seawall, 1983.

Below: Solar eclipse over Houston, 1984.

Solar Eclipse, 1984

Album rock comes to Houston

KFMK, Houston,
August 24, 1968, Steve Nagle

Or, click here for just the
newscast featuring Steve Nagle

Free form music with rip and read headlines for heads. Recorded at the time when Flower Power was in flower, the DJ sounds very relaxed. "Yeah . . . Here we are."

Before there was KLOL and before there was a Houston Pacifica station, KFMK was the city's first album rock station. The bumper sticker read, "Wow."

The announcer heard here, not identified in the recording itself, is Steve Nagle, now an attorney in Austin. He wrote to me in 2006 after another former KFMK DJ surprised him by playing this recording over the telephone.

I remember the morning I made this recording in some detail, and I describe it in the memoir at the end of this column.

An invitation to meditation

KFMK, Houston, 1967 or 1968

I found this short segment hidden at the end of a tape of TV audio. The voice on them is probably Jay Thomas, an early album rock DJ whom I phoned numerous times and visited on at least one occasion.

The KFMK DJ introduces a brief excerpt from an Alan Watts recording. A typical Zen word play. I was very pleased to discover this little gem.

My large library of educational audio includes many long Alan Watts lectures. None of them are quite like this. In his old phonograph recordings, Watts tended to address the listener more directly than in his lectures. Please send me a note if you know of the name of this LP or the name of a current CD with the same material. I tend to listen to Watts more for amusement rather than any serious dedication to Zen or meditation.

Radio Free Spring Branch Memorial

KFMK, Houston-Spring Branch Memorial, December 6, 1967

This is probably the only historic aircheck for a Spring Branch Memorial station. Recorded during its early album rock period, KFMK was aiming for an audience in that area of Houston. One KFMK announcer told me at the time that they were thinking of changing their call letters to KSBM.

What is interesting about this is that they were looking toward taking a station heard in all of Houston and using it to serve a small area within the metropolis.

Of course, that is the opposite of what happens nowadays.

In a typical modern scenario, a high powered takeover tycoon buys a 50 watt FM station in Outer Cut n Shoot. He proceeds to spread money into enough of the right places. Then in a week or two, that station is broadcasting on eight frequencies of one gigawatt per channel and blasting away every local FM station from Victoria to Nacogdoches. It is sold to advertisers as a metropolitan Houston station.

The original community, Outer Cut n Shoot, takes the hindmost. They are nominally "served" by a recorded "public affairs" program heard at 5:00 AM on Sunday.

Grady McAllister

Revised May 23, 2009

About KLOL

For 35 years, KLOL dominated album rock in the Houston market. If you were to ask, "What was the main Houston album rock station in the Twentieth Century?" KLOL would be the call letters most remembered.

KLOL has made some big changes in recent years. This is not your father's KLOL. It is not your Twisted Sister's KLOL either.

Dayna Steele was one of the main KLOL DJ's during the 1980's. Now, she is a business consultant, extolling how to be a "rock star" in any occupation.

Dayna Steele on Facebook

Large version of arrow image

Album Rock

For the first time anywhere...


Added August 20, 2017

KFMK, Houston, March 3, 1969

KFMK, Houston, March 5, 1969, Part 1

KFMK, Houston, March 5, 1969, Part 2

KFMK, Houston, 1969 #1

KFMK, Houston, 1969 #2

KFMK, Houston, 1969 #3

0:34—"In another 30 years, it won't make a bit of difference." Comment after "The Flute Thing."

KFMK, Houston, 1969 #4

Charles R. O'Bannon of Gresham, Oregon, provided these airchecks. Chad Lawrence transferred and edited the recordings.

Later the same year, this free-form format came to an abrupt halt. KFMK switched to recordings of evangelists, most of them nationally syndicated. That format held until the fall of 1975.

At that point, they adopted a modern Christian music format, featuring live DJ's. I was there as a temporary employee during the transition from talking tapes to jocks. In fact, it was my first paid radio job.

A lot of broadcasters have spent part of their illustrious careers at KFMK. There is even a Facebook page for KFMK alumni.

For the remainder of 1969, KXYZ-FM dominated Houston album rock with the syndicated Love Radio format. See the "Brother John" Rydgren material below in this column.

Meanwhile, KRBE couldn't decide if it was album rock or top 40. Let's compare two KRBE airchecks. Here is one that came to us with the above KFMK airchecks...

KRBE, Houston, February 23, 1969

They seem to be aiming for a slick, top 40 sound.

Now, compare it to an aircheck I recorded myself in early January, 1970...

KRBE, Houston, January 1970.

The format sounds relaxed and free-from. This could have just as easily been KFMK as it sounded a few months earlier.

But the top 40 mode eventually won out, and to this very day, the station has the same call letters and a current top 40 format.

Background on this aircheck: The DJ on is Ritch Bryan. At the very end of the recording, you hear him do a "rip and read" newscast. All the music stations used to have newscasts, even if it was just the DJ reading wire copy cold.

Trivia on this aircheck: The music at the beginning of the KRBE newscast is "El Rancho Grande" by the Percy Faith Orchestra. The same album has a version of "Guadalajara" which I heard on a KXYZ travel commercial.

The airchecks on this page reflect a pivotal moment in the rise of progressive and album rock in Houston. Inevitably, it became increasingly commericalized.

In In the fall of 1970, KLOL emerged, and it ruled Houston rock for the next 35 years. Somewhere along the way, shock-jock morning men replaced laid-back announcers, vastly changing the FM rock environment.

Grady McAllister

September 6, 2017

"It'll kill you. That's the way it works."

Ray Manzarek of The Doors

KXYZ-FM, Houston, 1969, John Rydgren

This is a collection of PSA's aired by Love Radio. That was the syndicated rock format offered by ABC Radio and hosted by "Brother John" Rydgren (1932-1988).

Brother John is the announcer on the "piggies" PSA, and he does the tag line for all the other spots.

Most of the announcements are for the Do It Now Foundation and feature rock stars warning young people about shooting speed.

Love radio was the main programming on KXYZ-FM (later called KAUM) when they first switched to rock. Brother John tried to make their programming sound hip and cool while keeping it as far away from the drug scene as possible.

Wikipedia offers this background on the format:

In June 1968, 24 year old Allen Shaw was hired from WCFL radio in Chicago, by ABC Radio Stations President, Hal Neal, to program all 7 of the ABC Owned FM Radio Stations in a new album rock format. There was very little budget for ABC's FM stations at that time, so Shaw was told that the new rock format would have to be totally automated. Shaw designed the "LOVE" format, with John "Brother John" Rydgren as the only DJ on the air 24 hours a day. 25 hours of long-form tapes were recorded at WABC-FM for playback on the ABC FM stations.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep any of my ABC Love airchecks. I only have this collection of Public Service Announcements. They were originally included in a long tape recorded at 1.875 ips. Later the PSA's were culled out and re-recorded at 7.5 ips.

An ordained minister, Brother John also hosted Silhouette, a program on behalf of the American Lutheran Church. You hear him concluding one Silhouette broadcast at the beginning of the Ron Foster aircheck for August 4, 1968.

I don't normally use airchecks from other radio markets, but I want you to hear more of Rydgren than just my PSA collection. So, here ere are some West Coast versions of Love Radio:

"Brother John" Rydgren on KABC-FM and KGO-FM.

You will just have to imagine the same material with Houston remarks and Houston commercials.

A pair of documentaries

KXYZ-FM and KAUM were the same station and the same format. The call letters changed between the first and the second recording. KAUM was owned and operated by ABC at the time.

These locally produced shows reflect the somber and divided political mood of the country in the aftermath of the Kent State killings and recent events in southeast Asia.

Grady McAllister recorded these materials.

KXYZ-FM, July 4, 1970, a Fourth of July special

This free-form documentary is a mixture of music and quotations and actualities. It was aimed at a liberal, libertarian, and anti-war audience. Notice the Red Skelton ABC news item about the Pledge of Allegiance.

KAUM, January 17, 1971,"Bombed in Houston"

This Ed Beauchamp documentary was spurred by a series of politically-motivated bombings in the Houston area. KPFT, the Pacifica station, was bombed off the air twice.

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