Bud Kennedy

Thursday, Mar. 8, 2001

Ghost of radio past is on the air

Weekend AM radio is all pitches -- either baseball or sales.

AM radio is the outpost of cures for the sick, treatments for your bug-infested azaleas and home loans for the hopelessly credit-impaired.

So you can imagine my surprise last Saturday, when I went driving near Lake Texoma and tried to tune in a station that wasn't selling Body Solutions.

Instead, I wound up tuning back in time. It was an AM radio version of the Twilight Zone.

First, I heard a radio commercial for Monnigs Department Store: "Shop our five handy area locations."

Monnigs? What area locations? That was my mother's favorite department store, but it's been gone 12 years.

Then an oldies jock named Bobbin' Bob Allen played an Aretha song. Fine, I thought. Some small-town station.

Then he told me it was 78 degrees "in the All-America City," and promised news headlines coming up with Roy Eaton.

Wait. Roy Eaton owns a newspaper in Decatur, He hasn't anchored radio or TV news since -- `1973.'

I conducted a quick check. The car radio was set to 1500 AM. As far as I could tell, the year was still 2001, unless I drove through a time warp somewhere around the lake, maybe between Pottsboro and Fink.

Yet the radio was tuned to 1960s Fort Worth.

I almost spun out when Bobbin' Bob said, "You're tuned to the big one -- KXOL."

Maybe you've read about all the radio reunions lately. The old guard from Fort Worth rock 'n' roll giant KFJZ got together to reconstruct their 1970s memories.

The name of Dallas' KLIF -- the original at 1190 AM, not today's generic talk-show rant soapbox -- holds a revered position in radio history. Less remembered is KXOL, the upstart challenger that was once the home of disc jockey George Carlin and news anchor Bob Schieffer, broadcasting from the same Fort Worth Cultural District studios that gave the world the hit songs Hey! Baby and Hey Paula.

Bobbin' Bob finally explained the extended 1960s flashback. Now, Allen owns and hosts on KJIM/1500 AM, a Sherman-area station. For three nights last week, he played taped shows from 1960s KXOL, new gifts from the collection of John Lewis Puff of Keller.

Puff, 35, once a teen-age KXOL country disc jockey [John Lewis], is reviving the station for Internet eternity at a new Web tribute site, www.KXOL1360.com.

"I don't think there's another radio station in this area that produced more talent than KXOL," he said by phone yesterday from his job at a Dallas communications company.

"It's a piece of radio history. The response so far has been overwhelming. People from all over have written about how much they remember Fort Worth and KXOL."

Carlin perfected his "hippy-dippy weatherman" jokes on KXOL in the early 1960s, and late nights at The Cellar nightclub.

In an age when Dallas AM radio signals were weak at night, Fort Worth and Arlington teen-agers grew up listening to rock on KFJZ and KXOL. KXOL gave up rock for country music in 1976, and gave up in 1985. The station is now Radio Unica, KAHZ/1360 AM; the FM side was sold off to become KPLX/99.5 FM, "The Wolf."

Some radio historians say KXOL was the nation's first rock station to choose certain songs for a set station "playlist."

"It was a classic '60s station," Allen said by phone from KJIM, between Sherman and Denison. He spun records at KXOL from 1962 to 1968, including the day President Kennedy was killed in Dallas. The station's "mobile unit" reporter Bruce Neal was riding in the motorcade.

The tapes he played last week include a Neal mobile news report from Fort Worth City Hall, along with commercials for long-gone Dub Shaw Ford, Manor Bread and OJ's Beauty Lotion.

"I couldn't believe any KXOL tapes still existed," Allen said. "So I just divided them up and put them on the air.

"The audience up here liked them. I never dreamed that somebody from Fort Worth might be passing through and hear them."

We're even.

I never dreamed I'd pick up decent AM radio on a Saturday afternoon between Pottsboro and Fink.

Bud Kennedy's column appears
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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