Miss Martha Turner

In 2009 Joe Bankhead retired — at the age of 92 — from a 60 year career in and around radio. One of the first things he did was bang out a 20 page history of his time at KBOA in Kennett, Missouri. It’s a long read. A twenty-page core dump of Joe’s recollections. He apologizes a couple of times for his rambling, haphazard style but Joe wrote exactly the way he talked. (Lots of exclamation marks!)

I don’t think Joe really expected anyone to read 20 pages of memories (nor do I) but there’s some good stuff, especially for anyone interested in the early days of radio. So I’m going to share some of those stories here from time to time.

“I’ve got to tell you about Miss Martha Turner. Martha was a clean cut black lady from Hayti who purchased a 15-minute segment to be aired each Saturday morning. On her program she would sing an a cappella song and read all the cards and letters she would receive during the week. She’d arrive at the station three or four hours before her airtime and type out her dialogue (word for word) that she’d recite while on the air I kept a copy of Martha’s script on hand for years and I’m sorry I can’t provide it for you now. That it was unique and entertaining is a huge understatement. Miss Martha Turner deserves her spot in the history of KBOA. I don’t recall her ever trying to sell anything, or ask for donations from listeners. It appears she just wanted to be on the air and accommodate her fans by reading their letters.”

Joe died in 2011 and took with him a lifetime of great memories. I’m still amazed at his ability to recall so much detail at the age of 92. Joe’s son, Jim Bankhead, was kind enough to let me include Joe’s history on KBOA383.com (as a PDF). I transcribed the original and added a few links. It’s also searchable.

Jimmy Haggett at WSM

I have a fondness for old photos. Especially photos from the early days of radio. My friend Charles Isbell sent me some good ones this week. They were found in an old house being torn down in Caruth, Missouri. They feature Jimmy Haggett, a musician and DJ who worked northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri in the 50s. He and my father worked at KBOA at one point. You can find a bio at the link above.

As for the other people in the photos, two of the young men are The Wilburn Brothers (Teddy and Doyle). Looks like the photos were taken at WSM in Nashville, so perhaps some of the others are performers. If you recognize anybody, please leave a comment.

Acoustic tile, mic, other electronic gear… I’m guessing the photo above is a WSM studio.

Jimmy with Teddy and Doyle in the photos above/below. Would like to know who the other gentleman is. Will work on it.

Before Wikipedia and YouTube

I’ve been sharing old photos from the early days of radio station KBOA. I worked there in the 70s and my dad before me. I’ve been updating content on the website I created about the early days (1947-1957) of the station. KBOA830.com was my first shot at a website, back in 1997 and didn’t get much attention after the initial setup because it focused on that ten year period.

While updating this week, I kept find relevant stuff on Wikipedia and YouTube and couldn’t figure out how I’d missed this stuff when creating the site. Then I realized Wikipedia didn’t come online until 2001 and YouTube in 2005. And I found other sites with great material about performers and on-air talent at KBOA.

Early Elvis contract

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In 1955 Elvis Presley appeared at a little honky tonk called the B & B Club, in Gobler, MO. Not far from my hometown of Kennett, MO. More information here, including an audio clip with my father who was working at the local radio station. The contract above is between Elvis and Jimmy Haggett, who also worked at KBOA and booked entertainers on the side. If you look closely you’ll see Elvis was to receive 75% of the gate to be paid “after dance.”

When time stands still

In late summer of 1972 I had been “promoted” from baby-sitting the automation that ran our FM radio station to a live shift (3-7 p.m.) on the AM station. I had recorded weather reports for the FM station but being on the air live was intimidating.

Our stations had no affiliation with national news networks so our only source was the Associated Press wire. Every hour the AP teletype would spit out a national news summary, timed to run about five minutes for a typical reader. At our little stations, the announcer on duty did everything, including reading the news at the top of the hour.

Steve Mays - KBOA

At precisely the top of the hour, the FM automation stopped cold for exactly five minutes. The person “running the board” on the AM would throw a switch that “simulcast” the two stations for those five minutes so the same live newscast could go out on both the AM and the FM. At precisely five minutes past the top of the hour, you throw the switch back as the FM automation takes over again.

I found this procedure challenging. More accurately, I found the last 30 seconds challenging. If you were in the middle of longer story you had to find a place to break in order to “make the join.”

After a week or two I started getting comfortable with this operation and then one day I finished reading the news — every story — and looked up at the clock and saw that I was a minute early. I couldn’t flip the with to send the FM back to automation because it would result in a minute of dead air. The Ultimate Sin for new radio guys.

I don’t remember how I filled that minute. Probably with weather, maybe a couple of “community highlights.” All I really remember was the knot in my stomach and the sense of time dilation.

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever be in a situation where I have to “fill” for a minute. But if I am, I’m going to tell this story.

Craig Watson

This one is for posterity. I haven’t seen or heard from Craig Watson since the 50s. Our fathers worked together at KBOA (Kennett MO) back in the day before Craig’s family moved to Memphis, TN where his dad was a well-known TV sports reporter. We were born on the same day so I wound up with some photos. If you’re out there, Craig… hey! call me.

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Jeff Wheeler (1942-2015)

Jeff Wheeler

Jeff Wheeler died last Friday. In 2002 a massive stroke left him unable to speak or walk and he spent the past 13 years in an assisted living facility in Kennett, MO.

When I applied for a job at KBOA in 1972, Jeff set me up in a studio with some copy and a tape recorder for my audition tape. I got the job and he showed me what I needed to know to work at a small town radio station. We worked together for most of the next dozen years.

I never met anyone who knew more about music. He built and maintained a huge record library (with double-entry card catalog) for the radio station. Like many in markets that size, Jeff did everything: DJ, news, sports, commercials, etc.

The stroke that took Jeff’s voice (and mobility) left his cognition in tact. He understood what other said to him, he just couldn’t respond.

A few weeks (?) after his stroke, Jeff’s wife died suddenly of cancer. That, my friends, is some Old Testament shit. I doubt anyone knows how Jeff really felt about the hand he was dealt ‘cause Jeff wasn’t talking. Never again.

His daughter and brother-in-law got in touch to see if I had any recordings of Jeff. Like a lot of radio guys, Jeff never got around to saving air checks and such because, well, he thought he’d always be working in radio.

I found an hour-long “History of KBOA” Jeff produced in 1976 and pulled out 4 minutes they played during his funeral. First time in 13 years anyone had heard Jeff’s voice. First time ever for a few, I suppose.

What you could hear in those few minutes was how much Jeff loved what he was doing. How much he liked talking on the radio. And you could hear how painful it must have been these last 13 years to be unable to utter a word.

But he’s back on the air now. Somewhere. Probably. Doing play-by-play, the county spelling bee, Trading Post, the Hometown News. Never sounded better.

The Lumpkin Family

The Lumpkin Family

I’d watch a TV show based on a 50’s era family that made their living performing on small town radio stations. I might make one or both of the children “little people” passing as kids. Maybe the wife transgender. The gimmick would be they are all very talented but couldn’t make it as solo acts and discover — by humorous accident — that they’re a hit as a family. The thing practically writes itself.