Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Note on K-HIT Radio

K-HIT radio of Walla Walla was the radio station your father would listen to. If you lived in Walla Walla during the 60s or early 70s, you could tune it in at 1320. Most radios did not have an FM band or if you had it, chances are you did not use it. K-HIT played such artists as Dean Martin, Perry Como and Ray Coniff literally from sun up to sun down because it only had a daytime license. It also had a machine playing the music--it was automated. It had musical jingles as buffer between the musical selections and the commercials. At the hour and the half hour it had news read by the droning voice of the owner.

Why would I write about such a square radio station? The call letters KHIT were pronounced Kay-Hit, this was an era when top 40 radio was very much in vogue. With such distinguished call letters, you would think that a large market station would pay millions for them.

In the early 70s, KHIT was sold to a group of investors from Oregon, led by Carl Tyler, they modernized the station to a degree and even added a rock FM station, XT97. It too was automated but gave younger Walla Wallans more choices of what to listen to. Carl Tyler would later sell his interest in the station and enter politics, eventually becoming Walla Walla's mayor. The KHIT call letters were acquired by a Seattle radio station which soon folded.


Geoffrey said...

Thanks for the memories Mike. Yep, KHIT would run-down at sun-down, but treated fellow Walla Wallans company in the mid to late 1970s with a change in format to contemporary music. I recall walking into the offices in downtown Walla Walla fresh out of WSU for an interview and welcomed by pictures of Johnny Mathis, big record discs on the wall with a slogan, "Come on in, the music's fine." Receptionist Grace Baker was multi-tasker like so many "secretaries" were back in those days, running traffic, answering phones, doing accounting/billing and working as front-office bulldog, protecting Carl Tyler. I say that with a smile, as Grace was a wonderful woman and great friend to all. Sales were managed by Steve "Floyd" Stevens. Jim Corcoran, who later owned and operated KWWW in
Wenatchee, was in sales. Mike Talbot, fellow Coug, did news, while I dabbled in news, programming, production, whatever.

As you mentioned, Mike, we eventually built our FM station KSXT - XT-97 - and moved into the basement of the Lloyd's Building at 2nd and Alder. How cool was that, we all thought...going from a 1,000 watt daytimer to a 50,000 watt flame least that what we thought. We were now big-time.

Being a small market station, we were able to easily create fun promotions like establishing "Saturday In The Park" concerts at beautiful Pioneer Park with ease. And since no other stations were doing anything creative, we endeared ourselves with the local community. We also started the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede in the late 1970s with local insurance agent Bill Lloyd, who was a avid balloonist.

Sure these wouldn't compete with large market events, but for Walla Walla in the late 1970s, it was fun, exciting and cemented our relationship with our listeners.

Carl and his wife Eilene were wonderful owners and treated all employees as family. We had a unique crew that loved what we did.

In 1980 I was lured away to the big city....Kennewick to work with KORD and eventually went country at KOTY/KXDD. Whoo Hoo. It was another adventure, moving into country programming and introducing "voice tracking" to our automated FM station. While simplistic computers provided woeful technology around 1981 to manage a "semi-live" sound to automation, it was a fun challenge molding an automated sound into what most thought was live. I must admit that frequent screw ups occurred when tapes ran out, carts were missing or power outages occurred. Just like Apollo 13 managed to go to space and back relying on computing capacity equivalent to a "Commador Computer", our system ran on the "brains" similar to that of a "Pac Man" video game. But, 95% of the time, we sounded pretty damn good. And for the Tri-Cities, that was close enough.

Getting the crew to understand and correctly use secondary and tertiary sub-audible tones to allow for voice-overs of music, and properly time tones to accommodate tape speed and one-second delays that all music and commercials required, was a challenge. This was particularly difficult for older, less patient DJs used to just spinnin' the hits.

I recall hiring one such employee from the east coast who could not understand the system, and would not learn it. He lasted a couple of days. Management gave him a couple of hundred dollars to pay for the trip back. Not one of my best hires as a fledgling Operations Manager.

Mike, I recall you coming on board in the early 1980 to begin your career. Eager and anxious, you were willing to do about anything to get started, much like me in my early years. Looks like you did pretty well for yourself since then.

Thanks for the memories and reminding me - and all of us - of those terrific years where, whether in large and small market, Radio was King, creativity ruled and life was good. We even learned that employment could be fun, even on a meager salary.

I lived and survived during the "baby boomer years" of AM and early days of FM, and I'm proud of it.

Thanks again Mike.

Mike Barer said...

I love Geoff's comments because they are much more informative than the blog post. I wish he could write for us full time!
STL, Inc which purchased XT-97, was a first class operation, where the employees wore ties to work, something practically unheard of in a small town. Geoff was always able to take time from his busy schedule to here about my dreams and ambitions in the field .