KLIF began in 1947 in Dallas. Gordon McLendon and his father B.R. McLendon were granted a license by the FCC to create a new station on the 1190 frequency in Dallas in November 1947.
Gordon had owned KNET in Palestine, Texas and recently sold it with a plan to seek bigger ground in Dallas. Gordon and B.R. first formed Trinity Broadcasting and KLIF was their first acquisitioin.
KLIF signed on November 9, 1947. The station was assigned to cover the town of Oak Cliff and was a daytime-only operation broadcasting with 1000 watts from local sunrise to local sunset. This is how the call-letters came about. K-L-I-F, could be pronounced “Cliff” as in Oak Cliff. KLIF originally broadcast out of the basement of the “Cliff Towers Hotel” at 329 E. Colorado in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas.
In the basement of this building is where KLIF and the Liberty Broadcasting System began and originated from 1947 to 1950. The building later became a nursing home and as of 2001 is still standing, but vacant. There is nothing in the basement today that would give any indication that one of America’s greatest radio station began there.
In the local newspaper, The Dallas Morning News, a half-page ad ran for the new KLIF. Prominently featured is “KLIF the Parrot – more than a mascot, a bonafide member of the announcing staff”. McLendon had a Parrot which he trained to say “K-L-I-F” by locking it in a room with an endless loop tape of the call-letters being repeated over and over. It worked, the Parrot could indeed say “KLIF”. The Parrot’s cage was located in the studio and would be heard on the air saying “KLIF”! The bottom half of the ad plugs “Personalities and Program Features” including Tommy Dorsey, Gene Autry, and Louis Jordan to name a few.
A radio log from the first day lists:
12:50 p.m.: Sign On
12:51 p.m.: Chicago Cardinals vs. Detroit Lions at Detroit, Mich.
3:30 p.m.: Opening Day Showcase
5:30 p.m.: Sign Off
In the early days the KLIF programming offered the usual mix of standard soap opera’s, sitcoms, and drama fare left over from the “Golden Days of Radio.” McLendon’s extensive background and love for sports was inter-twined with sports broadcasts of football and baseball games. McLendon referred to himself on the air as “the old Scotchman”. The mystique of his delivery made one imagine listening to a wise 79 year old Scotchman, exactly as McLendon wished.
Gordon McLendon and other staffers on a Baseball recreation on the Liberty Broadcasting System. McLendon is in the foreground with the hat. The young man in the print shirt is Wes Wise when he was in High School working at KLIF. He later was a sports anchor at Channel 4 television and then became Mayor of Dallas in the 1970’s.
From this began McLendon’s venture into network broadcasting. He created the Liberty Broadcasting System that featured Sports as its mainstay.
All L.B.S. programming originated from the original KLIF studio’s located in the basement of the Cliff Towers Hotel in downtown Oak Cliff. In 1951, Liberty ranked second in the nation with 458 affiliates coast to coast.
For some time, McLendon was banned from broadcasting from the game sites, because team owners were afraid he would encourage fans to stay at home and listen to the game rather than spending the money to go see the game. For this reason, he would use wire service reports of the on-field action, add sound-effects from his Dallas studio and his voice to call the action all from the KLIF studios in Dallas. He eventually won the rights to broadcast direct from ballparks.
In 1952, beset with financial problems, the Liberty Broadcasting System declared bankruptcy and ceased operations.
How and why Gordon chose to embark on the Top 40 route is not in dispute, but exactly when he introduced Top 40 to KLIF listeners is open to question. Gordon himself set the earliest Top 40 arrival date at 1952. However, Sponsor magazine pegged 1953 as the year that KLIF “burst into national prominence with its formula of music and news plus razzle-dazzle promotion”. Another source suggested that Gordon perhaps was tinkering with the Top 40 idea “in the early part of 1953” but was “using a top 25-record playlist (updated daily)”. But one other source said that by mid 1953, Gordon still had not settled into a particular Top 40 programming scheme. The latest time (and probably the closest to being correct in view of the evidence) for KLIF’s transition to Top 40 was said by Bill Meeks to be 1954.
Memories sometimes fail to recall specific dates for specific events. That appears to have happened here. There is another reason for the confusion as well. Unlike the virtual overnight transition to Top 40 that Gordon later would make at some of his newly acquired stations, Top 40’s implementation at KLIF occurred not all at once but rather very gradually. There is good evidence that Gordon was making some adjustments in KLIF’s programming as early as 1953 that gave the station perhaps the essence of Top 40, although the official format name might not yet have applied. There also is evidence that at least by May 1953, Gordon was promoting a programming change for KLIF that would move the station in the direction of full-blown Top 40. Nonetheless, a perusal of the KLIF program schedule for June 1953 showed that Gordon was airing programs in a block style quite similar to what he had been doing for several years. Morning programs included “Coffee Capers,” “Sunny Side Up,” “House Party” and “Hillbilly Roundup.” “Luncheon Music,” “Bandstand” and “Lullaby in Rhythm” were the afternoon programs. The evening KLIF programs included “Mellow’s the Mood,” “Candlelight and Gold,” “Tops in Pops” and “Harlem Hit Parade”. One year later, the KLIF program schedule had taken on a decidedly different look. Gone were most of the program titles, along with their potpourri of music. In their place were time slots identified by disc jockey names-names that would become famous in the annals of Top 40 radio. Kenny Sargent led the pack with a mid-morning show, followed by Bruce Hayes from late morning to early afternoon. Kenny Sargent returned after the Hayes shift, and at mid-aftemoon Bill Stewart came aboard. His shift ran until just past 6:00 p.m., when Gene Edwards took over. That schedule did not change appreciably through mid-1955. The only differences came with the addition of three new disc jockey names to the KLIF family: Don Keyes, Larry Monroe, and Jim Randolph
Somewhere around late 1954 and early 1955, then, all of the ingredients necessary for Top 40 appeared to be coming together at KLIF. The real catalyst in the development of a true Top 40 format at KLIF was Bill Stewart and the ideas that he brought to the station from his earlier association with Todd Storz. Don Keyes recalled that Stewart came in knowing what he was doing. And that’s when he really tightened the playlist. “That’s when we really went Top 40 – hard Top 40. Then we took off something fierce. We were still number one prior to that. But, if I had a record I liked, I’d play it. If the other disc jockey didn’t like it, he didn’t play it. It was kinda loosey goosey. We had jingles and contests and promotions, but it wasn’t a rigid Top 40. And Bill came in and firmed up that music policy, and away we went.”
The chemistry of whatever was happening at KLIF was beginning to have noticeable impact within the Dallas radio community. KLIF’s station ratings-foremost indicators of a station’s well-being in the marketplace, were indeed impressive. “Within weeks after implementing Top 40, KLIF jumped from a 2 percent share of the market to 45 percent,” noted one source. Another said: “In its titan days, KLIF . . . had ratings as high as 52″. Bill Stewart remembered that the station went from tenth or eleventh in the market to No. 1 in 60 days” when Top 40 was introduced. Gordon himself described KLIF’s position in April 1954 as “the leading metropolitan independent in the United States in share of morning audience, third in the afternoons, fourth at night, and undeniably first on Saturdays”. Hooper Ratings showed the station in June 1954 to be number one in the Dallas market in every time period.
There was no doubt that KLIF was knocking the socks off the competition. But how was it doing it? The Top 40 format was only the product of a very keen intuition about what kind of radio programming people wanted to hear. Once you have ascertained what your audience wants, Gordon felt, then give it to them. On that point, Gordon once wrote:
Time and again -without exception -successful broadcast operators have proved that in order to survive and prosper financially, any radio station must provide a programming service of utility to a meaningful segment of the potential listening audience. Neither sales nor general administration nor engineering comes first. Programming does. The station failing to provide some service of unique programming utility to one or another reasonably large demographic element of the population is doomed.
The programming-ahead-of-sales philosophy was really Gordon’s broadcasting credo. “You can have the greatest sales staff and signal in the world and it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have something great to put on the air,” he would say. If he kept his eye on the programming, Gordon assumed, station advertising sales would take care of itself. And, of course, he was usually right.
Programming at KLIF “received the constant attention and monitoring of its owner-to the station’s obvious benefit”. Gordon was convinced that much of his programming success stemmed directly from all of his attention to every detail. Gordon was forever fine-tuning his Top 40 format, while other station owners watched and followed suit. “People were coming to Dallas and monitoring KLIF, leaving with a briefcase full of tapes and going back to their hometown and doing likewise,” noted Don Keyes. (It was not long before KLIF would become “America’s most imitated radio station”, and with good reason.) When asked what kind of audience he was programming KLIF for, Gordon replied rather matter-of-factly: “I geared it toward what I would like to hear. I assumed the audience to be interested in what I would like to hear”.
That was not altogether true, of course, since Gordon’s reading of the marketplace might very well have told him the listeners liked something that he did not. If so, his listeners got whatever they, not Gordon, wanted. Gordon’s son Bart even said that his father “knew nothing at all about music and cared nothing at all about music”. And there is no record of Gordon ever speaking favorably of rock ‘n’ roll. Nonetheless, he was among the first radio station owners “to appreciate its commercial potential and to mold it into a salable package”.
Whether any buyers were available was another matter. Al Lurie, then working as an account executive at a Dallas advertising agency, told of his clients’ initial reluctance at buying advertising time on KLIF. They preferred to wait and see how the station performed, but Lurie “realized the impact KLIF was making . . . in Dallas” and persuaded them to take a chance. The “gamble certainly paid off,” commented Lurie, “because KLIF went right to the top and got terrific results”. Ed Routt recalled his days as a KLIF sales representative having to overcome initial advertiser reluctance because of the station’s young audience. “Nobody listens to that kid’s stuff,” the advertisers would say, and even the other Dallas radio stations “looked down their nose at us”. But the low regard from fellow broadcasters did not matter once KLIF’s Top 40 became popular. “We were just killing them,” Routt said of the competition. “We were just programming rings around them, outselling them”.
Gordon’s ability to deliver listeners to his advertising clients was tied closely to his incessant need to program KLIF so that all who could, would listen. As the McLendon stable of radio stations grew, Gordon spread among them his philosophy of filling the listener’s need to be entertained and informed. “For to me,” he once said, “the only thing that matters in radio is the size of the audience. . . . If . . . programming is the most important single factor in radio, we feel that we must have a continuing measurement of our audience, or lack of it. . . . We program by our ratings”.
Keeping KLIF’s ratings high required feeding the musical needs of its listeners. And keeping in touch with the musical tastes of listeners was not done in a very scientific way, according to Gordon. “The very first way I remember,” he said, “was we just called the local record stores and asked them what their top sellers were and would they number them. From that we came up with a consensus Top 40 and we weighed that against Billboard, which was the big magazine in the field at that time”.
From an unscientific method of monitoring what records listeners were buying, Gordon developed a very specific music policy-“the first music policy in the history of man,” asserted Chuck Blore -which indicated to disc jockeys just what types of records they could play on the air. Some latitude was given as to specific record titles that could be played, but all records had to be chosen from a playlist prepared by the KLIF program director. Certain types of records, such as classical, opera and country-western, were banned altogether. One of Bill Stewart’s contributions to the KLIF Top 40 sound, as noted earlier, was to tighten considerably the record playlist so that disc jockeys had less and less freedom to air music of their own choosing.
The importance of the KLIF playlist could be seen in particular whenever the station chose to air a “pick hit,” as a newly released record with a potentially good sound came to be called. “If a record was played on KLIF it was almost assured of being a smash hit all over the nation,” said KLIF National operations director Ken Dowe.
The one concession made to Bill Stewart’s playlist control happened as a result of KLIF’s determination to reach a more adult audience. Don Keyes saw a need for the station to back away from its rock ‘n’ roll music during the important 3 to 6 p.m. hours in order to attract the “homeward-bound traffic audience.” Keyes therefore approached Gordon with a request that he be given the late afternoon announcing shift and allowed to program it the way he pleased. The 3 to 5 portion of the shift still would carry light rock music to accommodate teenagers returning home from school, but the 5 to 6 . portion would be programmed for adults. The idea was a spectacular success. Keyes picked up 50 percent of the audience during his “drive time” shift, the highest share for any Dallas radio announcer to that point, and he was having a terrific time in the process. “I was having so much damn fun,” said Keyes, “that when payday rolled around it always struck me as a surprise. I get paid, too? Gee whiz!”.
Subtle changes in music policy continued to occur as years went by so that KLIF could adjust for listener needs and wants. By the 1960s the station’s music had moved more toward what later would be called “adult contemporary”.
The disc jockeys who played the music, who really were the spark or catalyst that made the programming work, had to be the best; Gordon insisted on that. KLIF “jocks” were undisputedly in a class by themselves. Don Keyes, Kenny Sargent, Bruce Hayes, Bill Stewart, Gene Edwards, Larry Monroe and Jim Randolph have been mentioned already as having formed the vanguard of Top 40 disc jockeys who would lend their efforts toward building KLIF into America’s leading radio station. Many others would follow, and each would carve a niche for himself in KLIF history. Most of their real names never were known to KLIF listeners, but their radio names were famous throughout Dallas. Among them were Charlie Brown and Irving Harrigan, who teamed up as Charlie and Harrigan; Johnny Dark, Jim O’Brian, Deano Day, Jimmy Rabbitt and Russ Knight, the Weird Beard.
These disc jockeys more often than not were bigger than life. In many respects they did not just make KLIF, they were KLIF. Identities of person and station were inseparable. The same was true for disc jockeys at other McLendon Stations where Top 40 had been installed. Disc jockeys who had the good fortune to work at a McLendon Station took great pride in that fact. “We were all young fellas with young families, and we were all walkin’ tall and walkin’ proud,” said Don Keyes. There was “great esprit de corps” among McLendon Station disc jockeys, Keyes added. Ken Dowe recalled that to be a KLIF disc jockey “was sort of like being a celebrity movie star”.
To become a KLIF disc jockey was the dream of many Top 40 disc jockeys eager to make a name for themselves. Don Keyes told the story of his days as McLendon station national program director when he kept a roster of potential KLIF disc jockeys (called the “farm club”) then working at other stations around the country. Many of the roster names came from tapes, called “air checks,” that disc jockeys had made of their on-air performance and had sent to KLIF. Keyes said he listened to each tape and made notes about what he had heard. Keyes also traveled extensively to listen to on-air performances and to talk with disc jockeys about joining the KLIF team. His presence oftentimes caused quite a stir:
When they heard Don Keyes was in town monitoring . . . they fell all over themselves to have a cup of coffee with me and be interviewed and keep them on my list, ’cause when the break came, I’d draw from the farm club. “It’s time, it’s time to come to Dallas to be on KLIF. . . . ” It was obviously a promotion financially. But these little young egos, these 26 year old disc jockeys, it was a move up. Boy, in the industry to come to KLIF -that was heavy, heavy stuff.
Once a disc jockey worked at a McLendon Station, assuming he performed his job successfully, he generally had little trouble moving on from there whenever he chose. Edd Routt recalled how a disc jockey in KLIF’s glory days could “run an ad in Broadcasting or Sponsor magazine, and he’d say ‘McLendon-trained morning man seeks employment’ and give a phone number. No problem. ‘If he’s McLendon-trained, we want him”‘.
Gordon attempted to exact a pledge from any newly hired disc jockey that he would not work at a McLendon Station, taking advantage of the training and name recognition that he would receive, and then resign to pursue a job at a competing station. The pledge probably worked reasonably well, although some McLendon Station disc jockeys moved to competing stations and worked under different names. And McLendon Station disc jockeys regularly moved to stations in other markets. Chuck Blore, for instance, persuaded Bruce Hayes and Art Nelson from KLIF and Elliott Field from KILT to leave McLendon employment to help build the fortunes of KFWB in Los Angeles.
Bruce Hayes, the original morning man at the launch of KFWB/Color Radio in Los Angeles in 1958, died of cancer at the age of 67 in 1993. “Bright-eyed and bushy tailed Uncle Bruce” worked as one of the “Seven Swingin’ Gentlemen” into 1961. His signature sign-off was “Excelsior.” After being discharged from the paratroopers, Bruce attended radio school in his hometown of Dallas, worked as an announcer in Corpus Christi and as a dj on WRR-Dallas where Gordon McLendon heard him and hired him to do the night shift at KLIF. When Bruce substituted for a couple of weeks as the morning-drive man, his irreverent humor touched the funny bone of early morning commuters. The station’s ratings shot up and Bruce remained on the morning shift until he left Dallas to become the morning man at KFWB. He and Bea Shaw, whom he had known since grade school in Dallas, married and moved to the Southland in 1958. Bea, who had her own tv show in Dallas, went to work at KFWB as “Tiger,” the sexy-voiced traffic information girl, who would banter with Bruce during his morning drive show on KFWB. The two also worked together during the ’60s and ’70s on radio commercials Bea wrote and produced, including award-winning campaigns for the Plymouth Barracuda and Western Airlines. Bruce acted in episodes of Hunter and General Hospital. His tv commercials for Clorox, in which Bruce surprised housewives in a laundromat by saying, “I’ll give you $50 for that t-shirt” (and then tearing it in half, washing one half in you-know-what) were so successful that standup comics all over the country did take-offs on it. Excelsior, Uncle Bruce.
Other McLendon Station disc jockeys moved on to gain fame in television as well as radio. Gary Owens, for example, worked at KLIF, KILT and KTSA in the late 1950s before moving to Los Angeles and his role as the hand-cupped-behind-the-ear announcer on “Laugh-In”. Tom Snyder worked at the McLendon’s Milwaukee station WRIT before eventually moving on to host a late-night talk show on NBC television. And Rod Roddy, later to become the announcer for television’s “The Price Is Right,” also began his broadcasting career at KLIF. In fact, Roddy began working at the station in the late 1960s doing a talk show. Gordon shortly wrote Ken Dowe, then the KLIF program director, a memo commenting on Roddy’s talent. “Dear Ken, regarding Rod Roddy,” the memo read, “he is the most awful talk show personalityI have ever heard, but I’ll give you this. He is consistent in that he gets worse every day. Do something about him”. Roddy did improve and ended up remaining at KLIF for two or three more years.
Besides himself and such right-hand persons as Don Keyes, Gordon sometimes dispatched other employees to search out and interview budding on-air talent. These station envoys were Gordon’s “arms out reaching for people he wanted,” said Les Vaughn, McLendon’s longtime production man. Gordon never gave specific instructions on what to look for. Those qualities that made a disc jockey a potential McLendon station employee never were spelled out in precise terms. But, Don Keyes felt that the characteristics of a McLendon Station disc jockey had to include “sophistication in a number of areas: the ability to ad lib, basically a good voice . . . not necessarily deep, preferably on the heavy side, but it didn’t rule you out if you had a light voice and you were a good communicator; if you came out of that speaker like a real warm person, that was fine”. Art Nelson was one such KLIF disc jockey who fit the McLendon style perfectly, according to Keyes:
His voice came right out of the speaker at you. He was a fun companion to listen to as you drove along in your car. He was pleasant. He was happy, cheerful-never too much so, a pleasant companion, always the smile in the voice. I used to watch Art when I was a young jock starting out. Art would sit in a control room when a record’s ending. He’d get up next to the mike and have his hand on the mike switch . . . a smile would break his face. And he cracked the mike and said, “This is KLIF in Dallas. And you could hear the smile in the voice.
While Gordon may not have indicated specific qualities he was looking for in McLendon Station disc jockeys, once inside the station, disc jockeys became well aware of Gordon’s expectations. A 1955 written station policy at KLIF, for instance, reminded disc jockeys that the “first order of the day” was to “be brisk and bright”:
Don’t laze along and be listless -sound peppy and alert and on the ball. .Sounding brisk and lively may call for saying things faster. Keep whatever you have to say short and informative. .the music and vice versa. If you sound in a hurry, that’s okay. Other policy statements of this sort were to follow, some of them providing extensive details on disc jockey requirements and performance “do’s and don’ts”. One in particular, issued by Gordon in 1959, bore this definition of a KLIF disc jockey:
A KLIF disc jockey is: informative, or humorous, or he merely introduces the records. He prepares his show- and he prepares the material for his show. . . . The KLIF disc jockey is a personality disc jockey -an entertaining disc jockey because he is not mechanical, he does have something to say, he has prepared, he is conscious of what the tradition of KLIF disc jockeys has been. . . .
A KLIF disc jockey prepares-he reads the morning and afternoon newspapers, some magazines and books, comments briefly upon what he’s reading and seen, or has something amusing to say -in short, he is interesting to listen to.
Irving Harrigan (Ron Chapman)
Preparation was mandatory with Gordon. He insisted that his disc jockeys spend at least one hour preparing for every hour they were to spend on the air in order to “acclimate the mind to the program material,” said Gary Owens. Gordon also believed in rigorous critiques of on-air performances, especially those of his disc jockeys with morning shifts. Whoever held the morning post held the key shift of the programming day, in Gordon’s view. “As far as the radio station was concerned,” Ken Dowe said, Gordon “thought as the morning show went, so went the rest of the radio station and so went the ratings”.
One idea that Gordon had become fascinated with for morning programming was a two-man disc jockey team. He and Don Keyes had picked up the idea from listening to air checks of a morning show on New York’s WNEW featuring a two-man team. Gordon wanted to copy the show on KLIF. So, with disc jockey Ron Chapman donning the name Irving Harrigan and Tom Murphy, the “Murphy & Harrigan” show was launched. The date was sometime in 1959. In order to fashion precisely what it was that “Murphy & Harrigan” should be, Gordon required that Don Keyes record the program every morning. As soon as Chapman’s and Murphy’s shift ended at 9 A.M., both of them along with Keyes listened to the recording and critiqued what they heard -“polishing, honing, distilling the show down to the ultimate”. The result, said Keyes, “was a dynamite two man morning show. It just owned the market”. Others attempted to copy the program, but the chemistry that developed between them and the wry, topical humor around which your last words can be overlapped by the “Murphy & Harrigan” show was based was not easily transferred to other markets. Later Jack Woods took over the co-host role on mornings and the show became “Charlie & Harrigan”. Jack Woods played the role of Charlie Brown and Chapman continued with Irving Harrigan. Other Charlie & Harrigan’s came and went as the years went by.
“Charlie & Harrigan” had run its course by the mid-1960s when Bill Stewart, who by then was KLIF program director for a second time, convinced Gordon to let Ken Dowe take the morning shift as a solo act. Dowe, however, would carry to the air with him a comic alter ego character named “Granny Emma,” whose voice he would supply. Gordon agreed to the idea, and Ken Dowe took over the reins of the 6 to 9 A.M. weekday shift on KLIF. Following the same routine that Don Keyes had developed but without a tape recorder, Bill Stewart and Ken Dowe met in a local cafe just after nine o’clock every morning to critique Dowe’s performance. From that very thorough critique, Ken Dowe said that Bill Stewart “taught me to be morning show guy. It was largely through his instruction that not only did we continue the ratings the morning show had held, but we actually had bested them”.
Early 1960’s KLIF “Twist” LP cover featuring DJ’s (Left to Right):
Russ Knight “The Weird Beard”; Tom Murphy; Frank Drake; Irving Harrigan; Dick Kemp “The Wild Child”; Charlie Brown; and Stan Richards.
KLIF disc jockeys helped set the station apart from its competitors in the market. Even more important in establishing KLIF’s own identity, though, were its promotions. Bart McLendon said that his father in some ways thought that all radio stations of the same format played basically the same music. That was 90 percent of their product. And therefore it was the other 10 percent that would differentiate one radio station from another. And if you did a better job with that other 10 percent than any other radio station, the other 90 percent basically being equal, then you’re the winner.
That other 10 percent meant station promotion, a programming ingredient for which Gordon developed a mastery. Many of his promotions would extend far beyond the ordinary: “they were stunts, entertaining shows in their own right”. The promotions allowed all McLendon Stations to be “seen” as well as heard, and, after all, what better use of one of the best advertising media ever invented than in advertising itself.
The value that Gordon saw in station promotion, especially the contests and giveaways, were that “first, they stimulate talk, and second, lend an atmosphere of excitement and sparkle to the station”. However, Gordon felt that “a promotion was useless unless the product that you were trying to attract people to was a good one”.
The initial idea to promote KLIF as well as other McLendon Stations did not spring directly from the genius of Gordon McLendon; rather the idea came from C. E. Hooper of Hooper Ratings fame. During a conversation between the two, Gordon recalled Hooper telling him that he was doing everything right at KLIF with one exception: “You’re not promoting correctly. You’ve really got to keep promotions going all the time”. So, once the promotions started, said Gordon, they ran “as fast as we thought of them”. Don Keyes recalled that promotions were running “constantly.” McLendon Station program directors “were expected to have a major promotion in the wings and a minor promotion at all times,” said Keyes. The barrage of promotions met its objective quite well. They were always attention-getters, and they always stimulated talk about the McLendon Stations.
One of Gordon’s first big promotional giveaways was the KLIF Great Treasure Hunt. The object of the hunt was to find a $50,000 check that had been signed by Gordon and buried in a soft drink bottle with only the bottle cap showing. Gordon had paid Lloyds of London $1,250 for insurance that required payment by Lloyds of 90 percent of the check’s value if found. A local insurance company was paid to bury the check. The contest commenced in December 1956, and clues were read on KLIF twice daily as to the possible whereabouts of the check. Gordon said that he did not know where the bottle was buried himself and did not care to know.
The odds against the bottle and the check being found were infinitesimal, according to Gordon, primarily because the clues to their location were intentionally bad. Nonetheless, someone indeed did find the bottle and check. Gordon said that he would never forget when and how the discovery was made. Miserable weather greeted the final day of the contest. Thunderstorms were drenching the Dallas area, and Gordon felt reassured that no one would be outside treasure hunting. But he was wrong. He was notified during an afternoon phone call that the $50,000 had been found. Gordon’s response: “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding”. KLIF gained the distinction not only of being the first U.S. radio station to conduct a $50,000 treasure hunt but also of being the first to give the money away.
Regardless of the loss of money- more from Lloyd’s of London’s pockets than from Gordon’s- the Great Treasure Hunt paid off with spectacular publicity dividends for KLIF. A by-product, however, was some negative publicity about overzealous treasure seekers who were digging up lawns all over Dallas. Gordon said that “stories about the damage that was done were a bit exaggerated” and besides, announcements had been made on KLIF at various intervals indicating that the buried treasure was not on hospital grounds or private property or places that KLIF would not want disturbed.
An even earlier promotion gimmick was the Money Drop giveaway. Balloons were to be dropped from a window of the Adolphus-Baker Hotel in downtown Dallas. Dollar bills were attached to 250 of the balloons. One week prior to the drop, five announcements per day were aired on KLIF promoting the event. The announcement simply told “listeners to gather at Elm and Akard streets at five o’clock on Good Friday and ‘watch the skies’ “. Some two hours before the “official” balloon drop time, a crowd that later grew to about ten thousand persons began gathering on the street corner. The resulting traffic disruption and the need to maintain order soon brought the event to the attention of a sizable force of Dallas policemen. Bill Stewart, instigator of the balloon drop stunt, said that he had to sneak out of town to avoid being arrested.
Don Keyes told of another successful promotion -the School Spirit Contest -that nonetheless had an unintended result. The contest’s objective was to solicit petitions signed by Dallas area high school students. The highschool which KLIF was declared to have the most school submitting the most names to school spirit and was awarded a free record hop hosted by KLIF disc jockeys. Trouble was, students became so excited about the contest that efforts to seek petition signers resulted in disrupted classrooms. The Dallas school superintendent finally called KLIF to ask that the contest be stopped. It was stopped, but the record hop prize still was awarded. And, of course resulting publicity gained the station far more mileage out of the promotion than it ever expected.
Contests were especially effective promotions. And the most popular type of contest appeared to be the mystery contest. A collection of McLendon promotion campaign files stored at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection contains sixteen separate files describing mystery contests that either ran or were at least considered at one time for running on one or more of the McLendon Stations. Titles of some of the sixteen include “Mystery Caller,” “Mystery Hi School Hero,” “Mystery Location,” “Mystery Neighbor,” “Mystery Street,” “Mystery Telephone Number,” “Mystery Teen,” “Mystery Voices” and “Mystery Walker.” . The winners of McLendon Station contests could expect to receive normal prize, such as money, or something a bit more unusual that Gordon and his staff would invent. For example, KLIF once gave away “radio’s biggest prize,” which turned out to be a mountain-one acre in size-in the Texas hill country. That, of course, probably carried some real estate value. And all the free pizzas, tickets and record albums awarded by the station also carried some value. But there was no monetary value, just laughs, in the “South Sea Iland” (which was actually a papermache- version of paradise), and a “live baby” (which turned out to be a live baby pig) that KLIF dispensed to amused listeners.
And in a reverse twist KLIF once offered twenty-five words or less to listeners who sent the station $125,000 in cash . The most astounding prizes offered by the McLendon Stations were tickets to the moon. The tickets were awarded in 1959 and were redeemable on March 15, 1987. Sure enough, when the 1987 redemption date rolled around, ticket holders for the moon flight began appearing to collect on their prize, long after McLendon had any ownership of the station.
Gordon generally unloaded a promotional barrage on listeners whenever announcing the format change of a newly acquired McLendon Station. Promotions for the first few weeks of the new format’s unveiling were planned well in advance and with precise instructions as to their time and method of implementation.
In the same manner that he announced the arrival of a new format, Gordon also used his promotional ingenuity to publicize the arrival of new KLIF disc jockeys. Jimmy Rabbit, for example, was welcomed to Dallas by overturned cars alongside the freeways with “I flipped for Jimmy Rabbitt” painted on the bottoms. “Everyone coming into town -or leaving -got the message. Rabbitt was a celebrity before he even hopped past the city limits sign”. In another stunt, a man appeared on a Dallas street comer giving out one and five dollar bills, and occasionally a ten or a twenty. Local newspapers featured stories of the”eccentric millionaire.” He made the news on ‘TV. You can imagine how embarrassed the newspaper and reporters were when the “millionaire” announced live on the air that he was the new disk jockey for the morning show on Gordon McLendon’s KLIF.
Other KLIF promotions only had as their objective getting the station’s call letters before the public, albeit in a unique and sometimes offbeat manner. A “beautiful blond in a shocking pink swimsuit” was hired to sit in a lounge chair under a huge KLIF billboard and to wave at automobile passengers as they sped past on busy Central Expressway. Gordon used that same stretch of highway to hire a KLIF sign carrier whose objective (apart from promoting the station) was to break the long-distance walking record. However, “the man’s feet gave out long before he approached the record”. Another promotion took a jab at the tiny space given the KLIF program log in the Dallas newspapers. Listeners were asked to write the station explaining why they liked the way the logs were listed. Writers of the top fifty letters selected received magnifying glasses “to help them locate the program logs”.
One promotion stunt that Bill Stewart claimed was quite possibly the most effective one ever attempted at KLIF was the “Oops, sorry” newspaper apology. The genesis of the apology came as KLIF personnel were attempting to learn how best to air on-the-scene reports from the station’s new mobile news units. One evening in early January 1954, Stewart and newsman Dick Smith were traveling in one of the units monitoring the police radio when they heard a call for police assistance for an armed robbery. Stewart and Smith sped to the scene and were able to get a live, on-the-scene account of what happened from the robbery victim. The victim told his story in a highly excited manner complete with several expletives that were taboo for radio at the time.
Radio listeners hearing such language normally would have been expected to light up the KLIF telephone switchboard, but the station received only six calls of complaint. Stewart, surprised at the low number of calls, decided to take advantage of the live coverage mishap in such a way as to promote KLIF by piquing interest in what was happening at the station. So, he ran the following in the local Dallas newspapers:
KLIF wishes to offer this apology for the unfortunate language used on an interview during an on-the-scene broadcast of an armed robbery Friday night at 8:44 p.m. To all of the many people who called the station, KLIF would like to say that we’re sorry. But in covering news on the scene as we do, the remarks of a witness, who may be in a highly emotional state, can not be governed. However, in all humility-KLIF tenders this apology.”
As a result of the “Oops, Sorry” item, Bill Stewart claimed, some six thousand people called KLIF asking what kind of indiscretion had occurred. “And that was what made the station. Overnight,” Stewart said. “That was the thing that made the station”.
Speculation arose as to the veracity of the “Oops, sorry” claims, especially after another KLIF “Oops, sorry” apology appeared in the Dallas Morning News in September 1959. Coincidentally, nearly identical “Oops, sorry” apologies from McLendon Stations were to appear in Louisville (WAKY), San Antonio (KTSA), Shreveport (KEEL) and Houston (KILT) newspapers within the following six weeks. Managers of all the stations swore that an on-air indiscretion really had occurred, but it appeared more likely that the “Oops, sorry” apologies were really McLendon promotional gimmicks that consistently attracted plenty of attention whenever and wherever used.
Not all of Gordon’s promotional efforts were designed to come on like gangbusters. Many were quite simple in their design and appeal. One such variety of promotions came to be called “sparklers.” Don Keyes described sparklers as “little things that gave a sparkle to the format” and that ingratiated a radio station to the community. Sparklers also served a commercial purpose, as illustrated by the “secret word” campaign, in which names of Dallas business persons whom the KLIF sales staff wanted as ad. Advertising clients might be identified as KLIF’s “secret word” every hour for an entire day. The idea was that persons whose names were aired would hear about it so much from their friends that they would be convinced KLIF’s reach within the Dallas market and therefore would be receptive to buying time on the station. The ploy usually worked extremely well. “It costs you zero, and the impact at the end of the day is incredible, particularly when you’re playing games with a client, having a tough time selling him,” said Don Keyes. The “secret word” sparklers paid other dividends as well. They helped convince the business community that not just teenagers listened to KLIF. Adults also were listening.
Gordon never tired of creating unique promotions for KLIF. Some did not work, and some were never tried. One of the unworkable promotions was occasioned by KLIF’s boosting its power to 50,000 watts on February 9, 1959. This was the maximum power allowed by the FCC and would extend KLIF’s daytime coverage to most of north-central Texas. To celebrate the power increase, Gordon asked Dallas Mayor R. L. Thornton to name a city street after the station. The mayor replied that naming or changing the name of Dallas streets was done only by petition of property owners on that street. And since Grodon’s promotion campaign announcing KLIF’s increased power would begin in January, Mayor Thornton did not believe that there was time to initiate any new street naming effort.
Constant McLendon Station promotion had its cost. Anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 a month was spent on KLIF promotions alone during the first few years of Top 40 radio. By 1961, Gordon was estimating that promotion expenses were running from 5 to 10 percent of the three to four million dollars in gross revenues of the seven McLendon Stations.
Most promotion ideas, especially for KLIF, were Gordon’s. Sitting at his desk with his ever-present yellow legal pad, Gordon would sketch out the promotion idea and how it was to be implemented and then let his staff produce it. Others were free to contribute promotion ideas, and some of the better ones came from creative minds like Bill Stewart’s. As the McLendon Station group expanded, Gordon initiated a newsletter in which station managers and program directors, who were required to create local promotion campaigns, could share their ideas with other station personnel within the McLendon family.
McLendon Station promotions often became controversial, and in some instances even raised questions as to their propriety or legality. McLendon Station attorney Marcus Cohn said, for example, that he sometimes would receive three or four phone calls a day related to McLendon promotion matters-generally as to whether or not some idea was acceptable. Along with the positive publicity that most often resulted from a promotion campaign, there sometimes also resulted some negative publicity. Unfortunately for Gordon, news of promotion campaigns gone awry most often reached the FCC. And when other Top 40 stations around the country copied the problematical promotions, as was often happening, the FCC’s glare became even more intense.
Through the early to mid- 1960s the FCC had received complaints about various station promotions. “Among the adverse consequences of some contests and promotions which have come to our attention,” read a 1966 FCC policy statement, “were: alarm to the public about imaginary dangers; infringement of public or private property rights or the right of privacy; annoyance or embarrassment to innocent parties; hazards to life and health; and traffic congestion or other public disorder requiring diversion of police from other duties”. The FCC statement emphasized “that the carrying of contests and promotions which adversely affect the public interest cannot be condoned”.
The FCC’s actions deflated much of the enthusiasm that Gordon had had earlier for station promotions. This single factor probably more than any other brought the rip-roaring days of Top 40 radio promotion to an end. Radio promotion itself would not end, of course. But what listeners were subjected to henceforth would be diminished numbers and milder versions of earlier promotion campaigns.
Front door to “America’s Most Imitated Radio Station”
KLIF studios at 2120 in Downtown Dallas
KLIF’s programming featured snappy and bright “jingles” on the air. Interestingly, radio jingles beginnings had a unique tie-in to KLIF and McLendon. Bill Meeks, the man who created radio jingles at PAMS jingle company in Dallas, was KLIF’s Music Director in the early years. He made jingles for KLIF as early as 1947 with the KLIF staff singers. He left KLIF in 1951 to form PAMS.
PAMS letters represented four areas in which he serviced clients, Production, Advertising, Merchandising, and Sales (later Service). The jingles produced for KLIF featured pre- recorded backgrounds that he could re-voice with his jingle singers and sell to other stations across the country trying to copy KLIF’s sound. PAMS became the supplier to hundreds and hundreds of stations throughout the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
Jingle singers performing on one of thousands of jingles created for KLIF by Bill Meeks and PAMS Jingles of Dallas.
PAMS biggest client in its glory days was legendary Top 40 station WABC in New York. Much has been written about WABC and their PAMS jingles from Dallas. One thing is for sure, if WABC was PAMS largest client, KLIF had to be second. A listing of PAMS jingles created for KLIF is extensive. KLIF used almost every package PAMS developed at one time or another. One Dallas jingle singer once said, “we always gave it a little more effort on jingles done for KLIF because we knew we’d be listening to them every single day!” While many in the industry glorify WABC’s jingles, the fact is many of KLIF’s jingles were inspirations for WABC.
Tom Merriman was the man who became KLIF’s next Music Director. Merriman was Julliard-trained and also worked to develop radio jingles in Dallas. Tom formed Commercial Recording Corporation (CRC) in 1955, later obtained much success with “TM Programming”. The “TM” in all those famous jingles stood for “Tom Merriman”.
It is a fact that the two most successful jingle creators in radio history to date were PAMS and TM. Both began their incredible careers at KLIF, under much influence from McLendon. Both companies have produced literally thousands of jingles for radio stations everywhere.
At one point in the late 60’s, KLIF switched from all PAMS jingles to ones created by TM, which the Program Director at the time, Charlie Van Dyke favored. Charlie tells the story:
“I was PD when the TM package was cut for KLIF. It was really the result of Don Barrett (then national PD for KLIF, now Publisher of LARADIO.COM) and his influence to give KLIF a
We based it on the then new WCFL package. I did the lyric changes on the jock
logos…which were actually little jingles. When it was time to cut the
jingles (with Chicago singers…part of the “new” sound), I had already given
notice to go to CKLW. That’s the reason there was not a jock jingle for
me…although I aired the package before I left. Barrett actually was the one
who went to Chicago and “produced” the session. ”
PAMS intervened claiming ownership of the famous “K-L-I-F…11-90” logo.
TM was forced to alter the KLIF logo slightly. To demonstrate the difference between PAMS and TM jingles, consider a “+” sign as an indication of “high” note sound. A “-” is a “low” sound. PAMS original jingles melody was as follows:
“K L- I- F+ e lev en nine+ ty+”
The slight TM alteration was:
“K L+ I- F+ e lev en nine+ ty+”
The 1190 portion remained the same, but the “F” in the TM version was up higher than the first syllable of the 1190. This is a good way of determining the different KLIF jingles from TM or PAMS.
When Michael O’Shea became Program Director in 1971, KLIF resumed airing of PAMS jingles. The dispute was settled and KLIF eventually began using PAMS and TM jingles at various times, sometimes both.
An interesting jingle story. PAMS was consulted to create a new sound in jingles custom for KLIF. It was named the “Phoenix” package. Often a station will ask for revisions, re-sings, additional customizing and such. A represenative of PAMS says the “Phoenix” package for KLIF in 1972 created a record for number of revisions. It was done over and over and over and KLIF finally accepted a version almost completely different from the original. KLIF aired the package only for a few months.
Here’s how KLIF 1970 Program Director Michael O’Shea remembers the PAMS “Phoenix” jingle package:
As you mentioned, upon my taking the PD duties in Summer 1970 I decided that it
was time for a return to Pams jingles. The decision was largely to return to
the former melodic “KLIF musical signature”…the old musical logo. Though
Bill Meeks was delighted to get back the prestigious “KLIF business”.
Now here’s how Phoenix REALLY occurred:
President Richard Nixon (I’ll bet you didn’t expect this story to start with HIS
name did you??) had just returned from Red China (that’s what we called it in
those days). It was the first time a US president had visited China since it
became communist. Anyway, Nixon’s trip there opened up trade channels to
China that had not been open for decades.
Bill Meeks, president of PAMS was one of the first to go to China after the
new open trade rules were adopted…and he came back with something
called: “Ancient Chinese Water Bells”. Essentially porcelain or some-such
water dishes, that when filled with varying amounts of fluid (ie water), would
each emit a very distinct and melodic “tone” when struck by a special mallet.
Anyway, Bill wanted to write off the expenses of his China trip in someway
and perhaps utilizing these tourist “water bells” in a jingle project would do
that. So, I was the naive, green KLIF PD that was selected as the “client”,
The recording session was booked, the bells were filled with very pure water
(I’m sure direct from the tap in the Pams washroom), and their percussionist
worked out a way to emulate the KLIF music sig with the water bells. It
created a unique tone…kind of an eclectic “warble” sound. Something a whacked out
smooth jazz station might have wanted decades later…but for a hot, hip AM
top forty in 1970 it seemed like a very bad fit.
We did the session with the Chinese water bells playing the KLIF musical
logo…had the other musicians fill around the bells with the other
instruments…then had the singers lay down their overdubbed tracks. The end
product was like some guttural sound coming from a dentists office who didn’t
believe in novacaine. it was dreadful. BUT, Bill Meeks kept trying different
mixes. He didn’t want his expensive Chinese water bells to not be used.
We did a new mix…I schlepped the master to 2120 Commerce street…carted
them up…put them in rotation…went to my car to listen and cringed.
Remix time…take the bells to a lower level…mix the vocals hotter…re-cart, try again.
Next remix…less bells, more guitar, more moog. Re-cart…sit in car,
listen. Nope, still bad.
Another remix…lets drop the bells so low you can barely hear them…mix
the brass hotter…bring Jim Clancy (the Big Bass voiced singer) more
forefront…now, lets re-cart and listen. Ummmmm, better, but you can still
hear a hit of those frickin’ bells.
OK, 17th remix. Drop the bells totally out of the mix…lets try it that
Ummm, not great…doesn’t suck, though. OK, lets go…”Phoenix” is born.
That is the story…and I remember it to this day. I imagine some lucky
housewife in Turtle Creek was able to pick up a cute set of Ten thousand
dollar Chinese Water Bells at the Meek’s garage sale for a few bucks in 1971.
PAMS was always excited about creating a custom package for a station like KLIF because after it was done, they typically could sell it to other stations based on its success on the air at KLIF. It’s reported that not one other station ever purchased the “Phoenix” package despite its lengthy and expensive production costs. The “Phoenix” package to those at PAMS was equal to Ford Motor Company and the “Edsel”!
PAMS created a new custom package for KLIF in 1973 and 1974. In 1975, KLIF began airing only ONE jingle, a fast shotgun jingle made by TM. By 1976, they were airing the “You” package.
In 1976, KLIF ordered up jingles again from PAMS. A custom package Series #48, built around the them “Where It’s Good Again”. this was under the direction of Program Director Jim Davis, brought in by RKO, who at the time was consulting the Programming. This was during KLIF’s last great stand as a Top 40 station.
An interesting article in Billboard magazine on the subject of Meeks, PAMS, and jingles:
McLendon was given permission by the FCC to create a new television station in Dallas in 1953. KLIF TV Channel 29 was authorized for Trinity Broadcasting Corporation (KLIF and McLendons parent company). According to newspaper reports, the station was expected to operate from KLIF headquarters in Dallas. For some unknown reason, the television station was never constructed. Later, the construction permit for Channel 29 TV was cancelled.
50,000 Watts of Power!
In 1959, KLIF was granted authority by the FCC to broadcast at the maximum allowable 50,000 watts of power during daytime hours. They were also given a new nighttime signal with a power of 1000 watts. This meant KLIF’s broadcasts would be heard throughout North Texas and Southern Oklahoma, roughly within 100 miles of Dallas during daytime operations. This signal strength arrangement remained until 1970.
In 1961, McLendon obtained a license for a new FM frequency in Dallas. It was located at 98.7 megacycles. McLendon assigned it the call-letters KROW and simulcast KLIF’s programming.
In 1963, KROW became KLIF FM and the simulcasting continued. By 1967, McLendon saw an opportunity to enlarge his operation and split 98.7 FM to a separately programmed station with the name KNUS. McLendon like to use pneumonic call-letters. KNUS could be pronounced “K-NEWS”. McLendon had envisioned an all-news station (like he created at XTRA and WNUS).
He parked the KNUS calls on 98.7 so no one else would apply to the FCC and get them. In order to maintain the calls, he had to actually broadcast with them. Initially, KNUS was programmed by a crude automation set-up. According to Michael O’Shea formerly of KLIF, it was a jukebox filled with the top 40 hits which played a station identification from time to time. It was enough to keep it on the air for the time being.
Some time after this, KNUS came into its own. Charlie Van Dyke relates:
Another interesting period was the birth of KLIF’s “heavy sister,” KNUS.
When we went to “up from the underground and in over 98.7
KNUS,” it was designed in this way: Ken Dowe was PD of both stations. We had
a meeting with Ken, Jimmy Rabbit, and me. We decided that KNUS should the the
total opposite of everything that was KLIF. So, no jingles, no real
“personalities,” total emphasis on music. In the beginning, the station ran
from a portable board in the projection room of the KLIF theater. Then it
moved into the office of the Public Service Director with cart drops by me
saying the name of the artists and the call letters. We then moved to letting
the board ops (hired because they liked the music) speak. It was really
fascinating to hear. Though at the time, KNUS was operating under minimum
power and really couldn’t be heard everywhere.
KLIF AM did much to promote KNUS FM. Station identifications on KLIF sounded this way, “This is KLIF-Dallas, big brother to our heavy sister station 98.7 K-NEWS FM. Both 24 hours a day, both McLendon owned and operated.”
The McLendon Stations
After the initial start at KNET in Palestine, Texas, McLendon stations included the following:
KLIF – Dallas – 1947
KELP – El Paso – 1951
KLBS – Houston – 1952 (Sold in 1954) Repurchased in 1957. Call letters changed to KILT
WRIT – Milwaukee – 1955
KELP TV – El Paso – built 1956
WGLS – Atlanta – 1956 (changed call letters to WTAM)
KTSA – San Antonio – 1956 (at one time changed call letters to KAKI, then back.)
KEEL AM FM – Shreveport – 1957
WAKY – Louisville – 1958
KZAP FM – Houston – 1959 (Call letters eventually changed to KILT FM)
KABL – Oakland – 1959
WYSL AM FM – Buffalo – 1960
KROW FM – Dallas – built 1961 (changed call letters to KLIF FM 1963-& KNUS 1967)
WYNR (later WNUS) – Chicago – 1962
KABL FM – Oakland – 1965
WNUS FM – Chicago – 1966
WWWW – Detroit – 1966
KCND TV Pembina, ND (Near Winnepeg Canada) – 1966
KADS – Los Angeles – 1966 (changed call letters to KOST 1968)
Obviously, not all of these stations were owned by the McLendons at the same time. Some were sold off and others were purchased over time.
KLIF Tech Stuff
Dave Hultsman was chief engineer at KLIF for a lengthy time. He relates some technical information about KLIF, specifically the audio processing that gave KLIF the tremendous sound it enjoyed:
It was very basic at the time I was there. Rick Neace, who took over after I left started playing with the Dorrough and heavy positive modulation in the 1970’s.
In my case when I arrived at KLIF, the 50 kW. day site used a General Electric BA-6A Peak Limiter that had a very fast attack time. The night site had a Gates SA-39 Peak limiter. The KLIF studio audio chain, was the Gates President board, thru a Collins Master Control switcher into a Gates Sta-Level compressor, into the EMT Echo unit into a LS-141 Split winding transformer feeding the two phone lines one to 50 kW. site and one to the 1 kW Night site.
My goal in the audio chain was get to all solid state. I got the telephone company to do it first, re-equalizing their lines and installing all new solid state 15 kHz. program lines to both transmitters. I purchased the basic CBS package Audiamax IIIRZ for the studio and two Volumax 400’s for each of the transmitters. I also purchased a Pultec Equalizer. I modified the release timing on the Audiamax gated compressor to make it more like the Gates tube type compressor. The other thing I did was install a home-brew input panel at each transmitter site. This input panel has a Daven step-type attenuator with 20 steps of 0.1 dB for level adjustment on the audio to the transmitter. It also had a passive Hi-Pass filter fixed at 75 Hz. and a Low-Pass passive filter of 7.5 kHz. Each of these filters had a lever switch for switching the filter in or out. The Panel at the night site had a 600 Ohm splitter to two 20 dB per step pots, one for the Continental 315 transmitter and one for the Raytheon 1 kW. transmitter.
We then implemented this equipment into the system. We bypassed the Collins master control switcher for two reasons, one it was another stage of tube amplification and it was the source of RF rectification getting into our audio. A radio amateur regularly driving home from DP&L downtown would fire up his SSB rig on Jackson Street during afternoon drive time and pop in on the KLIF studio audio. You could hear it on the air monitor but not on the console program monitor. Later I traced it to the Collins 214 Master Control Switcher, since we didn’t use it and it was tube type i patched around the switcher. Then KLIF was solid state all the way from the microphone to the transmitter. KLIF was the first station to install a solid state audio console in 1959 at their old Jackson street site. WFAA was the first station to have all solid state studios in Communications Center in 1960.
The new audio chain was, Gates President into Audiamax, into Pultec Equalizer roll off anything below 65 Hz. and peak from 2.5 to 5 kHz. about 3 dB. into EMT Echo Plate to the two or three transmitter sites all solid state except for the Moseley tube type STL in to the Volumaxes at the transmitters.
By the way when KLIF was located upstairs on Jackson street, Sellars Recording studios was also located in that same building. After the folding of LBS, McLendon’s Liberty Broadcasting System, the LBS studios became Sellars recording studios by taking over the large studios and control rooms no longer used by LBS.
When we added the 12 Tower nighttime transmitter site in Rockwall we initially installed an 8 kHz. equalized telephone line to the site, we could not get a 15 kHz. It was done via a Southwestern Bell Microwave as luck had come our way. Its response was to over 10 kHz. We also install an old tube type Moseley STL system using another tower on the studio building and receiving on a tower next to the transmitter building. The path was not engineered it was a second thought trial that fortunately worked except during inversions off of Lake Ray Hubbard. We later installed a Marti 450 mHz. Link parallel to the site. In most cases we could get the Marti signal thru if the STL signal faded. This was after the DE made me drop the telephone line. Big mistake. Very few problems with the transmitter, more problems with the NO DESIGN STL path.
Our operators watched modulation on both monitors and oscilloscopes. If audio was low they were supposed to turn it up. The goal was everything we could get out of the transmitters, we wanted, but no over-modulation tickets. The FCC was good about checking modulation in those days!
McLendon and KLIF had been attempting to upgrade the nighttime pattern for some time. The daytime pattern was excellent, but the nighttime pattern at the time was limited with only 1000 watts on a directional tower located on Scyene Road between Fair Park and Pleasant Grove (southeast of downtown).
In 1970, after extensive engineering studies, the FCC finally approved a new nighttime pattern with an upgrade to 5000 watts. The transmitter was installed in Rockwall, TX, some 30 miles northeast of downtown Dallas.
KLIF’s nighttime tower arrangement is one of the more unique in the country. To protect other stations on the 1190 frequency, most notably WOWO in Fort Wayne, IN, KLIF had to install a twelve tower directional system. The array is 1/2 mile long with two rows of towers 200 feet apart.
At the time, the FCC required meter readings every 30 minutes. There was no way to read all tower meters within the allotted time, so the station built a road between the towers with a turnaround on each end. A Jeep was purchased for engineers to drive from tower to tower to read the meters.
From the air, the tower arrangement resembles a landing strip. If fact, a plane actually tried to land there once thinking it was an airfield be fore realizing the error at the last minute and pulling up! Huge X’s were painted on the paved strip between the towers, so that no future pilot would be mistaken.
Overhead view of KLIF 1190 AM Tower site near Rockwall Texas.
Twelve side by side towers in parallel.
KLIF’s daytime coverage area was HUGE! This was not a station that just reached Dallas by any means. The daytime pattern was with the maximum allowable 50,000 watts. It featured a directional array with four towers located in south Irving. The pattern beamed north to up I-35 to Sulpher, Oklahoma; east to Longview; west to almost Abilene; and the south contour reached to Waco. KLIF had a city-grade signal over the entire north central Texas and southern Oklahoma map.
The nighttime pattern with 5000 watts was very narrow, appearing like a Zeppelin with a fish tails. The larger part aimed directly at and covered the city of Dallas and extended through the mid-cities of Grand Prarie, Irving, Arlington, and on to Fort Worth. The smaller “fishtails” reached Plano to the North, and the communities of Oak Cliff, Duncanville, and Lancaster to the South. To the east it reached the town of Terrel, but left much of its previously covered night pattern up the north to McKinney, Lewisville and Denton out of coverage. Not unlike many stations attempting to upgrade coverage areas, KLIF made a critical mistake with their new nighttime pattern. In the years since 1970, the population growth areas in the Dallas Fort Worth area have been to the north through Plano to McKinney and the corridor from Carrolton to Lewisville to Denton. All of that area had been covered with a city-grade signal in the previous 1000 watt pattern. No one could have predicted the growth to these areas which at the time were basically small farming communities. The 1000 watt pattern did not give coverage to Fort Worth prior to 1970 and McLendon wanted to blanket Dallas AND Fort Worth first and and had no reason to believe the population growth would be outside of the major cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. It was a gamble that in retrospect was successful in one way (achieving coverage in Fort Worth), but an error in another (not covering areas to the north which experienced growth in the coming years after 1970).
The FCC required KLIF to lower power at local sunset and increase power at local sunrise. In the winter months, power change came as early at 5:15 p.m. In the summer, as late as 8:30 p.m. Those listening in Dallas or Fort Worth heard virtually no difference when the switch was made. Those outside of the nighttime signal strength lost the station completely. Sometimes the switch would occur during a song. It would be playing and “poof”, it was gone!
Another story from Charlie Van Dyke regarding this:
There’s also more to the story of the transmitter change time. The deal was
that, at the time that I was there, engineers manned each transmitter sight.
So the “going on” site would turn on at the correct time. The “going off”
site would listen for the sound of the “beating” as the two transmitters
banged against each other on the air and kill his transmitter. I thought that
sounded terrible. So, I created a produced cart…with an electronic bed
under. It said, “KLIF, Dallas (pause) a McLendon Station.” It was played as
close to “change time” as possible. Each engineer was to listen for it and
make their appropriate switch during the pause. It worked well..though not
always exactly on time. (We were never in a big hurry to shut down the 50,000
50,000 watt Daytime pattern for KLIF 1190
5000 watt Nighttime Pattern for KLIF 1190
KLIF’s Nighttime Coverage
KLIF coverage map showing the two different nighttime patterns for KLIF’s signal. The blue area is the original 1000 watt night pattern prior to 1970. The area within the black line is the 5000 watt pattern put on the air in 1970.
KLIF promos were immediately put on the air, “KLIF now with five times the nighttime power. If you live in Plano, Arlington, or Fort Worth, now you can get with KLIF night and day. KLIF, number one in Dallas…now number one in other cities!”
KLIF’s programming featured a solid “tone” signal at the top of each and every hour to indicate the correct time. As the story goes, this tone was actually a combination of three tones layed on top of each other to create a distinct “KLIF automatic time-tone.” The signal was wired directly into the control room console. The tone would fire at the exact top of the hour, no matter what was on. The goal was to back-time directly up to it. Occasionally this would fail and one might hear the tone over the top of a record, commercial, or sporting event airing at the time.
Click here to hear the distinctive KLIF Top of the hour Automatic Time Tone
If the DJ on duty was slightly short of the exact top of the hour they could turn on a syncopated on/off tone to lead up to the “long, loud” automatic time-tone. According to Dave Hultsman, an engineer for years at KLIF, the tones were a combination of three tone signals generated by a 6SN and tube. There were short intermittent tones that occasionally lead up to the top of the hour. The pulse to kick the relay to fire the top of the hour tone came from an hourly reset signal from the Naval Observatory via Western Union. In those days, that was how many organizations requiring exact timing were able to provide it. The device that fired the KLIF tone was built by Milan Legget, Chief Engineer at KLIF. He built them for all of the McLendon stations. The seconds countdown tone was built by Mark Bullock who worked at the KLIF nighttime Scyene Road site. One KLIF DJ, Paxton Mills, (who did nights and later mornings) found a way to defeat the tone by opening the top lid to the KLIF Gates President control console and pulling the tone generator relay from the socket inside the console. He had put the tone on cart and never ever missed a back-time, a cardinal sin on McLendon’s KLIF! KLIF jocks often made a comment leading up to the top-of-the-hour such as “set your watch, at the automatic time-tone it will be seven o’clock”. It is anyones guess how many people must have thought their watch wasn’t working properly every evening listening to Mills!
Another part of KLIF’s audio was its incredible “reverb” sound. Unlike today’s rack mounted digital reverb units, KLIF had a rather bulky large reverb unit which added depth, richness, and excitement to the air. According to Dave Hultsman, it was an “EMT”, consisting of a bronze plate manufactured in Germany. The unit was 8 feet long, 4 feet high, and 12 inches deep. It featured a speaker on one end and microphone on the other inside the cabinet to create the distinctive “echo” and “reverb” decay sound. The unit was sensitive to temperature and Dave says when it became colder, the sound of the reverb would be louder. In the early 60’s its presence was obvious. By the 70’s, many Top 40 stations had removed the reverb. KLIF kept it on but very subliminally.
KLIF was the first Dallas station to be “solid state” technically from the microphone to the transmitter.
During Christmas season, KLIF added “Christmas bells” sounds at a very low audio level to the DJ microphone. Whenever the DJ spoke, a very classy gentle sound of Christmas bells could be heard in the background. This was a nice touch that added to the spirit of the Christmas season each year. It is said to have been an audio source patched through the microphone input to the control room console so whenever the DJ keyed the mike it would be heard ever so slightly in the background.
KLIF NEWS…in touch!
Gordon’s success with Top 40, especially with the promotional accent he had given the format, likely would have left an ordinary person contented. But Gordon was not satisfied. “The formula was hardly a secret in a few months,” he remarked. “What was to prevent imitation? What would happen when the public was surfeited with stunts and ballyhoo and giveaways and the frill of promotion?”.
“We thought we had the answer-and we did,” said Gordon.
Promotion by means of giveaways or stunts was . . . one way of bringing excitement and vivacity to a radio station . . . news, properly done, could lend the same sort of sparkle. Colorful coverage of a continuing news story,” suggested Gordon, “could produce more stimulation among listeners than the biggest contest or stunts”.
Gordon later underscored the above, saying: “Our objective at KLIF was to create a station of such sparkle and immediacy that you couldn’t turn away. . . . We concentrated heavily on local news. . . . It was no gimmick by any means. We were reporting pretty solid news”. Don Keyes said that Gordon was very proud of the KLIF news department “because it gave a lustre of respectability to a jukebox”.
Such highly touted local news programming obviously had a public service value. But there were other values as well. News of the sort carried by KLIF was, after all, the Top 40 station’s one program element that was most certain to attract adults. Gordon had said that his idea in changing KLIF’s format originally was not only to play Top 40 music, but also to “capture the audience up to age 39 or 40”. News afforded him that opportunity. News actually was one of the few sure links that Gordon felt KLIF had with adults. Teens, he felt, mentally tuned out during newscasts.
Another value that came with having a respected news operation was “in the prestige and believability which competent news coverage lends to your station. If you do a top news job, listeners are just naturally and instinctively going to feel more confidence in your station and in the advertisers that they hear on your station,” Gordon asserted.
Gordon referred to his “aggressive news policy” when talking about KLIF news coverage, and the punch that his newscasts carried followed through on this aggressive theme. “The news had to be exciting,” and KLIF “had to be first” with the breaking stories. “Get it first, get it fast, try to get it right, make it dramatic, which is exactly what television does today,” said Edd Routt. The newscast lead-in was itself produced to make the listener sit up and take notice. One observer described the lead-in as “often more exciting than the news itself”. Edd Routt called it “bombastic.” It was made to sound as though the approaching newscast were “the second coming. ‘You’re about to hear KLIF local news. For god’s sake, listen!’ ” was the lead-in’s message, said Routt.
From the lead-in there followed four and one half minutes of news, which Gordon decreed would contain no fewer than twenty stories. This “new idea in radio news,” inaugurated at KLIF in December 1953, meant that the station aired news at the top of every hour, with a one-minute news headline supplement on the half-hour. But once other Dallas stations began airing news at the same time, Gordon adopted the “20/20 News” concept, in which newscasts aired both at twenty minutes after and twenty minutes before the hour. Gordon eventually would try the “20/20 Double Power News” concept, where two newspersons took turns “reading reports at breakneck speed”.
News was not a “rip and read process” at KLIF. Gordon wanted his news staff to be qualified reporters. And there was little doubt that KLIF reporters were up to the task of competing with news personnel from any of the other Dallas media. That was true for other McLendon Stations as well. San Antonio’s KTSA and Houston’s KILT, for instance, both had very active and very capable news departments.
During the early years, Edd Routt served as the KLIF news department’s managing editor. Under his supervision was a staff comprised of “two desk men, and three outside leg men,” as Gordon described them. Other managing editors and news directors followed Routt’s lead, and eventually the news staff grew to include all station personnel, regardless of department. That was “SOP-standard operating procedure,” said Routt. “Everybody was expected to keep up with things. If you ran across a two-car collision anyplace in Dallas, call the station, and we’ll get something on it”.
Gordon himself was, of course, in direct charge of the KLIF news department. He made his journalistic presence known not just in setting station news policy but as KLIF’s editorial voice. Gordon in fact pioneered the delivery of daily radio editorials following the FCC’s decision allowing broadcasters that privilege.
Syndicated news commentaries of Harry Flannery, John T. Flynn and Drew Pearson, along with the Hollywood gossip commentary of Jimmy Fidler, were inserted into KLIF newscasts during the 1950s. Gordon was particularly enamored of gossip material. At one point every KLIF newscast had to end with a Hollywood gossip story. Gordon hired a writer to do nothing but to scan all the gossip magazines and scandal sheets and to write a thirty-second “kicker” story highlighting the most scintillating gossip tidbits of the day.
Among his contributions to coverage of local news and public affairs, Gordon chalked up an impressive array of firsts or near firsts. Besides leading the way in broadcast editorials, he saw to it that KLIF was “the first station in Dallas to offer sustained coverage of election returns; the first to do continuous coverage of breaking news events; and the first outlet to send out mobile news units”.
The KLIF mobile news units deserve more than just passing mention. The idea for equipping a vehicle with a two-way radio to allow on-the scene reports from remote locations originated with Les Vaughn. The first such mobile news unit created by Vaughn was a 1954 fire engine-red Ford V8 Courier combination van/station wagon that contained nearly four thousand dollars of short-wave radio equipment. The KLIF mobile unit “gave the station a visible presence around town. Since many stations watched and imitated McLendon, news trucks, news vans, and news cruisers became the rage, especially in the Midwest”.
KLIF eventually had two active mobile units and a third reserve unit “roving the city at all hours to report news events direct from the scene”. Mobile unit reporters were allowed to break into KLIF programming as often as necessary with on-the-spot news coverage. So extensive were mobile unit reports that there were times when reporters in one unit would interrupt reporters in another unit who already were on the air.
Edd Routt recalled that any mobile unit news report was considered something special. On-air announcements to alert listeners of an upcoming mobile unit report were produced accordingly. “The most famous,” said Routt, “was ‘First news first,’ and then a siren, ‘KLIF now takes you to the scene of a major news story.’ Sometimes it was a shooting, sometimes it was a fatality, and sometimes it was just a fender bender that we probably emphasized a little too much”.
Besides the siren used in the on-air announcement, Gordon also tried to persuade Dallas city officials to allow him to equip KLIF mobile news units with sirens and flashing red lights. City officials balked at going that far, but Gordon nonetheless required that his mobile news crews make every effort to cover any breaking story and to get to the scene of a story as quickly as possible. According to Les Vaughn, whenever Gordon said, “‘Go get it.’ We did it.” As a result, KLIF was constantly having to pay traffic citations for speeding or other violations that occurred as a result of mobile news unit personnel doing what Gordon had ordered them to do.
There was a lighter side to the KLIF mobile news unit story that has to do with radio’s ability sometimes to play small deceptions on the public, even though the public probably would not have been at all bothered by the truth. As it happened, KLIF never had more than three mobile news units, all of which were designated by different sets of numbers. These numbers were not simply 1, 2 and 3, but rather mobile unit #4, mobile unit #7, mobile unit #9, etc. And the designations changed daily. Mobile unit #4 on one day might become mobile unit #8 the next. Or perhaps the number would change at different times on the same day. All the changing numbers made it seem that KLIF “had vast numbers of cars running around the streets”. Whatever the public’s perception, the KLIF mobile news units did their job in spectacular fashion.
Gordon scored another news first of a very unique nature in February 1962, when he replaced the local hourly newscasts of all McLendon Stations with newscasts directly from Radio Moscow. Short-wave English language versions of Radio Moscow newscasts – were aired without commentary. “Most listeners will be hearing for the first time the unrelenting stream of lies and invective which Moscow spreads like a red stain over all the English-speaking world,” said Gordon in announcing the broadcasts.
Gordon and his staff had been planning the Radio Moscow experiment for several months. Cloaked under a veil of secrecy and code-named ‘Operation Matthew,’ the experiment’s progress was relayed to McLendon Station managers by numerous confidential memos. Gordon purposely did not notify the FCC of his Radio Moscow intentions, but he did notify the White House. When the FCC learned of the plan and began raising questions about it, Gordon simply referred the commission to members of the presidential staff who already had given Operation Matthew their wholehearted endorsement. Any restrictions the FCC might have considered placing on the Radio Moscow broadcasts thus were stopped in their tracks by a higher authority.
Gordon said that his stations had received “thousands of letters [expressing] gratitude and incredulity at what they had heard”. What’s more, said Gordon, “Foreign press reaction was astonishing. Newspapers, such as the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune, Stockholm’s Aftonbladet, the Rome Daily American, the Berliner Zeitung, Paris’s Ce Soir, and more than 150 U.S. dailies gave it extensive and mostly first-page attention”.
The one area in which McLendon Stations might have been expected to excel, if only by tradition, was in sports coverage. But, Gordon had determined that his radio stations would be limited to providing sports news and very little play-by-play coverage of anything. He was quite serious about his stations being the sports news authority in their communities, and issued elaborate policies on how disc jockeys and news personnel were to handle sports information. Play-by-play coverage, however, would be allowed only in cases of major events that were generating plenty of public interest.
Gordon made at least two exceptions to his play-by-play rule. He did carry the Saturday night football games of Louisiana State University on KLIF, perhaps in deference to his father-in-law, former Louisiana Governor James Noe. The second exception came at the urging of Gordon’s good friend Clint Murchison. When Murchison organized the Dallas Cowboys professional football team in 1960, he asked Gordon to carry the Cowboys’ games on KLIF for the wide exposure they would receive. Gordon complied. The Dallas Cowboys remained a regular fixture on KLIF until the end of the 1971 football season.
The KLIF “Newscruiser” which featured a large electronic sign on top which heralded the latest KLIF news along with the tagline “details on 1190 in minutes”.
KLIF would regularly break into programming to detail the latest shooting, robbery, or traffic accident, with the reporter standing at the scene interviewing a witness.
On one event when the reporter was on the scene of a terrible traffic accident and pulled up to where one of the injured was standing to do this “live report”, he tape recorded the injured victim moaning due to his injuries. On the air live, the reporter detailed all he knew, and pretended to ask a gentleman if he had seen what happened. At this point he played the audio of the man moaning in the background “oh my arm, my arm, it’s cut and it’s bleed in…” A quick sign-off with the standard KLIF outro followed..”KLIF mobile news unit number four, 1190 and out.”
KLIF had a sticker attached to the Newsroom audio console which read “a little showbiz never hurts”.
Another time in the late 1950’s, longtime KLIF production director Les Vaughn had borrowed one of the Mobile Units and was on his way home when a tornado struck Dallas. As fate would have it, Les found himself directly in front of the tornado as it ravaged the city. Although he was not a member of the news staff, he immediately went on the air via the two-way radio in the newscruiser describing the scene.
Click here to listen to Les Vaughn’s 1957 report.
KLIF’s newsroom kept a rolodex file of phone numbers always handy to newsperson on duty. It contained the numbers to any and all specialists or spokespersons in any given field. They were used extensively for creating “official” responses to news events. If cotton prices suddenly plunged, KLIF could call the local cotton producers President and get a quote as to how that would affect prices of cotton products in Dallas. If a tragic event occurred like the shooting from a sniper at the tower in Austin in 1966, a Psychologist from SMU would comment on the effect it might have on the students at U.T.
KLIF used a “criss-cross” directory often. These are the huge city-wide directories of every street address in the area. It listed who or what business was located there, the name, and phone number. If a disastrous fire occurred, KLIF would call the location across the street and ask whoever answered to describe the scene. On the air one might hear it this way, “a KLIF correspondent across the street from the fire describes the scene this way, (phoner) “…well, there’s four fire-trucks here, they’ve got the ladder up spraying water on the building, but the flames are shooting out of the roof already'”. It brought the KLIF listener to the scene and cost KLIF nothing but a phone call. Of course when available, a KLIF Newscruiser would go directly to the scene to report, but on short notice, this was often how things were covered.
Unlike many Top 40 stations of the time, KLIF programmed a full 5 minute newscast every hour 24 hours a day. Of the 5 minutes, 3 minutes 40 seconds was devoted to news content with heavy usage of sound bites and actualities. Commercial sponsor occupied 1 minute, with a return for 20 seconds of weather before the newscast wrapped up within the 5 minutes. On the half-hour, KLIF Headline news was heard. Very brief story points followed by a quick check of the weather, usually lasting no more than 30 seconds, and featuring a plug to listen at the top of the hour for details on these and other stories.
The time limit was said to be strict. A random aircheck discovered a few years ago containing an unedited newscast from 1963 featuring News Director Joe Long timed in at EXACTLY 5:00. Not a second early, not a second late, exactly 5:00. Whether that occurred by sheer luck or strategic planning is not known, but knowing McLendon’s quality control, most would consider the latter.
McLendon was a master at imaging and included this in his approach to news as well. He stressed to his newsmen the need for using descriptive verbiage when describing something the listener could not see. Not to exaggerate, but to more accurately envision events covered in the news and find a way to make them make sense to the listener or bring it to their level of how it does or will affect them.
To hear a KLIF 20/20 newscast from 1968 click here
When other Dallas stations caught on to his “news on the hour” and headlines on the half-hour programming, McLendon quickly installed “KLIF 20/20 News.” The premise being “20/20” demonstrating perfect vision of the day’s events. The full-length 5 minute newscast that was at the top of the hour was done at 20 minutes past the hour. The headlines moved to 20 minutes before the hour.
When competitors began their own 20/20 news, McLendon came back at them again. Now with “KLIF 20/20 Double Power News.” This features the same format, but with two newsmen delivering more news at a faster clip. Ron McAlister, a former newsman at KLIF, remembers “the object was to get as many stories in the allotted time as possible. Often, as many as twenty stories would be crammed into the five minute newscast, complete with sports and weather.”
Other KLIF news personnel included Brad Messer, Malcom Landis, Michael Hiott, Robert A. Knowlton, Bruce Hughes, Ted Agnew, Phil Allen, Alan Cole, Ken Carter, Bill Grady, Joe Holstead, Bob Richmond, Ron Engleman, Ron McAlister, Bob Morrison, and a host of others.
During the late 60’s when KLIF and sister station KNUS were programmed separately, the overnight DJ on KNUS FM would also cover as newsperson for KLIF AM. KNUS was a progressive rock station at the time and featured many album cuts. At just before the top of the hour the KNUS DJ would put an album on to track and would run into the KLIF newsroom and deliver the top of the hour news live, and then run back to the KNUS studio to continue his show after the album cut.
KLIF did “20/20 News” from 1965 to 1969, and during this time when news was not heard at the top of the hour, the “KLIF automatic time-tone” was still heard. Several times a day it was followed by the infamous “KLIF Editorials” that McLendon wrote and voiced himself. They were introduced this way, “The following is a statement of editorial comment. The speaker is Gordon McLendon, President of KLIF and the McLendon stations. Listening time one minute, thirty nine seconds.” The length of the editorial was given so anyone wishing to offer an opposing view would know how much time they would have to rebuttal. Occasionally an individual or organization would take the bait, but more times than not, McLendon’s editorials went unchallenged by the listeners in Dallas.
To listen to a KLIF McLendon Editorial click here
In Lubbock, Texas at the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech Library, among the enormous boxes and boxes of files from McLendon’s personal collection of memoribila, is a copy of each and every editorial done by McLendon over the years.
Below is the script to the above editorial from 1968:
As mentioned before, McLendon was a huge sports fan. KLIF was the flagship station for the Dallas Cowboys throughout the 60’s and until the end of the 1971 season. KLIF also broadcast SMU sports and selected High School games as well. Sports reports were heard at :45 past the hour on KLIF during regular shifts.
With ratings consistently in the 30+ shares during its heyday, KLIF commanded the majority of advertising dollars in the market. KLIF typically aired 18 minutes of commercials per hour, and almost every hour of the day and well into the evening. Being an across-the-board number one station, KLIF attracted a heavy dose of national agency commercials. KLIF would sell 60 second, 30 second, and 10 second spots. Commercials read live by the DJ were heard often as well. McLendon was said to have loved commercials, especially agency spots, because the creativity and quality were usually so superior. I’m sure he didn’t mind the higher price agency rates he received either! KLIF sold sponsorships for almost anything. Time and temperature, weather forecasts, newscasts, sportscasts, women’s news reports, anything that might stand out was game for sponsorship. The bottom line at KLIF was that they radio station made a lot of money! This is fortunate because McLendon often spent a lot as well.
In an interview in the 1980’s, McLendon told of whenever he bought a radio station, in the initial days, he would give his advertising away free of charge to anyone wishing to come aboard. Certainly this was a short-lived arrangement in each city, but his point was to show the advertiser the business he could generate for them.
In the same interview, he expressed his belief that an owner should put all of their effort into programming and the sales will follow.
Promotions were a vital part of KLIF’s programming. Any imaginable idea was perfect fodder for KLIF. They once offered $50,000 cash to the person locating a check inside a Coke bottle somewhere in the city. The “Great Treasure Hunt” proved so successful that the FCC issued an edict prohibiting stations from staging promotions that would damage property. It seemed that many KLIF listeners practically dug up areas looking for the Coke bottle!
KLIF gave away a mountain. (Actually, a small parcel of land in West Texas with a hill on it.) The rule at KLIF was the prize had to SOUND bigger than life.
A promotion that KLIF ran in the early 1960’s is one that has been repeated by many radio stations across the country over the years. KLIF distributed thousands and thousands of heart-shaped “KLIF-1190 LOVES YOU!” Bumper stickers. Listeners proudly adorned their vehicles with their love for KLIF. Naturally, KLIF offered prizes to those spotted with the sticker on their car. It was also the perfect tie-in with advertising clients too, since KLIF could promote their business as a location to pick up their KLIF
McLendon’s now famous rules of promotion were:
1. Talk about it.
2. Do it.
3. Tell them what you did.
In 1966, KLIF promoted the “Great River Race” featuring DJ Jimmy Rabbit of KLIF up against sister station KILT DJ Chuck Dunaway (also a KLIF alumni). On the air, it was promoted as “Jimmy Rabbit at the helm of his mighty vessel.” Listening to KLIF, one would imagine Rabbit at the controls of a huge ship. In reality, as the photo below shows, it was a tiny fishing boat!
Chuck Dunaway from KILT and Jimmy Rabbit from KLIF
Chuck Dunaway, Jimmy Rabbit, and Johnny Dark
McLendon’s on-site promotions were a big part of their success. KLIF would certainly exaggerate what was really going on. McLendon reasoned that most listeners would not actually come to the location to see the event, but would listen to it. McLendon was a master at image making.
A promotional item from the early 1960’s
KLIF JOCKS from the February 14, 1969 Top 40 Survey
Seated in front, left to right, Hal Martin (Michael Spears) and Ken Dowe. Standing in rear, left to right, Deano Day, Michael O’Shea, Dave Ambrose, Paxton Mills, Larry Tex Rider, and Jim Tabor. The Corvette belonged to Mills. Notice the license plate on the front! This photo was taken in the drive thru on the street level of the Triangle Point studios at 2120 Commerce in downtown Dallas.
KLIF JOCKS IN THE EARLY 70’s
O’Shea Ambrose Selden
Tabor Cuzzin’ Linnie
DJ JOHN BUTLER in the KLIF Control Room in the early 1970’s