Memories of KAKC
My memories of KAKC are of a very plain building -- the upper floor of a wing of the old Trade Winds West motel -- with old studios, and inexpensive equipment which, to be fair, was quite well maintained.
Within these bland surroundings, a tremendous amount of creative energy was generated. Part of the energy was chemically induced, but the remainder was forged from the excitement of being part of a juggernaut.
This juggernaut operated at 970 on the AM dial, with 1000 watts in the daytime, and 500 watts at night. KAKCs studios were cleverly located in the null portion of the nighttime signal, so jocks who kept the ship afloat at night heard not only a little bit of KAKC in their headphones, but also stations from Louisville, and, I believe, Mexico.
At the time I worked there, in 1974, the station was programmed according to a format which was considered unbelievably restrictive by the standards of the day. But the air personalities on the station managed to work through, or around, the constraints of the format, and presented a compelling sound.
I had moved from Dallas to Tulsa only a year earlier, and no station in Dallas sounded half as good as KAKC.
At KAKC I learned about form and freedom. I began to regard radio as a sonnet, a poem in which, although the structure is strictly defined, many ideas could be expressed once the right words were found.
To me, radio no longer resembles poetry of any type. It seems like a verbatim reading of the white pages of the phone book, interrupted by lengthy forays into the Yellow Pages.
I was doing news at KAKC under the nom daire of Alex Bennett, the only instance in my radio career where I havent used my real name. The news director was Guy Atchley, who has been the king of Tucson television news for a couple of decades now. We were joined later on by the redoubtable Richard Dowdell.
Radio stations of that era with undersized or inferior news departments customarily added an adjectival title to give their newscasts more pizzazz, and during my tenure, Hotline News was the successor at KAKC to the 20-20 News approach which had, for a time, dominated Top 40 radio.
Hotline News was actuality driven, meaning we used an inordinate amount of taped bites, as they are now called. Ideally, every story was local, and every story was built around a short actuality. I once managed to cram 14 actualities into a seven-minute newscast.
We used a grand total of two tape cartridge machines to play these actualities, so while the newsroom microphone was off, frantic juggling of tapes was de rigueur.
In my brief time at KAKC, I was involved in the coverage of three major news stories. One was the local response to the Watergate scandal, which led to President Nixons resignation.
The second was the kidnapping of a prominent Tulsans son, which I learned about from a news tip called in on the KAKC Hotline, a phone number which we provided for people to call in story ideas, and to inform us of breaking news stories.
This news-tip line, which existed partially to compensate for an underpowered news department, also provided the station with a promotional opportunity, for KAKC awarded twenty-five dollars every week for the best news tip, along with a annual prize of $1000 for the best news tip of the year.
Even at the prevailing wages of the day, it was cheaper than hiring an additional newsman.
But back to the kidnapping: I was sitting in the newsroom late one morning, when I received a call on the Hotline. A gruff voice informed me, You know John Doe III? Hes been kidnapped.
I replied, Is that right?
He said, Yeah, paused, and then said, Are you taping this?
I was indeed rolling a tape, but I said, No. The caller realized he was dealing with a very poor liar -- or came to the realization that he had been a damn fool to make the phone call -- and he hung up.
So I called the FBI. When the person on the other end of the line heard my question, he very nearly choked on his coffee, and said, Theres nothing to the story.
He wasnt a very good liar, either.
I kept calling the Feds hourly, and finally got across to them that I possessed audio tape of someone who appeared to be intimately involved with the kidnapping they wouldnt admit they were working on. After learning about the tape, they became a great deal more forthcoming, and I agreed to a deal with them: I held the story, and they agreed to not to release the story to the other media until it had aired on KAKC.
In other words, they were giving me the exclusive right to break the story, a right which I already possessed. What a negotiator I was!
The kidnapping was resolved in time for me to air the exclusive report at 10 minutes before five that afternoon, after I had sat on it all day: an excruciating wait for a young, inexperienced newsman. But we kicked every other radio and TV stations butt on that story, all because of the lowly KAKC Hotline.
The other story I worked on which affected Tulsans greatly was the tornado of June 8th, 1974. Late that Saturday afternoon, I awoke from a nap and felt something wasnt quite right. I went outside to my car, saw the sky turning a tornadic green, and drove to the station as fast as I could. The newsroom was unstaffed on Saturday afternoon and I could tell by listening to the station that no one had come on duty. So it was up to me. I came across the I-44 bridge over the Arkansas River from west to east, right behind the tornado, in a rainstorm so thoroughly blinding that the only things I could see were the center guard rail, and the railing atop the fence which defined the edge of the bridge on my right. I thought, Let me just see if I can keep it between the two railings without rear-ending another car, and before I knew it, I had arrived at the station.
I ran up the stairs, into the newsroom, and determined that at least one funnel had touched down in the Brookside area, only a mile-and-a-half north of the studio. My news director was nowhere to be found. As it turns out, he had been stranded in Skiatook or thereabouts, cut off from Tulsa by a flooded Bird Creek. So I went on the air between records, taking calls from listeners, and placing calls to various authorities. The jock during the latter part of this extemporaneous coverage was Denver Foxx, later to become a longtime personality with KRMG.
We settled into the following recurring sequence: Denver played the beginning of a song, I reloaded the phone lines, he would fade down the audio, and Id go on live until I ran out of information. Then hed play a commercial -- no one had told us not to air commercials -- hed play another song, Id screen callers and make a call or two myself, and then, when I was ready, he would fade down the music and Id return with more tornado coverage.
The atmospheric conditions were having a strange effect on the equipment, and every time Denver played KAKCs two-second-long shotgun jingle, the tape would skew and go out of alignment. It sounded really cool: one of those anomalies which arise when youre living in interesting times.
After what seemed like a couple of hours of phoners and skewing jingles, the power failed all over town, and stayed out. So we were off the air. I think the entire city was in darkness that night. And KAKC, as with every other AM station in town save one, had no effective backup emergency power plan. The stations which stayed on the air were KRMG, and their once and future sister station, KWEN, at 95.5 on the still-emerging FM spectrum.
I was sorry the station had gone off the air, but I was grateful not to be required to anchor storm coverage by myself, all night long. I went home and resumed my nap.
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