Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jerry Sims' Recollections, Re: KAAY Sign-On

Thanks to Jerry, another facet to the all-important history of the KAAY sign-on:

Bud...Here is a re-do of my thoughts on the KAAY sign-on....Jerry

There were several of us who had a very big interest in the KAAY sign-on all those years ago. A.J. had mentioned the sign-on earlier in his blog. I had written my recollections to him, but could not find them on what is left of his blog. Here we go again for those who are that old....

We were working for a competing radio station in town. It was KXLR, a pretty good small town Top 40 station. A.J., as "A.J. Lyons", was Program Director. I, as "Larry London", Gary Weir, as "John Scott", Tommy Riggs, as "Tom Payton", and some others, were the D.J.s. KXLR had another station as a competitor in town, but KXLR was the station that most of my friends listened to as I grew up in the early days of Rock'n'Roll.

We had word that the station would change over from KTHS to KAAY. Some of us knew of the station's coverage, although they did not have much of an audience in Arkansas. I had met one of their "announcers" through my church, who had allowed me to hang out with him late nights. I was amazed at the coverage when he got calls from different states. My 16-year-old reasoning wondered how could people all the way to Canada know about a Little Rock station that Little Rock peoiple didn't know about? I am sure they had their audience, but my young demo could question it. Although they ran so-called "good music", he, Earl "Pappy" Davis, had a Country Music Show ("Razorback Roundup") late at night. He even had a fan club based in Iowa. He operated with a broadcast engineer, out of what would later become the KAAY Newsroom. He had a light that went on over his desk when the engineer would open his mic. I was impressed, and took home tons of old A.P. news copy to practice reading aloud. He even asked the engineer (Eddie Graham, who later was very important to us at KAAY) to record my voice one night. My first experience at hearing myself.... I always thought I sounded better "inside my head" than "outside", Still do.

Program Director A.J., figured that they would call themselves some form of "KAY". We started a few weeks earl;y calling ourselves, "The Big K---XLR" and any other thing we could think of to confuse their big splash. That splash was even bigger than most of us expected.

The KXLR crowd anxiously awaited the sign-on to see what our loyal listeners would do. We listened, as others did, to the phone book reading and appeals to call them "from wherever you are listening to KAAY". They hit it big from the beginning. They were giving away CARS (used, but cars), mink coats and other great things, while across the river, we were still giving away an occasional transistor radio, some stuffed animals and a few records. One of the most unusual theings they did was, run their variable speed turntables a little fast. This made their music higher pitched and it sounded funny. They had a saying, something like, "...it just sounds better on KAAY". We knew we were in real trouble when our listeners began to tell us our music sounded like it was "dragging". The new jocks at KAAY were friendly enough. We made an effort to talk to some of them, and, I remember on one occasion, visiting Buddy Carr during his shift to watch him work. He had that big market style.

Our KXLR was sold before long. I, and Gary Weir, went to work for the other cross-town competitor for a while. A.J. later became Program Director at KAAY and called me to come to work. I thought I was through with radio and it's insecurity, but that was my "offer I couldn't refuse". I have never regretted it. I believe those were the best days of KAAY. We dominated. No FM and very little competition fot the audience we were after.

Now all these years later and, thankfully, a few pounds heavier (have you seen any of my 130-lb. Sonny Martin pictures?), we are without many of those early KAAY guys. Our friend A.J., gone just recently, Richard Weithan (Buddy Carr...and my best friend)...gone while he was still at the station (killed in a National Guard accident). KAAY retired the name after that. George J. Jennings, gone; Walt Sadler (Ron Owens, probably the best natural voice ever on KAAY), gone, Tommy Riggs (Rock Robbins), gone.

Lots of great voices came along after we early ones left. I listened to them, too, and enjoy their stories. Keep 'em coming.

Jerry Sims...a.k.a. Sonny Martin...1962-1967


  1. I lived in Little Rock at that time and was an avid radio listener. I was a newspaperman for the Arkansas Gazette, and I worked nights. I listened to KLRA (Brother Hal) in the mornings, KXLR, which was a North Little Rock station, in the afternoons before I went to work, and then i "surfed" the dial after I got off work at 1:30 in the mornings. I would go home; my wife and kids, of course, were in bed because they had to get up for school in the morning, and I would sit in my kitchen, drinking beer to decompress, and listen to great radio--WLS, WSM, WBAP, the Des Moines station, and I can't remember its call letters, the New Orleans station, and others that I would pick up by accident. I heard Wolfman Jack when he was still in Mexico. I remember the incidents that Jerry describes, the reading of the phone book names. Since, I was on the Gazette staff,I knew what was happening because I knew that KTHS had been sold and a new station was coming on the air. When that station came on the air, it was different then anything I had ever heard. I picked up immediately on the disc jockeys' names--Doc Holliday, Sonny Martin, Rock Robbins, Ken Knight, who at that time had the midnight to 6 a.m. shift, and I knew there was some great imagination at work in the programing. The music was about the same as was being played on KVLC and other top 40 stations, but it was the presentation that was different. I knew Pat Walsh by reputation; i had gone to the U of A with him in the early 1950s and had met him casually. He was in sales at the time KAAY went on the air. I knew he was a promoter type. So, we waited during the week end that Jerry describes to see what was going to happen. When it came on the air full blast we were not disappointed. The KAAY years were great times. I am no longer a newspaperman, and AM radio is no longer what it was. It has disintegrated into loud-mouths yelling at each other, and I think the world is worse off because of what it has become. Like most old farts (I'm 75), I yearn for the old times.

    Jim Clark
    Rogers, AR

  2. Not to be critical, but in transposing my commemnts, there was a typo. You got the letters backwards in the KTHS line. The first call letters were KTHS. Most of us know that, but there has been some really good history on the blog, and we do not want anyone to be confused. Also the call letters KTHS were said to mean "Come to Hot Springs", the original home of KTHS. Jerry Sims