Former KMHT owner recalls station history
Oct. 6, 2012 at 10 p.m.
This history was related by H.A. "Tony" Bridge, Jr., former owner of KMHT and a great story teller.
His recall of details is amazing, but any errors should be chalked up to this storyteller.
Part 2 will deal more with the business side of KMHT; these early years deal more with the colorful and talented personalities who built the radio presence in Marshall.
In 1947, shortly after World War II, the U.S. Government made it possible for military veterans to purchase and operate radio stations across the country.
During the war, licenses had been frozen – there were only around 850 nationwide compared with the hundreds of thousands now operating.
Local veterans who became well-known city fathers came together to start a station – Richard Blalock, Jack Mann, Sr., and Max Lale joined Millard Cope (Marshall News Messenger legend and non-veteran) to enter this business.
Max Lale became the newscaster, and his mellow tones set a tenor for the station that would continue for decades.
Also in 1947, a young Tony Bridge was attending school in Marshall, his parents having made the decision that Tony would have a better beginning with an education in Marshall than in Avinger.
A visionary from early on, Bridge was fascinated with the radio and approached the management at the station with the idea of having a Saturday program that would appeal to younger as well as mature audiences.
He was paid $1.50 per spot – the only one at the station receiving payment for service.
His program, as well as radio programming in general, had a small audience, and the management brought in live talent as a musical presence, as records or taped music were not in use on the air at that time.
The Hylton sisters, talented and attractive, sang, played instruments, told jokes –and married local businessmen. One of the sisters, Katie Huffman, became the woman's director at the station.
Her husband was a band leader, and they obviously were quite a catch.
The station was located on Rusk Street, where the Agnor Insurance offices are currently located.
The space was a nice one and the building was shared with the steam fitters union, an organization affiliated with the railroad industry.
During that time, a gentleman was hired as station manager.
From Milwaukee, Bridge's recollection of the fellow was that his primary training was in cleaning beer barrels, and he put his children – Jack and Jill – to work at the station.
The voice of sports during that era was Bill Merrill, who went on to become a highly successful professional sportscaster.
KMHT carried among other games, those of Marshall's professional baseball team, the Marshall Browns.
Their home field was located near the fairgrounds, property now used by Wiley College.
One of the first sales persons hired by the station was a young man named Ray Lawson, who went from his work at KMHT to own, in partnership with Harrison Forbes, a company called Mar-Tex Glass.
A valuable addition to the station's format was the Texas State Network.
The network was created by Elliot Roosevelt of Fort Worth to ensure that there was a network to carry President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous weekly "Fireside Chats."
KMHT was one of the first subscribers to this format, and they continue to carry it daily.
In the early 1950s, there were two radio networks – NBC Red and NBC Blue.
The government broke this monopoly up, and NBC Red became NBC, NBC Blue becoming ABC. CBS and the Mutual Broadcasting Network came along soon after.
General programming began to expand, and soap operas hit the air waves, generating scores of loyal listeners.
Feature programs also took their place, but the music was provided by a station's own band or orchestra.
Film clips of big band-era singers and great orchestras tell of the impact radio had on building careers.
Rock and Roll and Tony Bridge hit the scene on a large scale at about the same time and with the same energy. Records, tapes, electronic music were now a part of the broadcast scene, and the KMHT format would change its musical leanings over the next decades.
His ownership – with Ed Mahone for many years – spanned the years from 1954 to 1985, when he sold it to businessmen in the Pepsi Cola business.
From there the station was owned briefly by boxer George Foreman who donated his purchase to Wiley College, with a Tyler group managing the business.
KMHT continued to lose market share and its identity until its voice fell silent in 1990 and would remain so until 1995 when Carthage businessman Jerry Hanszen purched the license, building and all, starting the airways presence we know today.
See Part 2 next time.