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Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Dave Ward's honor saved by waitress and other radio stories

Hear about Dave Ward's early radio career including the time a whiskey bottle came through the studio window and more!

Wednesday, November 9th, Dave Ward will have been at KTRK abc13 for 50 years. And he has a Guinness World Record to prove it.

This week, I am posting parts of my sit-down interview with Ward I conducted in his home last week. So much has been written about Ward, but I never knew much about his eight year radio career prior to channel 13. So sit back, and get ready for some great stories about Ward meeting legendary newsman Paul Harvey, the broken window incident and so much more.

Mike McGuff: OK, so radio, you actually started out when you were still at school, right? In Tyler?

Dave Ward: Yes, in Tyler. I was going to Tyler Junior College. And one of my frat brothers was a disc jockey at KGKB Radio, and I went out there and watched him work, and it was intriguing. And I learned how to run the board and queue the records and do all this.

And he put the microphone up over my head, and he would do the disc jockey talking part. But I'd queue the records and the commercials on tape and, and worked the, did the mechanics of it. And I pestered the general manager until he gave me a job.

I went on the air from, uh, 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening. I had never heard of drive time at that time. But I was on the air from 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening, and that's where I changed my name from David to Dave, at this general manager's insistence.

He said David sounded too biblical, so I became Dave. And, uh, was with KGKB there until 1960.

Mike: What format was that?

Dave: It was, uh, pretty much, uh, easy listening when I went to work first, but then a guy named Harry O'Connor came in and bought the radio station. He owned a station in Shaman, Texas that was strictly rock 'n' roll.

We became rock 'n' roll overnight, and then, and he moved the station to downtown Tyler, right on Broadway with a picture window studio where the disc jockeys worked. And it was quite a change going from the easy listening that we'd been doing to straight, like, Top 40 radio.

And there was a radio station there that was a strong number one, KDOK, K-D-OK. It was Top 40. We went head-to-head with them. We got a good rating one time, and one of their, their most famous disc jockey on, on KDOK, was a guy named Paul Williams. He got drunk one night, and he came driving by the front of our station on Broadway.

He had a Ford convertible, and had the top down. He threw a whisky bottle through our picture window. It didn't make a big enough hole, so he threw a Dr. Pepper bottle after that, and made a big hole. Wow, the next morning, O'Connor had 'em tape big, wide, red masking tape and put tape out there around the jagged hole in our windows.

That afternoon, Paul Williams was fired from KDOK. That evening, Harry O'Connor went on the air with this editorial, "We hold no animosity against this young gentleman. We understand his competitive attitude. We want him to come work with us at KGKB."

And Williams did. He came, and we became a strong number one. Well, long story short, I left and went to WACO in Waco. Paul left and came to KNUZ in Houston. I was at, uh, WACO in Waco for two years.

Paul called in. He said, "There's an opening at our news department down here, Dave. Why don't you come see if you could do it? Be a news reporter." And at the time, WACO had a news department, a news director, a guy named Bob Vandebetter. And he taught a radio news writing course out at Baylor University. His students, that was their lab. They came out to the station, and they would rip wire copy, and write stories, and they would run out of the door going to fires and stuff.

And I thought, "Those kids are having a hell of a lot more fun than I am, sitting in here in this cubby-hole, playing Vaughn Monroe records over and over, Elvis Presley stuff."

Mike: So it was's a country station now but it was a rock station back then.

Dave: Is it? Really? I'll be darned. Yeah, it was a kind of a multi-purpose thing. You'd, uh, have, uh, easy listening in the morning, some easy listening in the afternoon. Then after the kids got out of school, they'd play rock 'n' roll stuff.

And it, it was an ABC station, and an interesting story. The radio commentator, Paul Harvey -- I don't know if you ever heard of him.

Mike: Oh, yeah.

Dave: He came to Waco to address the annual chamber of commerce banquet or something. And he did his radio newscast out of WACO. Well, the manager, Glasgow, told me, "Dave, you gotta be here in the morning. You've gotta make sure Mr. Harvey has everything he needs. Show him where his typewriter is." and this and the other.

I met him there. He got there by about 4:30 in the morning, and he was dressed impeccably. You know black suit, a black hat, a black umbrella, and a black briefcase. I came walking in and I showed him where he was to work.

Well, later on that morning, his noon newscast, which was his big one, was preempted because ABC went live at the Cape for the launch of John Glenn, the very first American in orbit. Well, I'm standing there in the newsroom.

Bob Vandebetter, he was sitting behind his desk. He had a little black and white TV set in there. I am standing there. Paul Harvey is standing to my left, and we're watching this launch. And after the rocket blasts off and goes out of sight, and they come back to Cronkite or whoever we had on the TV.

Harvey standing there like this with his arms crossed, and I just turned and looked at him, and like, what do you think? And he says, "Well, I don't know." It was like, where are we going with this thing? You know, going into space, what in the he-? He was upset his shows had been cancelled.

Twenty years later or so, on the 20th anniversary of that blast off, I wrote him a little letter and reminded him where he was when John Glenn was launched into space and, and wrote in there, "And you said, 'Well, I don't know.'"

And I said, "I D-U-N-N-O... is what are we going to do with this, Harvey?" About two weeks later, I got a note back from Paul Harvey. He said, "Dear Dave, Very well written letter. Sincerely, Paul Harvey." That was all he said.

Mike: [laughs]

Dave: Quite a treat to get to meet that guy.

Mike: He was one of the biggest newsmen at the time, right?

Dave: Yeah, Paul Harvey was huge. His, "Hello, Americans. This is Paul Harvey. Standby for news."

Mike: As someone who went to Baylor and lived in Waco, what did you think of Waco back then? What time period would have this...?

Dave: This is 1960 to 1962.

Mike: Had the tornado already happened? But I guess that had happened in the '50s, right? The bad tornado that hit Waco?

Dave: Yes, that happened before I went there.

Mike: Were they, kind of, a city rebuilding at that point, would you say?

Dave: They had pretty much gotten over that tornado. There were probably some areas where they were still rebuilding. But the one thing about my two years in Waco, my mother and my father, and both of my sisters, went to and graduated from Baylor University. I was there for two years, I never went anywhere near the place. [laughs] I really didn't. I was busy at the radio station.

Mike: Where was it located? Do you remember?

Dave: Yeah, it was located on the west side of town, probably a couple of miles from downtown Waco.

And I'll never forget. I moved my first wife and my little daughter, Linda, when we moved there, we had no furniture. Very little, so we rented a furnished house. Two bedroom, furnished brick house with a garage, all bills paid, all utilities paid. I remember the, the refrigerator had an ice maker in it. In 1960, there, there were...It cost $85 a month.

$85 a month, all bills paid, all bills paid. Two bedroom furnished house.

Mike: Were you making good money at WACO?

Dave: No, I wouldn't say that, you know. What was I making there? Maybe $300, $350 a month. Something like that. But you gotta remember, this is back in the late '50s, early '60s. Salaries were nothing like what they are today of course.

Classic Houston radio aircheck audio from the 1950s to the 2000s

Mike: Sure. So, what led you to Houston?

Dave: Yeah, and I had an interest in news from Vandebetter's news writing course, I kinda monitored his course a little bit. And when Paul Williams called me from KNUZ and said, "Hey, Dave, there's a job open in the news department. Why don't you apply?" I did. I came down, talked to him, and I got the job.

Mike: And KNUZ at the time, was that all news, or did it have talk shows?

Dave: Oh, no, no, no, it was strictly, it was rock 'n' roll. Yeah, Top 40 rock 'n' roll. We did three and a half minute news casts straight up on the, on the hour, and a little headline thing at, at the half hour, and that was it.

Mike: I guess at that time, 740 KTRH was still...that would have been the kind of news talk station.

Houston radio DJs of the 1960s talk about era

Dave: Yeah, uh, KTRH was the main news station, and KILT was the number one rock 'n' roll station. KNUZ, we were going head-to-head with them all the time, and we had some good ratings. When I went to work there, it was in November of '62, and we had a good Hooper book that month.

And the boss took all the disc jockeys, the seven disc jockeys and the five newsmen, and treated us to dinner at the old Glenn McCarthy's Cork Club. And that night, a young -- very young -- entertainer named Wayne Newton was on the stage, he and his brother.

And that was the first time I had ever ordered a mixed drink. Liquor by the drink didn't exist in Texas at the time. You had to go, and you, and the Glenn McCarthy's Cork Club was like private club, so they sold mixed drinks.

This waitress came over. She's asking these guys, "What are you all...?" I'll have a scotch and water. I'll have a, a vodka and Seven Up or rum and Coke, whatever. They come to me, and I didn't...I had never ordered a mixed drink in my life. So I said, "Well, I'll have a scotch and Coke, please."

Well, these guys, they hurrahed me like crazy. "Scotch and Coke? Why in the world do you ever drink anything like that? What is...kid from the sticks in Waco!"

Well, this waitress saw that I was embarrassed all hell, and she said, "Yes, Sir, that's a very popular drink in Canada." That ain't a popular drink in Canada. It ain't a popular drink anywhere, but bless her heart. She tried to help.

Mike: So, this was the same [Wildcatter] Glenn McCarthy who opened the Shamrock?

Dave: The Cork Club at that time was near downtown. He opened the Shamrock Hotel back in 1948, I think it was when that opened. And the Cork Club was not in the hotel. It was downtown, where exactly downtown I don't remember, but I remember it was downtown.

But I do remember that when he sold the Shamrock Hotel to the Texas Medical Center, and they couldn't wait to tear that old hotel down.

And when they did tear it down, come to find out there was like a time capsule that McCarthy had put in the foundation of that hotel back when they were building it, 1947 and '48, but they just ripped it open and didn't let McCarthy know anything about it. It was quite a scandal.

And I came on the air, on television, with a commentary stating that the people of the Texas Medical Center should be embarrassed. They owe Glenn McCarthy an apology. He was a wildcatter and a wild sort of guy, all right, but that was his hotel, and that was his time capsule, and then got a call from Glenn McCarthy inviting me to his office.

He had an office somewhere else and, just to thank me, and said, "That was very, very thoughtful of you to say that," and by then, they had given him that time capsule or, it was just like a strong box, all it was. I don't remember if we took any shots of that thing. There wasn't much in it, to tell you the truth. Some old coins and stuff, that was it.

Mike: Back then, what was radio like? Was it super competitive?

Dave: Oh, we were highly competitive, yeah. I knew some of the other guys in the news departments of the other stations because on news conferences and big new stories we would all see each other there, you know. And, it was very highly competitive, though. Highly competitive.

Mike: And it must have been very hard going against KILT.

Dave: That was the Gordon McLendon station, and they had really good talent on the air over there. They really did, yeah.

Mike: Do you miss that type of radio?

Dave: Not really. No, I have satellite radio in my car. I listen to music from the '40s. The big bands and stuff like that.

Mike: So that's what you actually have preferred though, all this time you're working rock stations.

Dave: Well, when I was younger, yeah, I kinda got into the rock 'n' roll music stuff, you know. But when you get older, I think you mellow a bit. [laughs]

Mike: So when the time came to go to TV, did people at the station say, "Dave, you're crazy. You should stay here in radio." Or were they supportive?

Dave: The people at the radio station, yeah, no, they were pretty supportive of me going over there. They knew it was quite an opportunity, and I don't think I had told them that I was taking a pay cut, but they wished me well when I left.

Mike: So obviously, Dave Ward is more known for television than radio but you were in radio for about eight years. So recently, you just got inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.

Dave: I was nominated for it by two former disc jockeys at KNUZ. Paul Berlin, who was the longest running disc jockey on the air here ever, and Arch Yancy, who, I was the news reporter for both of those gentlemen while I was there at KNUZ.

Uh, it was very nice of them to nominate me for that, that honor. I got voted in and, uh, they, the induction ceremony was in Fort Worth last weekend. And I could not be there. I had commitments here, I couldn't get away. But I wish I could have.

Arch called me and left a message on my phone, and he said, "Robert B. McEntire read the speech about you being inducted, Dave." And Robert B. McEntire was with KILT. [laughs]

Dave Ward will leave abc13 KTRK December 9th, 2016.

To follow Dave Ward after he leaves KTRK abc13, like Dave Ward's Houston.

- Dave Ward online
- How Dave Ward found love in charity
- Dave Ward's father did not want him working at KTRK and other stories
- Dave Ward traveled with the Houston Oilers for $15
FULL COVERAGE: Dave Ward 50 Years KTRK abc13

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