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Hal, KTIB and me

Hal, KTIB and me

Having been challenged in court since 1948 by radio station KCIL in Houma, La Terre, Inc., Ferdinand Block, President and partners Joe Silverberg, Ed Jackson and Sam Lawson finally obtained an FCC license and an engineer, Art Backman, who built and put KTIB on the air on December 24, 1953.

On December 20, 1953, Mr. Block came to the Assessor’s office and asked me to host a Saturday afternoon program on KTIB. So, that Christmas Eve, I knocked off at noon from the Assessor’s office and met Mr. Art Backman at the new station located on the second floor of the Lafourche Comet Building on Jackson street.

“Mr. Block told me about you,” he said, and before I could say a word he handed me a stack of records and said, “I’ve been here since sunup and I need to go to lunch, fill up three hours with whatever music you find,” and out the door he went.

I had broadcast with my band many times from a studio but I knew nothing about a control room with dials, switches, tape machines, turntables and a teletype spitting out news 24 hours a day. But Mr. Backman thought I did.

I was scared to death but I put a 78 RPM record on, switched on the mike and declared to the world: “Heyeee! A big howdy comon sa va to my cousans, couseens, unts and ancles (sic). This is Leroy Martin with Country Correl and here’s Lafourche’s own Vin Bruce with his Columbia hit Fille de Village.”

I collapsed in my chair and muddled through three hours making every mistake and faux pas in the book.
Finally Mr. Backman returned so I put on a record and said, “That’s it for me, so long and save your confederate money, boys, the South’s gonna rise again.”

Not political correct but those were my opening and closing remarks for the next 30 years, although at the time I was sure they would never let me enter the building again.

Mr. Block and partners now owned a radio station with two apprentice announcers, an engineer/manger who knew little about the business, and maybe a cajun Disc Jockey, although that term was not yet in use. Successful in their businesses, the owners were about to enter a world they knew little about … show business!

It might have been divine intervention that caused a young man named Hal Benson to apply for a job in January 1954. He had a resume that included experience in radio broadcasting, news, interviews, programs, sales, sports and management.

The La Terre businessmen had been around the block (no pun intended) a few times, so he was hired. It was evident immediately that he knew radio inside out and within two weeks, Mr. Backman was gone and Hal Benson became manager. KTIB was off and running.

The first thing he did was bring down two crackerjack radio personalities from Memphis who had worked with him, Jean Bettis, a writer, broadcaster and office manager, Marie Servino, sales manager and program director, and experienced WDSU announcer Roy Hill. They revamped the programs, adding a talk show dialogue, book and movie revues, contemporary music, put the emphasis on local news, and Hal began remote broadcasting live high school sports.

Mr. Benson called me to his office. He was nice and articulate and asked me, “What do you do on your Saturday afternoon show?”

“What do I do? Have fun, play records, chat on the phone with the listeners and play their request like Ernest Tubb, Tommy Dorsey or Bob Wills.”

“You combine Ernest Tubb and Tommy Dorsey?” He asked. “We’ll do something about that but now read this.”

I did and thought what is a Neilson survey?

“Mr. Benson,” I answered, “I really don’t need this job. I’m sorry I messed up. I was doing something I knew nothing about. Good luck on your new job, but I quit,” and got up.

“That’s not what I called you about,” He said.

His next words brought me a life changing experience that I’ll tell you about later.

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