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Radio Days

Radio Days

It’s been said that “they who do not study history are bound to repeat it” and there are some things that should not be repeated, like a depression, the “Dust Bowl” or World War II. Here’s a brief history.

Once upon a time there was a place that had no IPhones, ITunes, IPads, I-Hops, Internet, Amazon, Facebook or even television, and I was born and raised smack dab in the middle of it. It was called the Cajun Land of Louisiana. Were we miserable and despondent? No, because we couldn’t miss things that hadn’t been invented yet. We did have one form of entertainment available and free to all. It was called “radio!”

My Dad bought our first radio, a used set, in 1937. It had a big cabinet and sat in the corner for months because Lockport Power and Electric Co. hadn’t reached us yet.

When they did, we followed the mode, gathering around it every evening to watch … yes, I said “watch”, the radio!

The programs we listened to were “The Shadow”, “Gangbusters”, “Jack Benny” and “Fibber Magee and Molly”. For the ladies during the day there were “Our Gal Sunday”, “Ma Perkins”, “Guiding Light”, and “The Romance of Helen Trent”.

Kids had “The Lone Ranger”, “Tom Mix”, “Jack Armstrong”, and “Let’s Pretend”.

Every kid program offered, for a nickel or dime, a decoder ring, a secret badge, a toy gun or an Ovaltine cup. I bought them all and had I kept them I would be rich today. They’re valuable.

Until the end of World War II there were only five New Orleans radio stations reaching us. In 1946, KCIL in Houma went on the air and in 1948, Mr. Ferdinand Block and partners Delta Broadcaster, Inc., applied for a license to open a station in Thibodaux.

KCIL, only 15 miles away, took them to court and prevented the license being granted until 1953 when on December 24th, KTIB went on the air.

In 1949, I had a radio show, “Leroy Martin and the Southern Serenaders”, on KCIL. In 1950 I moved it to WWEZ in New Orleans.

Every week we received hundreds of card and letters and dozens of telegrams that arrived while on the air.
Fast-forward to 1954, I had a new job in the Assessor’s office and a Saturday afternoon program on KTIB.

New station manager Hal Benson called me to his office and said, “This Neilson report shows that although we’re new, one program tops the listening audience in our entire area and they don’t even know the name. They just list it as ‘Saturday afternoon hillbilly music’.” (Which is what country music was called then.)

He said, “You’ve struck a chord with listeners and I want you to work for us full time. From now on it’s “The Leroy Martin Show” and they’ll soon know your name.”

“Mr. Benson,” I answered, “I have a good job that I don’t want to give up but I want to continue my program.”

“We’ll talk it over, but look this over. It’s been piling up on my desk,” and he handed me a paper bag full of cards and letters addressed to “Leroy” or “Saturday afternoon hillbilly music” or “That Martin Guy”.

As my jaw hit the floor he said, “Now let’s get us each a quart of Falstaff beer.”

I knew where beer was sold in quart bottles so we drove to Hosea Hill’s Sugar Bowl bar, picked up two quarts and went back to the station to sip and talk.

I have some great stories about Hosea Hill’s club involving Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Little Richard, me, Hal and Elvis, but that’s for future columns.

As we sat and talked, Hal tried to convince me to work for him and I tried to keep the program as a sideline. I won, but rolling around in my mind all the while was the line that Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains at the very end of the movie ‘Casablanca’: “This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

That it was!

Stay tuned! Sorry, that was radio. Just keep reading my column.

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