Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Butter Spins a Texas Radio Tale

Along the way he interviews a range of performers and newsmakers: fiddle players, singers, politicians, storytellers — Debbie Reynolds, Floyd Tillman, John Henry Faulk, Roger Miller, Vicki Carr and Michael Martin Murphy.

(click thumbnail)Clyde Butter sent me a signed copy of his book “Theater of the Mind: Three Quarters of a Century of Radio Across Texas,” which he describes as personal reminiscences and a history of broadcasting across that state and Louisiana.

Butter spent a career in radio as an air talent, newsman and manager. This is a conversational, first-person chronology of a love affair with the medium, from his exposure to radio in the late 1930s and the Third Class test he later took in order to seek work as a “combo man,” through his days as a station owner decades later.

We hear about his first job at WTAW in College Station, Texas; his employment at stations like WJMR in New Orleans and KONO in San Antonio; his call to duty in the U.S. Navy Air Corps Reserve; and how he launched Capital Broadcast News Service in 1958, the first broadcast news service in the state capital (charter subscriber: Dan Rather at KTRH in Houston).

Along the way he interviews a range of performers and newsmakers: fiddle players, singers, politicians, storytellers — Debbie Reynolds, Floyd Tillman, John Henry Faulk, Roger Miller, Vicki Carr and Michael Martin Murphy. He talks to Van Cliburn for NBC’s weekend “Monitor” program and he meets Duke Ellington. The interviews are snippets that remind me in style of Bill O’Shaughnessy’s radio books.

Butter discusses his purchase of KRIG(AM) in Odessa, which he redubbed KRIL. He talks about his work there with Chief Engineer Harland Johnson, the day one of his towers fell in a West Texas wind and the day a rattlesnake visited the control room.

The tone is anecdotal and light; in fact many of the topics and interviews are too short. We’d also love to get more flavor of the man himself and his time.
Magnets to MegahertzI spotted this photo in the newsletter of the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting and had to share.

Pavek holds a class in electricity basics on Saturday mornings. It consists of two semesters of seven classes each, aimed at kids age 10 to 14.

The course starts with winding magnets and telegraph keys, and it progress into radio. The folks at Pavek tell me it is a challenging class with content that approaches college-level material; it gives the students (who are interviewed before they participate) an understanding of electronic theory that puts them years ahead of what they would otherwise have. Some grads have gone on to study engineering at places at MIT and the University of Minnesota.

(click thumbnail)“Students are treated like young adults and we ask them to view themselves that way while they are with us,” the organization states. The course has been offered since 1995; Pavek calls it “hands-on enrichment for the electronic wizards of tomorrow.” That’s Karl Eilers with a recent class.

The museum in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Minn., also regularly holds a broadcast workshop for kids grades 4–6 to learn about the history of electronic communication; a historical perspectives program for post-high schoolers; a vintage radio service class for collectors and hobbyists; and a class to help people get started in ham radio.

Good on ya, Pavek. Thanks for your efforts to help keep radio fundamentals alive and meaningful to young folks — and everyone else.
We do receive a welcome, more insightful look into the author’s personality when he devotes a chapter to a beloved black lab named Newshound and another to an essay about why the phrase “radio news” should now be considered an oxymoron. That’s Butter at his best. He also spends a chapter discussing Texas as a breeding ground of national journalists — Rather, Walter Cronkite, Bob Schieffer, Bill Moyers, Jim Hightower and some less expected names too.

This is radio autobiography as it would be told on the porch overlooking a cornfield, preferably with two tall lemonades nearby: folksy and enjoyable, from a man who has seen a lot of Texas radio come and go. You’ll enjoy spending time with Butter and wish you could have more of it.

Retail: $21.95, published by Eakin Press. You can order direct from the author by calling (432) 333-7971.

* * *

“Disk Recording, 1930–1960” — Robert K. Morrison worked for Ampex Corp. throughout the 1960s, then founded Standard Tape Laboratories. He remained involved in that company after its sale until he retired in 1995.

In this glossy and beautifully illustrated softcover, Morrison, who died in 2003, talks about equipment, techniques and recollections used in making phonograph records and electrical transcriptions.

Jay McKnight of the Audio Engineering Society describes the book in its marketing as “a practical recordist’s feel for the business, equipment and art of recording in the period between the birth of electrical recording and the event of the stereo disk.” You’ll enjoy reading the text, though you’ll breeze right through it. If you are interested in the history of disk recording, the photos are what you’ll treasure.

Thanks to Jim Wood of Inovonics for pointing this one out to me.

Retail: $19.95; visit

* * *

“The Funnier Side of Retirement for Engineers and People of the Technical Persuasion” — What does a newly retired engineer do on his second day at home? Why, map out a tour of golf courses situated near nudist colonies, of course.

This fun, insubstantial little paperback by Gregory K. McMillan is really just an excuse for publishing a bunch of cartoons by Ted Williams about older technical people in funny situations, accompanied by slight musings from McMillan, often conversing with himself, on what life is like after a technical career. Topics include “Geeks for Geezers” and “When Death Sounds Good [The Tragic Story of Engineers Who Have Worked Way Too Long].”

This is not a broadcast thing; the book (or booklet) is published by the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society, and its jokes are aimed at folks in corporate life and process automation. But engineers everywhere will chuckle. Stick a copy in the bathroom.

Retail: $25.