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Remembering the Early Days of KWTX-FM

The station in Waco recently turned 50

KWTX-FM--Promotional business card--circa 1979


The author worked at KWTX(AM/FM) in 1975–79 as an announcer, DJ and board operator. He is a personal collector and preservationist of Central Texas broadcasting memorabilia.

This is one in a series featuring radio station memories and early histories.

Once the home of the “Golden Sound of Beautiful Music,” KWTX-FM has now been entertaining Central Texas listeners in one form or another for 50 years.

Its inaugural broadcast was Dec. 7, 1970. The new Waco FM station at 97.5 MHz was owned and operated by KWTX Broadcasting Co., the licensee of KWTX-TV (Channel 10) and KWTX(AM) (1230 kHz). All local radio and TV programming originated from the company’s Broadcast Center at 4520 Bosque Blvd. in Waco.

The KWTX transmitter and tower were located along I-35 near Lorena, Texas, a few miles south of Waco. The station transmitted at an effective radiated power of 71 kW. Programming was sent from the Waco studio to the transmitter site by a microwave link licensed by the Federal Communications Commission as Auxiliary WAL 23.

KWTX-FM--Former announcer Carla Smith in KWTX-FM control--circa 1980 (1)
Announcer Carla Smith circa 1980

Throughout the 1970s, the station aired easy-listening music in stereo with limited interruptions from 6 a.m. to midnight. Instrumental selections from albums by Percy Faith, Montovani, Ray Conniff, Ferrante and Teicher, Andre Kostelanetz, 101 Strings, plus many other similar musical artists were broadcast to listeners throughout Central Texas.

The station also carried national news on the hour from the Mutual Broadcasting System. The local FM announcers gave the time and temperature on the quarter-hour and a short headline news report and weather forecast every half-hour.

Dave South, former KWTX radio program director and Texas A&M play-by-play sportscaster, recently recalled a few of the obstacles faced before and after the first broadcast.

“We put the station on the air with a very limited music library,” South said. “I had gone to Dallas a number of times begging the record distributors for any help they could provide, which wasn’t much.”

KWTX studio equipment
RCA BC-7A stereo/dual channel consolette, Sennheiser MD 421-II cardioid dynamic microphone on an adjustable swivel arm, and ITC Model SP and Model 3D cartridge tape machines. Not shown were two Russco Cue-Master broadcast turntables. On-air announcer scripts to be read live can be seen above the console.

However, the station received programming help from an unexpected source. South received a letter from a man in Europe asking if the radio station played easy-listening music. The man’s father was an orchestra leader who had recorded 10 or 12 albums.

“He sent those albums to me,” South said. “We played just about every cut on each LP, and that increased our music library by 30 to 40 percent.”

South said station management would come into the control room occasionally and draw a line with a red grease pencil through album cuts they didn’t want to hear again.

“Lots of red circles became a part of our lives in FM,” South said.

KWTX-FM--Former announcer Bill Castello in KWTX-FM control--circa 1979
Announcer Bill Castello in FM control circa 1979

On-air announcers also had to cope with working inside a small confined space, sometimes for up to six hours. The FM control room wasn’t much larger than a closet and crowded with equipment and storage shelves.

South said that it was often difficult to find someone willing to work long part-time hours for not much money — and who liked to listen to slow instrumental music.

“Our only full-time announcer was Clarence Garnes,” South said. “Clarence was a former radio guy and had a great voice. He was in his late 70s and smoked like a chimney. He didn’t make much money, but that was OK with him, because he was retired, and his wife had a good job at Baylor University.”

Many FM radio hosts brought “Beautiful Stereo Music” to Central Texas listeners for over a decade until the format changed in the early ’80s to personality DJs playing contemporary hits 24 hours a day.

A few noteworthy changes to KWTX-FM have occurred since. A new broadcast tower and transmitter facility was built near Moody, south of Waco, in 1979. FM power increased to 100 kW in 1986.

KWTX AM/FM/TV moved to a new facility at 6700 American Plaza in 1987. Both radio stations were sold to Gulfstar Communications in 1996, and are now owned by iHeartMedia.

Today, KWTX(AM) “NewsTalk 1230,”  KWTX-FM “97.5 FM #1 Hit Music,” and other Waco iHeartMedia stations are located at 314 West Highway 6.


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