James B. and Mary Hughes of Carlsbad, N.M. dba Pampa Broadcasters, Inc. are the owners of KGRO (1230), KOMX-FM (100.3) and KDRL-FM (103.3). They entered the Pampa broadcasting market when they purchased KHHH and established KGRO in 1966. Since that time Pampa Broadcasters, Inc. has continued to serve the region and expand operations with addition of new stations to the company’s portfolio.
The history of KGRO is traced to KPAT which began broadcasting March 21, 1950. Owned by Pampa businessman J.C. Daniels, KPAT programmed a “block format” that was popular in its day, a segmented variety of music: country, waltzes, popular, easy listening, gospel and Lawence Welk tunes.
KPAT was established with 250 watts of power at 1230 kc. It debuted in grand style with state of the art equipment in new studios at 1701 N. Hobart. In addition to local dignitaries, special guests included renowned film producer Aaron Spelling and award-winning film star Dorothy Malone who was named Best Supporting Actress for her character in “Written on the Wind” in 1956 and her TV role as Constance MacKenzie in “Peyton Place.”
At the time Hobart Street in Pampa was unpaved and KPAT was the lone business in the north end of town, accessible only by a dirt road that cut through a grassy field.
A change came in 1956. According to Broadcasting Yearbook, owners of the station were R.O. Parker, Bob Bradbury and W.J. Beckham. At that time, the station moved to a new building at 1701 N. Banks. The original building erected by Daniels was later enlarged and housed for many years Medical & Surgical Clinic before it was razed and a Pak-A-Sac convenience store was subsequently erected on the site.
KPAT broadcasted with a 250-watt Gates transmitter, a Gates 8-channel board and two CB 500 Gates turntables.
KPAT was operated for two years by the Parker, Bradbury and Beckham group. The station was purchased in 1958 by Henry H. (Hank) Huntley (Huntley-Garrison Enterprises) who changed the call letters to KHHH to reflect the initials of the new owner’s name.
The new “K-Triple-H” moniker was established and a rock n’ roll format that was gaining in popularity during the 1950s was adopted.
EVOLUTION OF THE TOP 40 RADIO FORMAT
The concept of what evolved as the Top 40 radio format that consisted of commercial clusters interspersed with rock n’ roll music, fast-paced, dramatic newscasts about wrecks, fires and liquor store robberies, singing jingles that promoted the station’s call letters, is credited to Todd Storz of Mid-Continent Broadcasting Co., Omaha, Nebraska.
Todd Storz came up with the concept after he purchased KOWH (660), a 250-watt, daytime-only radio station in Omaha, in 1949. At the time block programming and network entertainment shows were the standard for successful radio programming and music was only an as-needed “filler” or part of a variety show. The use of recorded music at the time was restricted by the American Federation of Musicians.
The background is sometimes fuzzy, with different story lines, but it is indisputable that KOWH was the first ratio station to base its programming exclusively on the top hits of the day with no other programming breaking up the constant rotation of the same selected songs. The Top 40 format and song selections were based on media research, record store sales, jukebox plays and the “Billboard” and “Cashbox” magazines music charts. Hooper Ratings for KOWH in August, 1951 confirmed the popularity of the Storz concept.
The other popular Storz Top 40 stations that were programming leaders with the new format were WTIX (690) New Orleans, purchased in 1953; WHB (710) Kansas City, Missouri, 1954; WQAM (560) Miami, 1956; WDGY (740) Minneapolis, 1956; KOMA (1520) Oklahoma City, 1958; and KXOK (630), St. Louis, 1960. WHB had 10,000 watts of power and it became an enhanced, revved-up version of KOWH’s programming. Broadcasters from across America came to Kansas City, checked into hotels and listened to and recorded WHB’s programming and then took it back to their respective markets.
Legendary Texas broadcaster Gordon McLendon, at his flagship station KLIF (1190) in Dallas, took the concept to new heights showcasing KLIF’s programming with exciting promotions, stunning give-a-ways, use of popular Pams jingles to accent programming and a first-rate news department led by radio newsman Joe Long. KLIF dominated Dallas radio station ratings for more than 20 years.
Across America, other Top 40 stations emerged to become legends in the broadcasting industry: KBOX (1480) Dallas; WMEX (1510) in Boston; WLS (890) Chicago; KHJ (930) Los Angeles; WABC (770) New York City; and KTSA (550) San Antonio.
In an interview Huntley stated, “we were heavy on promotions and public service projects and I particularly remember a station effort to raise money and collect clothes for survivors of a family who had been devastated by a fire.”
He referred to KHHH’s “Operation Good Neighbor” to benefit surviving members of the Lewis R. Stone family. Stone, 42; his wife Christine, 41; sons Kenneth, 8; Gary Richard, 15; and daughter, Betty, 20, perished when fire gutted the Gilking Apartments 302 E. Kingsmill on August 23, 1959.
Family survivors were Leslie, 14; Norman Ray, 12; Russell, 17; and a married daughter from Dallas, Mrs. Bobby Ray Braley, who was visiting her Pampa family. KHHH collected $5000 cash and 400 pounds of clothes for the Stone family survivors.
At a time when television programming was transitioning from black and white to color Huntley, as a promotional tactic, adopted the logo “Color Radio K-Triple-H” and the exterior walls of the studio building were painted red, green, pink and blue stripes.
The colorful image lasted a year until it was decided that the “Color Radio” theme was a bit gaudy and the station returned to a more conservative character, according to Huntley’s son Jim, who worked at KHHH during his high school years.
Huntley hosted a 30-minute interview program Monday through Saturday. Guests were featured on the popular “Tooley’s Topic Time” sponsored by Pampa pharmacist Joe Tooley who owned Richard Drug. “Tooley’s Topic Time” showcased a monthly interview with the region’s U.S. Senator, John Tower.
KHHH maintained a mobile news unit that allowed the news director to report live from the scene of wrecks and oil well fires. Associated Press furnished the station with national and world news that was read in five-minute segments on the hour. Newscasts were introduced by short selections of fast-paced dramatic music taken from the “Victory At Sea” album.
In 1964 Huntley sold the station to Trend Broadcasting Corp. that was owned and operated by William R. McDaniel and his brother Roy McDaniel. The staff included Herb Hester, general manager and A.C. Higgins, engineer. Among the other employees were Billy Ragsdale, Gene McKinney, Terry Niemeier, and Wayne Hughes, a college student who worked weekends.
Wayne Hughes, who would later have a career as executive vice-president of the Panhandle Producers & Royalty Owners Association, worked at KHHH from October, 1963 through January, 1964 on a part-time basis during the Trend era.
He shared his insights about the KHHH operation during the period it was operated by Trend with the new logo, “The Station That Keeps You On Time.”
The “Listen, Ladies” program featured a local resident who came to the studio Saturday mornings to read Associated Press wire copy geared toward women’s interests.
“There was no clearly defined audience….occasionally on Saturday nights a six-man country and western band would come to the studio to perform live…we would abruptly stop the rock n’ roll music to accommodate the band…. then afterward we would play gospel music followed by more rock n’ roll tunes,” stated Hughes.
Hughes said he frequently would receive irate phone calls from teenage girls who were angry that their rock n’ roll music had been interrupted in favor of country tunes played by the band.
“On more than one occasion I had to jump through hoops to round up enough microphones and install them properly in the studio for use by the band,” he said.
He remembered that at one point before high school students arrived for work at 3:30 p.m., a record changer was used in place of announcers.
“The changer was wired into the control board and LP record albums were stacked on the changer and automatically played through the course of the day and when the first stack of records had played the secretary would go into the control room and turn the records over for the other sides to be played,” Hughes said.
As far as the configuration of the KHHH control room was concerned, Hughes said there was a horseshoe-shaped desk with two Gates turntables, one on each side of the announcer, the Gates board, two Gates cart machines and a Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder-playback machine that was mounted into a rack and connected to a nearby patch panel.
The announcer at that time faced the glass window of the small news booth and the door through which was gained entry into the control room from the hall.
After the station was purchased by Pampa Broadcasters, the console desk was re-positioned in the opposite direction to face the transmitting equipment.
Trend Broadcasting operated KHHH until Huntley briefly re-assumed control of the station in early 1966 and subsequently sold it to Pampa Broadcasters, Inc.
On the morning of Thursday, June 30, 1966, shortly before 5:30 a.m., a Pampa police officer on patrol in the neighborhood noticed smoke emanating from the rear of the building.
The Pampa Fire Department was notified. Firefighters responded and used an axe and a pike pole to break through the rear door of the building to quickly extinguish the blaze.
The fire resulted in $30,000 damage and melted 1000 records. Fire Marshal L.V. Bruce determined the cause to be a faulty Emergency Broadcast System monitor that was positioned on a shelf attached to the north wall of what is now the KOMX-FM control room.
KHHH continued to use most of the original equipment installed by Daniels when he put KPAT on air: the 250 watt Gates transmitter, Gates console and the two CB 500 Gates turntables.
On August 12, 1966 Pampa Broadcasters, Inc. acquired KHHH. The call letters were immediately changed to KGRO and the Top 40 music format was refined.
James B. Hughes instituted a policy of extensive local news, weather, and sports coverage and promotions including fundraisers for local projects.
A KGRO mainstay program is “Newswatch” that is aired live at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday. It is a talk program that features guests with information and details about upcoming events.
Equally popular is the noon hour “Swap N’ Shop” program in which listeners phone in live on the air to buy, sell and trade items and property. The program has been a KGRO staple since its inception in 1966.
A broadcasting tradition on KGRO and KOMX is the annual live presentation of the Christmas Eve Christ Mass from St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Pampa. Sponsorship of the broadcast was initiated in 1958 by the late M.K. Brown, cattleman, entrepreneur and Pampa civic leader who was a member of the church.
When M.K. Brown died in September, 1964, the Christ Mass broadcasts were continued and underwritten by Pampa area rancher Bill Arrington and his wife Greta, also members of the church, and after her death, Bill continued to sponsor the broadcast.
The voice of the Pampa Harvesters and Lady Harvesters, KGRO broadcasts Pampa High School boys and girls athletic events including football, basketball, baseball, softball, and track. KGRO broadcasts a soft hits music format.
KGRO has been known as the “Voice of the Pampa Harvesters” broadcasts since 1966 when the station was purchased by Pampa Broadcasters. At the beginning of the 2014-15 football season the games were also carried live on KDRL-FM 103 and were streamed over the internet and recorded digitally to accomplish enhanced quality. The Harvesters won that first game on KDRL and KGRO, defeating River Road 63-13 on the night of August 29, 2014.
During the early years of KGRO, until 1980, the Harvesters Broadcasts, through special arrangement with the Pampa Independent School District, were carried on KGRO every other year, sharing the broadcast schedule with cross-town competitor KPDN 1340.
Harvester sports have been broadcast by numerous individuals including Brad Mink, Denny Schreiner, who later enjoyed careers at the Golf Channel and as a bowling announcer on ESPN; Lynn Thornton and Phil Londagin, but none has carried the banner longer than Donny Hooper, who was in his 23nd year of broadcasting Harvester sports during the 2015-16 school year.
Hooper began his employment at KGRO in February, 1992. He and Londagin split Harvesters and Lady Harvesters basketball game broadcasts the first three seasons.
Hooper’s first sports broadcasts with KGRO were of the baseball season of 1993. His first football broadcast was at Garden City, Kansas in September, 1993 where the Harvesters won 21-0. The Harvesters finished the regular season at 8-2 but lost to the Plainview Bulldogs at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium in Canyon in the Bi-District round of the playoffs by a final score of 9-7.
His fondest memories were when Pampa defeated Azle at Texas Stadium in Irving and when the basketball team won the State Title in 1995. Hooper also was Broadcaster of the Year in the Arena Football II League in 2006 and during this period, from 2004 to 2008, he was the play-by-play voice of the Amarillo Dusters.
KGRO is known and respected for diligent public service.
In 1977 the station sponsored a country music concert featuring singers Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius. The popular team performed at M.K. Brown Civic Center before a standing room only crowd and funds collected were presented to the Pampa High School band for its trip to Ireland.
In 1979, KGRO sponsored a promotion that showcased a concert by country music singer Rex Allen Jr. Again, it was a packed house at the civic center.
KGRO hosted an immensely popular city-wide Easter Egg Hunt for 35 years. It was first held Easter Sunday, 1966 in Aspen Park but was moved the following year to the larger Central Park because of the huge crowds that attended.
Another popular promotion was the KGRO Home Show that was conducted each fall from 1977 through 1982. Local merchants were assigned booth space at the civic center and showcased selected merchandise they offered for sale at their businesses.
Participants included auto dealers, farm equipment supply house operators, appliance, furniture, floor covering, jewelry and electronics store owners, and restaurateurs, among others.
In 1994, KGRO and KOMX instituted the popular Bidders Bargains in which area businesses showcase products, services and merchandise. During the three-day live simulcast event each spring and fall, enthusiastic listeners with pre-assigned bidding numbers compete with each other for the winning bids that allow them to receive auctioned items at reduced prices.
In 1975, ABC news broadcaster Paul Harvey appeared at the civic center. The popular, politically conservative commentator acknowledged KGRO, the local ABC affiliate at the time, and referred to Pampa on his broadcast the following day as “an immaculate community of 29,000 persons.”
KGRO operated from 6 a.m. until midnight Monday through Saturday and from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. Sundays. In 2005, KGRO, KOMX, and KDRL operating hours were extended to 24-seven. An increase in power from 250 watts to 1000 watts was approved by the Federal Communications Commission shortly after Pampa Broadcasters purchased KHHH.
KGRO initially used a Collins 250 watt transmitter but later installed a 1000/250 watt Gates model BC/G transmitter. The original audio equipment included the Gates board, and Gates turntables previously used by KPAT and KHHH.
A 9-channel Collins board was installed at KGRO when the station was acquired by Pampa Broadcasters and the original Gates board was moved to the production room.
When the 1981 remodel occurred the Collins board was replaced by a 5-channel McMartin B501 console. Then, in October, 2014 there was another upgrade when an eight-channel Broadcast Electronics board was installed.
Fifteen years after establishing KGRO, Pampa Broadcasters put on air KOMX (100.3) with 32,000 watts of power. The station programs a Hot Country music format from Dial Global and is immensely popular among a huge local and regional audience. KOMX is affiliated with the Texas State Network.
KOMX also serves the listening audience with local and regional news, weather and sports reports and broadcasts the Panhandle (Texas) High School Panthers and Pantherettes athletic events.
The studios of the radio stations are in a rectangular, low-lying building with a flat roof that was erected when KPAT was relocated in 1956.
In the original building was the lobby with chairs and a couch and a weather wire teletype machine. Through a door on the left one entered a large studio which served as the news director’s office and work area and the interview room for guests. The unique feature of the room was the large plate glass window that extended from floor to ceiling and wall to wall.
A small production room with the original KPAT, KHHH Gates board was adjacent to and accessed from, the news room.
To the right upon entering the lobby was the secretary-receptionist-traffic managers work station, a sales office and the general manager’s office.
Further down a hallway to the right was the coffee bar.
To the left, one passed a small room that had previously served as the KPAT and KHHH news delivery booth but it was converted to a record storage closet when the station was purchased by Pampa Broadcasters.
Adjacent to this area was the KGRO control room that featured a horseshoe-shaped desk with two large Gates turntables on the left, Collins board, three Collins cart machines and cart storage rack on the right.
Two AM transmitters (Collins and Gates), a Harris Intertype Gates Instacart with 48 cart trays, and racks housing a patch panel, STL and other equipment faced the control board, and were separated by a walk-through.
At the time KGRO, with the exception of live information hour broadcasts and emergency live news and weather bulletins, was automated with a Harris System 90 computer.
The interior appearance of the radio station was changed when a renovation took place in 1981 to accommodate the addition of KOMX.
The new KOMX control room was situated in KGRO’s former control room. The original newsroom-studio combination was made smaller when a hallway was formed from part of the space to connect the lobby to the relocated KGRO control room in what was the stations production room in the south end of the building.
A carport was enclosed and remodeled to create a new production room and office at the north end of the building. The exterior appearance of the facility was altered when a tan, stuccoed surface was applied.
Attached to the front of the building were the call letters “KGRO” and “KOMX” in 12-inch-tall metal black letters.
The new production room was furnished with a large KMD MC-1602 mixer board, one Russco turntable, Scott System computer, AKI and Sony cassette recorder-playback decks, and a Harman-Karden CD recorder-playback machine.
At the time of the remodeling in 1981 to accommodate KOMX, the KGRO free-standing tower was dismantled and a new tower 300 feet high was put in place north of town near Highway 70 and Loop 171.
The original tower was erected in 1950 for KPAT and it subsequently became a landmark in the north Pampa residential neighborhood. The antenna, 184 feet in height, was anchored in a field west of the studio, on a lot on which today is located the residence at 1623 N. Sumner.
The transmission line from the studio to the tower was draped across the tops of evenly-spaced wooden poles each approximately twelve feet in height.
The steel tower was well-constructed. Many Pampans of the day remembered strong thunderstorm winds in spring and bitterly-cold arctic blasts in the dead of winter racing across the region and causing the tower to sway noticeably.
When the tower was being erected in 1950 in advance of KPAT going on air a cable snapped resulting in a section of the structure collapsing to the ground. The damage was repaired and there were no injuries.
During the first few years of operation, KOMX and KGRO BPI pre-taped music was packaged on 12-inch reels that were played on Revox A77 reel-to-reel tape machines.
After later using the popular Digital DJ system, in 1997 KGRO and KOMX switched to satellite music programming from the Jones Satellite Network which subsequently was purchased by Dial Global, a division of Triton Media Group.
KOMX went on air in 1981 with a 9-channel McMartin 1081 Board, two McMartin turntables and three Collins cart machines. KOMX broadcasts with an RCA transmitter.
Prior to 1999 a Digital DJ system was used by KGRO and KOMX to generate audio signals. The switch to the AXS Scott system was made that year to insure compatibility with Y2K matters, according to longtime Chief Engineer Greg Campbell.
The KOMX control room was remodeled in October, 2014. The wooden cart rack that dated to the days of KHHH and that had been used to store the plastic Fidelipac Cartridges during the cart machine era, was removed and the flat, surface of the U-shaped desk on which the broadcast equipment was located was covered with slate tile that matched that which also covered the floor. A new CD playback machine was also installed and telephones that had previously taken up space on the desk were located on a shelf below its surface to allow for more desktop room.
Seeking to further broaden the scope of its service to the region, Pampa Broadcasters established KDRL (103.3) September 1, 2011. KDRL initially programmed the Dial Global Classic Hits format but soon switched to the Classic Rock format when the Classic Hits format was retired.
Unlike its predecessors, KDRL-FM serves the community primarily with a music format. However, programming is interrupted for reports about developing major news stories and severe weather announcements. KDRL has a licensed power output of 50,000 watts and is on air 24-seven.
KDRL is situated in the KGRO studio. It is equipped with a Yamaha MR 1242 mixing console and Scott System computer.
KDRL’s transmission equipment includes a Collins 830 transmitter and an 8-channel Arrakis Systems board.
Legendary at the three radio stations is Darrell Sehorn who joined KGRO as an advertising salesman in 1969 and who was subsequently promoted to general manager in 1976.
When KDRL went on the air Sehorn was completing his forty-second year with Pampa Broadcasters. To pay homage to Sehorn’s loyal service to the company and to honor him for his contributions to the Pampa community, the KDRL call letters were selected to direct attention to the weatherman’s first name.
“I was totally surprised and flattered that this was done to call attention to my many accomplishments in the community, it is a true honor,” Sehorn said when the call letters for the new station were confirmed by the Federal Communications Commission.
During severe weather season the staffs of the three stations, led by Sehorn, a professional meteorologist, keep listeners informed about the developing rough and tumble weather.
Sehorn developed a keen interest in weather as a child and brings to the table decades of experience in predicting the sometimes unpredictable Texas Panhandle weather. He has received numerous awards from the National Weather Service for his contributions as a Cooperative Weather Observer.
During times of severe weather Sehorn, who began his career after high school graduation at KCTX 1510 in Childress, broadcasts live reports from the station’s mobile news unit. His accuracy in predicting weather in the region is without parallel.
State Rep. Warren Chisum arranged for Governor George W. Bush to come to Pampa to present Sehorn a certificate of recognition for the broadcaster’s “dedication, quick thinking and bravery” during a series of live radio reports warning citizens during an afternoon of severe weather June 8, 1995 that produced a devastating tornado that caused millions of dollars in damage.
The award was handed to a surprised Sehorn by Governor Bush at the Chautauqua festivities attended by more than 2000 persons in Central Park on Monday, September 4, 1995. Scores of well-wishers surrounded Sehorn after the presentation to congratulate him for a job well done.
On that stormy Thursday, Sehorn was on the air broadcasting warnings well in advance of the tornado strike encouraging citizens to be prepared to take cover.
“It was a very dangerous day in Pampa and my exclusive broadcasts saved lives,” Sehorn said after the storm. Listeners tuned in to the live broadcasts heard softball-sized hail crashing against the weather broadcaster’s vehicle as he delivered his on-going reports about the progress of the tornado as it cut a swath through the city.
The combined facilities of Pampa Broadcasters, Inc. represent the only advertising medium in Pampa that reaches the entire Eastern Panhandle market area and beyond.
Stay tuned. There’s more to come. (Researched, compiled by Mike Ehrle)