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Discovering the Advantages of Radio

by George Lester
George Lester
It was at my second job in radio that I began to discover some of the great perks of being in that business. There was a country show every Saturday night in Shreveport, about 45 miles north of our location. It was called The Louisiana Hayride and produced by radio station KWKH. Many of country music's biggest stars made their debut on that show. A few come to mind such as Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Slim Whitman, Faron Young, Jim Ed Brown and many more I'll probably think of later.

Another future star was Floyd Kramer, famous for his instrumental "Last Date". He had a small group that was playing for a dance in our town. He stopped by the radio station to try to get some plugs for the dance in exchange for a free broadcast on our air waves. The station manager would not hear of it and turned them down flat. As the dejected group was leaving I followed them to the parking lot to try to smooth the waters the best I could.

Floyd held no animosity toward me for he knew I had tried to sell the manager on the idea and failed.

Before he left he told me that the doors were always open to deejays from other stations at the Louisiana Hayride. It was good public relations for the show because it encouraged us to play their records and to talk about the Louisiana Hayride on our stations. As soon as I could make it I showed up at the stage entrance and timidly told the man at the door who I was and what I wanted. I had no reason to be afraid because I received a very warm welcome. After that they called me by name and waved me on through without hesitation.

It wasn't long before I was on first name basis with all the performers. Country music artists are inherently friendly and down to earth people. I chatted like old friends with Jim Reeves. He was one of the many true gentlemen in the business, thus his title of "Gentleman Jim". After several visits to the show I got the idea of having a benefit for our local March Of Dimes campaign. I mentioned it to Jim and he took charge of the whole thing. He beckoned me to follow him as he went to a selected group of performers and told them to join him on the given day of the benefit. They didn't dare refuse this noble man. I was humbled by the experience. Then I really became aware of the advantages of being in the radio business.

The master of ceremonies was a fellow named Horace Logan. Even until this day I have not seen a more polished professional than he was. I have been to the Grand Old Opry and as far as stage production was concerned the Louisiana Hayride was a much smoother show. I studied everything he did and later when I got my chance to MC productions the things I learned from him helped me immensely. Horace offered me the honor of becoming the DJ of the week on one of the future shows. That meant I would be put up in Shreveport's finest hotel with room service and then introduced on the stage before a huge house audience plus their tremendous radio network audience. It was one of the highlights of my career.

As I visited backstage that night I noticed a young fellow dressed in a sport coat and with slacks and shod in white buck shoes. All the other performers wore embroidered suits studded with rhinestones so he stood out like a sore thumb. I inquired about him from one of the artist's managers. He told me he as a new kid from Memphis that had created quite a sensation there. In a very commanding voice he called him over. The young man politely strolled over and introduced himself to me. That was the first time I heard the name Elvis Presley. He asked me if I had any of his records and I was sorry to say I didn't. He instructed his guitar player, Scotty Moore to run down to his car and get me all his records. They were the old 78s. Elvis probably didn't know how insignificant I was in the overall scheme of the music business but I doubt if he would have been any less polite had he known.

That night as Elvis took the stage the place went berserk. I didn't know he had been there the week before and his newfound fans were ready for him. I stood there in awe as he captivated the audience completely. I turned to the fellow who had introduced us and expressed my opinion that this young fellow had a tremendous future in the business. He replied that it was all done with smoke and mirrors and his records would never sell because he had no talent, only an unorthodox presentation. When I saw this artist manager many months later he was having a heaping helping of crow.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir >

December 1, 2006 column
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