Tuning in for 58 years!
The first radio station in Carthage was started in 1955. Two men who were brothers-in-law, Tom Alford and F.E. Barr, put their money and knowledge together and applied for a license. They put up a tower and transmitter on Hill’s Lake Road and rented studios above First State Bank on the west side of the square. At 1590 AM, the 1,000 watt station was on the air from daylight to dark. Alf Jernigan, Jr., manager of the Chamber of Commerce, suggested the call letters KGAS because Carthage was the gas capital of the nation. They were in business.
In November of ’55, Bev Brown joined the station, but didn’t stay long. He left in the summer of ’56. Barr, who had bought out Alford, was running the station and needed some help. He contacted Brown and said he’d give him half the station if he’d come back and run it. “I told him the problem is, you don’t have any money, and if I came, I wouldn’t bring any money to it either,” recalls Brown. “I had some kin folks with some money, so we bought him out in September of 1957. When I started, I didn’t know as much about running a radio station as I did about fixing a jet airplane engine.”
The first equipment was very primitive—two turntables, one on each side, and a microphone in front. A reel-to-reel tape recorder was used to cover events. About this time, a television signal made its way to Panola County and everyone started buying a TV set. People said no one would be listening to the radio within five years. Television would kill it. “One of the radio giants, Gordon McClendon who had KLIF in Dallas was one of the beginners of what we now call Top 40 Radio where they played rock and the announcers acted crazy,” says Brown. “He bought KTBS Radio in Shreveport and it came on the air and captured the teenage audiences all over the Arklatex. There we were trying to compete with McClendon and with television. Advertisers were telling us ‘Nobody listens to radio anymore.’ It was a lot of work just to stay afloat.”
KGAS was a typical East Texas daytime radio station. It was on the air from daylight to dark because the AM signal more or less exploded when the sun went down. In 1961 Brown was called to active duty because of the Berlin Crisis, so he sold KGAS to station engineer Ray Wells. In ‘63 the station moved to the Reeves Building on E. Sabine Street. Country music stars like Johnny Cash, George Jones, Jim Reeves and Johnny Horton would stop by the station on the way to their next gig. In ’65 Brown returned to the station as owner-manager and in ’67 won Newsbreak of the Month on TSN for the live broadcast of the fire from a butane truck explosion on the square. In 1986 TSN named Brown the Pioneer Broadcaster of the Year.
In the ‘80s, Jerry and Wanda Hanszen, in the manufactured home business, were one of the top advertisers at KGAS. Because the Hanszens had a great deal of experience with the band program, Jerry was asked to go to the ballgames on Friday nights and broadcast the band performances at halftime. “Jerry became more and more interested in radio and I got less and less, so I sold the station to him in September of 1988,” says Brown. “I had been successful enough to put my kids through college, buy my wife a car and a fur coat and pay for a house. I was ready to give it up.” Hanszen hit the floor running. The first weekend he took over the station, a plane carrying Don and Linda Griffith crashed in the area. “I had been at a football game in Palestine doing my first play-by-play with Larry Allen. When I got home I heard the dispatcher say they were searching for a plane that went down. The plane was found early Sunday morning and six friends were lost in that crash. It was a really tragic thing, but also a huge news item. It was the first time I’d ever had any responsibility to cover something like that.”
In the 90’s Hanszen moved the station to South Shelby Street and expanded to include an FM station, 104.3. He learned that the cornerstone of KGAS Radio was broadcasting Carthage football on Friday nights. “If we weren’t airing the football games, they’d probably tar and feather us and run us out of town! The only way a small town radio station can survive is to be local. If we’re not breaking in to say where the fire truck’s going, or telling people of a road closed due to an accident, or giving football scores on Friday nights, people aren’t going to tune in to us. They can hear the same music we’re playing on other stations."
In 2002 the Texas Association of Broadcasters awarded Hanszen Broadcaster of the Year. The station was moved to the current location on Market Street, and they made the decision to add KMHT in Marshall to the Hanszen Broadcast Group. In 2008 KPXI in Henderson was also added. Everything is now computerized. The station is able to sound like a larger market radio station with the ability to insert local advertising. All three stations mirror each other. One of the most popular programs on the stations is Swap Shop. Airing from 9:00 am to 10:00 am each weekday, as many as 90 calls come in to each station with either something to buy, sell or trade. “We know there are people sitting out there in their pickups listening to Swap Shop with their yellow pads because they may come across a bass boat or something they’re looking for,” says Hanszen. “It’s the craziest thing. I had to put an 8-second delay in there because of what someone might say.”
Advertising is very important to the station. According to Hanszen, “We can’t exist if we don’t have our advertisers. We don’t get any national money. We’ve got to depend on the local people, and we’ve got to prove to these same people that we have listeners. We’ve stayed with Bev’s philosophy and stayed with as many football games as possible. On Friday nights we have two games on the radio, AM and FM and two games that are Internet only. We also cover the big marching contests and video stream the contest. The Internet is becoming more and more into play. The best thing about radio is that it’s immediate. If something happens, someone can go into the broadcast room and open a microphone and relay the current news.”
KGAS is a staple in Panola County. With programs like Panola Pride, Let’s Talk it Over, Soundboard News, Swap Shop and state and local newscasts several times each day, the listening audience is able to stay connected to the community and the events that are occurring around them. “If Wanda had not been there to support me, all this would not have happened. When you jump up in the middle of the night to go to a fire or a wreck, you’ve got to have someone that won’t get mad because you woke them up. It has been our pleasure to broadcast live from every school or town in our listening audience.” When events of interest are happening, KGAS is there!
Photos courtesy of Don's Photography