He could write a book, but luckily for listeners the legendary disc jockey Barry Kaye tells his story one day at a time hosting his morning show on KHLB FM in Mason, Texas. Photo by Phil Houseal
The Boogie Man
by Phil Houseal
Deejay Barry Kaye wants to meet every single KHLB listener. He already knows most of them by their first name.
“Hey, our friend Phil is driving to Kerrville right now,” I heard him say one morning as I listened to 102.5 FM. “Phil, here’s a song for you... turn up your radio!”
I had to smile. He remembered a comment I had made during our interview, and used it to personalize his show the next morning. I heard him do it over and over as he dropped the names of listeners within hearing distance of the 50,000-watt radio station perched just off the square in tiny Mason, Texas.
How did this radio legend - who has had a 40-year career as “The Boogie Man,” invented Top 40 FM radio, recorded top country hits, performed at the Country Music Association's Fan Fare, worked with every major act of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, owned the second-largest dance hall in the world, was top on-air personality in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and is in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame - wind up doing the morning show in Mason?
While he grew up in Corpus Christi, it turns out that Kaye had been coming to the Mason area since he was 11 years old. His best buddy’s family would come here to visit, and he often tagged along. His radio career took him away, but about 10 years ago he was able to find the ranch of his dreams. He retired (“sort of”), hoping to do a little Internet radio work and hunt on his own property.
When his radio production business didn’t quite live up to expectations, Kaye was faced with going back to work on the deejay circuit. That was a problem.
“I didn’t want to leave my ranch,” he confessed. So he started to contact local radio stations about going back on the air. That was another problem. “They didn’t believe me!” While everyone had heard of him, no one thought he was serious about working in smaller markets. Kaye was serious. One radio station manager told him that it paid little, and he’d have to scrub toilets. “I said, I’ll take a little and I scrub a mean toilet. But they never called me back."
So the irrepressible Kaye applied at the local Super S and got a job in their gas station.
“I worked a year at $7.25 an hour,” he said. “I became a ‘groceryologist.’ I could get you gas, chips ,and dip so fast you wouldn’t believe it.” He took pride in his job. “My buddies from radio would come to town and I’d be in my little Super S outfit, cleaning out the squeegee buckets. I heard them make excuses for me. I said you don’t have to apologize - I love this job! It didn’t bother me a bit.”
That job at the Gas Hut may have been the best training for his KHLB gig.
“I see that was a blessing, now, because I got to meet everyone. There is not a human being I don’t know, because everyone came to get gas and food.”
Kaye is capitalizing on those connections with his “Barry Kaye Tour.”
“I thought there were two things when I first came to work that I had to do as fast as possible. I knew I had to come up with a way to mention names on radio, and I had to bring attention to the station that we are live and local.”
His solution was to get out on the street, Literally. He started driving his Kia Rio “limo” (“it’s about 4 feet long”) to visit every town - Harper, Doss, Junction, Brady, Hext, Yates, Pontotoc, Skeeterville, Melvin, Calf Creek.
“I feel I can’t talk about these people unless I’ve stood there, even if there is only one store and a house.”
He has walked into every store and shaken hands, telling everyone he meets exactly at what time he is going to say “hi” to them on the air.
“If you tell them you are going to mention them, they’ll listen. If they tell 10 people who tell 10 other people, in a small town it won’t take a week for everyone to know.”
It hasn’t all been easy. But Barry Kaye is the kind of guy who turns lemons into lemon meringue pie. He tells the story of a listener who called into the show the first week and said, “I’ve been listening to you for four days now, and you are really starting to irritate me.”
Instead of being offended, Kaye gave him a daily segment where he calls in to complain about something.
Kaye even started the Hometown Country Club with the goal of having a correspondent in each of the towns.
“Once you win them over, they realize you are a real person,” he said. “You have got to become one of their family members. You have to be genuine and down-home good folk in the Texas Hill Country or you are not going to last.”
And “lasting” is one thing he wants to be.
“This is my last hurrah. I didn’t think I’d ever have another shot at being good on radio. I haven’t been this excited in years. They are letting me be me, going on the air and having fun again. Radio is fun here, buddy!”