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KXOK Was Good To Chet Thomas

When Chet Thomas came to St. Louis with his young wife, he wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision. Then their house was burglarized. They left within a year. It would be several years before he could be persuaded to return.

 Chet Thomas
Chet Thomas
When he did, Thomas was given the task of turning KXOK into a profitable enterprise. The year was 1942, many men were going off to war, and business owners had to stretch their remaining employees. Chet Thomas was to be program director of KXOK Tuesday through Friday and then travel to Columbia, Mo., to spend Saturday through Monday overseeing the parent company’s station there, KFRU.

The pressure and stress proved too much. The medical diagnosis was rheumatic fever. A too short bed rest was agreed to and it was back to work. Chet Thomas had always known Elzey Roberts had high expectations. Roberts, the publisher of the St. Louis Star-Times, was his boss because the newspaper owned both of the radio stations.

Thomas was able to develop income and to hit budget, even during the war years. He was eventually made general manager of KXOK in 1942 and finally was relieved of his management responsibilities in Columbia in 1945.

In the late ‘40s, rumors began to swirl through the Star-Times Building. As Thomas wrote in his autobiography “Chet: Radio Pioneer,” “In early June of 1951, most of us knew that something momentous was about to happen…Late in the afternoon of June 14, 1951, Mr. Roberts’ secretary called and said Mr. Roberts wanted to see me…He had sold the Star-Times to the Post-Dispatch.”

But the radio stations were not part of the deal, and Thomas learned he was being made a vice president of the corporation, renamed the 800 North Twelfth Corporation, and appointed to serve on the board of directors.

And the changes continued. Elzey Roberts told of his plans to sell the station. The new owners were to be Roberts’ son, Elzey Jr., and Thomas. But there was a problem. Chet Thomas didn’t have enough money to buy his share. The senior Roberts reminded Thomas of some stock purchases he’d made as an employee over the years. Elzey Sr,. would buy the stock back so he could use the money for the purchase of the stations.

Thomas knew he still wouldn’t have enough money, so his boss made out a check for what was called “a substantial bonus,” and the deal was sealed. Next came an expansion of sorts and a move of the studios. Co-owner Elzey Jr., found a fixer-upper property in a residential neighborhood on North Kingshighway. An architect and contractor were hired, and Radio Park was born. When the work was finished, the station announced a Sunday open house for listeners. Twelve thousand people showed up.

 

Things went well for Roberts and Thomas. KXOK was financially successful, using many external promotions to create visibility in the community. But most of the advertising dollars were still going into newspapers, and television continued to expand in the St. Louis market. Elzey Roberts Jr., was getting antsy, and it was obvious his heart was not in the radio business. When he was approached by a potential buyer, he was anxious to talk.

The talks reportedly went well. By the time the sale of KXOK to Storz Radio was completed on December 14, 1960, the two men split the purchase price that ran into seven figures - not a bad payoff for a guy who, less than 10 years earlier, had not had enough money to purchase his share in KXOK.

(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 03/09).