In the late 1940s, St. Louis radio was a sort of hillbilly heaven, and it seemed that every station had to have a group. In previous articles we documented the rise of Uncle Dick Slack’s Barn Dance on KMOX and the Carson’s Melody Makers, who managed to be live on three different stations every Saturday.
St. Louis stations that had network affiliation, like KMOX and KWK, fed several of their live hillbilly programs nationwide. We’re not talking music like today’s so-called “country” stuff. This was hillbilly, and more often than not, it was performed live in the radio studio. One local disc jockey, Glen Davis of WTMV in East St. Louis, even published the “Yearbook of Hillbilly Artists of the Midwest” in 1949.
Davis ran a daily lunchtime show called “Chuck Wagon Time.” The cover story in his yearbook was a tribute to Skeets Yaney, who at that time had been on KMOX for 19 years and later worked as a deejay at several other local stations. Skeets headed his National Champion Hillbilly Band broadcasting every morning on KMOX at 7:15 and Saturday nights at 10:30.
Across town was Grandpappy Jones, the leader of the Carson Cowboys. He and his group were appearing on KWK, WEW and KSD each Saturday. A quick check of the band roster in 1949 shows several members who had been in the KMOX band in earlier years, which ties in with stories told recently by Pat Pijut, who sang with Skeets once at age 4. She said many of St. Louis’ hillbilly performers would move between groups. The pay wasn’t all that good, but it was long-term work.
There were plenty of other groups on the local airwaves. KMOX also boasted the Range Riders. Roy Queen, who had done two stints on KMOX, had moved to KXLW, where he was often accompanied by his wife Helen and young son, whose air name was Sonny. Queen had built himself an empire that included his disc jockey show, his traveling show, a concert booking agency and the city’s largest hillbilly record shop.
Paul Turner and his Green Valley Hands were regulars on KXLW for a couple years after the war but they moved to a new spot on the dial when WIL made them a better offer. The group had their own female vocalist with seven back-up men, including an accordion player. They told a reporter they made the jump because WIL had just increased its power to 5,000 watts and they would be heard over a wider area. Tex Terry and his group also brought “authentic ballads of the Old West to KXLW listeners.”
Gene and Betty Lou, a husband/wife duo, could be heard on WIBV in Belleville and WOKZ in Alton. Betty Lou’s claim to fame had been a stint on KXOK as a member of the Dude Ranch Girls when she was 12, and, according to the yearbook, “since has appeared with most of the radio gangs in the Midwest.”
Ted Holly, a steel guitar player, had been part of a hillbilly duet on WIL known as Claude and Billy. He moved over to WEW, forming the Three Blue Notes. In his live shows, Holly made sure his German shepherd, named Baron von Iccumbottom was also on-stage. The dog was reportedly well-schooled in showmanship.
The Buckeye Four, who appeared on KWK each day, appear to have been a group that spent a lot of time on the road. There was a veteran who had been on radio for 20 years and a youngster from South Dakota who played a mean accordion. That youngster later went on to become nationally known for his accordion work with Lawrence Welk. His name: Myron Floren.