Country Cookin'

"Well," Morey's boss said. "I have a young fella right here."
Morey blinked.
"Fine," he said. "That's fine."

For the rest of the day and during several visits afterward, Morey became Roosevelt's guide.

"He was just a big ol' country boy," Morey recalls. "We got along just like two peas in a pod. He could tell a dirty joke as good as anyone."

During a meeting of Washington brass, Morey was assigned to run a projector. Everyone was there, including a lieutenant who had been a famous Irish tenor. When Roosevelt found that out, he asked the man to sing. The tenor balked. How could he sing without musical accompaniment?

Morey's boss thought a minute.
"The guy in the projection booth plays guitar," he said.
Next thing he knew, Morey stood before the president and his staff playing "Wild Irish Rose."

"Roosevelt just ate it up," Morey recalls. "Loved us."
A few days later Morey got a call from the White House inviting him to perform during an informal dinner. That evening, an Arkansas senator asked Morey and his wife, who joined him on violin, if they knew any square-dance numbers.

Morey grinned.
He and Julia were invited back to the White House to perform.

(Clears his throat)

"Oh what a time I had with Minny the mermaid/Down at the bottom of the sea/There among the corals/I forgot my morals/Boy, she was awful nice to me..."

Morey returned to Denver in 1950 to deactivate fire bombs at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. But what he really wanted was to be a DJ.

At the time, only one station in town played hillbilly music, Englewood's KGMC, and then for only a few hours each day.

Morey and Julia had a regular slot on Channel 9's Barn Dance program. Morey thought people deserved more.

When the 6 a.m. slot opened at KGMC, he applied. He figured he could spin records and make it to the plant by 8 a.m.

During his audition, Morey played his favorite songs, read commercials, even whipped out his guitar and warbled off a few live tunes.

Afterward, owner Grady Franklin Maples said, "Get lost!"
Morey bristled.
He'd been around hillbilly music all his life. He'd performed for the President of the United States. He knew more about hillbilly music than most hillbillies.

"I'm going to be a disc jockey or else!" he vowed.
"Go ahead," Maples smirked. "Build your own station. Maybe you can sing then."

So Morey did.
First, though, he scoured the phone book, called every radio station in Denver (except KGMC), took copious notes, hired a first-class engineer, bought a 75-year-old farm house, located a frequency at the end of the dial (1580), rigged an 85-foot-tall tower, waded through yards of FCC red tape, bought a bargain-basement transmitter, assembled a crack staff of salespeople, auditioned disc jockeys, bought records, spent $12,500 of his own money, sat back and crossed his fingers.

On January 8, 1955, Morey put "This Old House" on the turntable and KLAK crackled to life.

"Driving home that night and listening to my car radio was one of the great, great satisfactions of my life," he recalls.

Taking a lesson from the Doc Brinkley school of radio, KLAK (Morey liked the sound of the call letters) featured "country-and-Western" music exclusively, except for an hour on Sundays, when it played Hawaiian melodies.

"Why Hawaiian music?" Morey asks. "Because I liked it, that's why."
The station had burlap soundproofing on the walls, a front porch that sagged, floorboards that creaked, a radio tower that leaned, clapboard walls that whistled in the wind, stray cats that wandered into the control room, and dogs that barked in the background.

Employees wore cowboy hats, cowboy boots, fringed jackets and bolo ties. The station had titles like "Ranch Hands" for the DJs, "Blacksmith" for the radio engineer and "Range Riders" for the sales staff. Morey was "Boss Man."

The control-room door was left open during broadcasts so listeners could hear office chitchat. Microphones were left on when the noon train rumbled by.

"People loved that country feeling," Morey remembers. "There were no formalities whatsoever."

Instead of offering trips to Las Vegas or Hawaii, KLAK gave away a hundred pounds of potatoes, ten pounds of hamburger, twenty-pound watermelons and gallons of ice cream. During weather reports, DJs glanced out the windows and announced, "Looks pretty hot out there. Might rain later."

"We did everything ass-backwards," Morey says. "But it worked. It worked."
At noon, Morey's band, The Ranch Hands, performed live for fifteen minutes. On Sundays Morey opened the station to the public. Everyone left with a candy sucker.

"I must have handed out 150,000 of them," he says.
There were a million stories, like the time a bed across the street picked up the radio signal and broadcast KLAK in its springs. Then there was the big snowstorm of 1957, when two DJs got stranded at the station for two days, broadcast a plea for food and watched Wild Bill Stephenson, who owned a grocery store, show up on skis with a stalk of bananas. Another time a skunk crawled under the station floor and stayed there until a game warden smoked it out with car exhaust.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help