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Not so long ago

KAKC — now playing at the Tulsa Historical Society. Be there!

Disc jockey Dick Schmitz with KAKC’s mobile news van.

Disc jockey Dick Schmitz with KAKC’s mobile news van.

Photos courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society

Dick Schmitz, Scooter Segraves and Roger Rocka.

If those names quicken your pulse or bring an echo of a voice closing a concert advertisement on the radio with “Be there!” then a visit to the Tulsa Historical Society is in order. For there is “the new KAKC.”

The radio station that brought Top 40 radio to Tulsa. The radio station that dominated the radio ratings for more than a decade. (Dominated? According to the rating authorities of the day, half of Tulsa listened to KAKC from 1956 to 1966, while the other half was dispersed among Tulsa’s other six or seven radio stations.) The radio station that boomers with transistor radios, that boomers cruising South Peoria Avenue and scarfing Black Bottom Pie at Pennington’s and that boomers who were fans of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley listened to — “the new KAKC.” 

The display, coordinated by Maggie Brown, the historical society’s exhibits and education manager, is a time trip to a remarkable era in Tulsa’s radio history.

As you turn right from the elevators on the second floor, the 1950s and 1960s are to your right and blend into the 1970s to your left. The right could be called the Dick Schmitz and “Happy” Harry Wilson Wing, for it is filled with photos from those two legendary KAKC personalities’ collections. As the 1960s turn into the 1970s, one finds the Mike McCarthy Wing. Photos from the collection of Tulsa’s “Morning Mouth” bring back a rush of 1970s long-haired hippie nostalgia. 

Throughout is printed commentary about the history and significance of KAKC, courtesy of Steve Clem, the operations manager of Public Radio Tulsa’s KWGS. That’s fitting because the idea for the exhibit was Clem’s. And a labor of love it was for a man who is a veteran of Tulsa radio in his own right.

It all started in Clem’s youth, when he, like hundreds of other teenagers of the time, was glued to the Top 40 sounds of KAKC.

“I grew up listening to the Big 97 jocks like Scooter Segraves, Lee Bayley, Jim Peters and Robert W. Walker and fell in love with the station,” he says. “So, about five years ago, I decided I wanted to tell the story of this great station.

“I started a book, but when I became operations director at KWGS in 2009, my boss, Rich Fisher (KWGS general manager), suggested that it could be a radio documentary and a book.”

The result was an award-winning two-part, two-hour documentary that was broadcast on KWGS in September 2010. (A book is scheduled for 2012.) Encouraged by the positive response to the documentary, Clem suggested an exhibit about KAKC to the historical society. With Maggie Brown’s magic coordination and touches, the exhibit became a reality in June and has attracted enthusiastic visitors ever since.

Because radio is an audio medium rather than visual, much more than historic photos and memorabilia (such as the 1969 KAKC Solid Gold record album, the first record broadcast from the KAKC studios at the Trade Winds Motel and a KAKC Supercard) abounds. At the 1950s end of the room, Clem’s documentary plays continuously, and in the 1970s wing is a working jukebox filled with songs from KAKC’s glory days. (Yes, you can play it.)

On display through May 2012, KAKC is a blast from the past, a dusty musty and an oldie but goodie that’s well worth visiting. And if visiting is not enough, CD copies of Clem’s documentary are available in the gift shop.

Be there!

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