By TIM HORAN
“Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys, “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton, Tony Bennett’s “I Wanna Be Around,” and “Walk Like a Man” by the Four Seasons were some of the hit songs played on the radio in 1963.
That was the year KABI went on the air in Abilene and the person spinning records on that April 5 was none other than Gary Houser. When he turns on the microphone Friday morning 50 years later, he’ll be playing some of those same songs.
“I want to play the music that is not going to be offensive to the majority of the people,” Houser said of his career as a DJ, which spanned half a century. “We’re still playing the kind of music today that we played back then. We have the listenership of people that liked that kind of music; 40s. 50s and 60s, big bands, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, that type of music.
“I had played that type of music in Salina at KINA and I knew the following and I also knew the music,” he said. “When they hired me back over here (at KABI), I said I want to go back to that type of music. I have a very specific audience.”
Houser spent 15 years at KABI before joining the Salina station. In the last 15 years he’s been back, not only as the morning man of the Abilene station, but also as the voice of Abilene. Houser has broadcast the Wild Bill Hickok Parade, the Rodeo, Demolition Derby, at one time the Easter Sunrise Service and has served as the MC at numerous events.
“I do enjoy what I am doing,” he said. “The only thing I don’t like about my job is getting out of bed at 3:30 every morning. Other than that, I still love the job. It’s a lot better than working for a living. I enjoy being involved in community activities.”
Houser said that Friday he will be broadcasting of the news from the 1960s.
“I will open my microphone to anyone that wants to come in and visit Friday,” he said.
He said providing a service to the community is the reason that Houser and Wyman Schnepp opened the station 50 years ago.
The two other on-air personalities back in 1963 were Jim Williams, a local guitar player, and Harley Howland.
“Those were some of the early voices on KABI,” he said. “We started in the basement of the Sunflower building. That is where the original studio was. Before we went in there it was the desk of the old bowling alley down there. There were three lanes in the bowling alley.”
Houser had studied broadcasting in the military and was on the Armed Forces Korea Network over there for a year.
“When I was in college, I took broadcasting; well, in high school and college. When I heard they were building a radio station here in Abilene, I got in touch with Wyman Schnepp and told him I was interested. We worked together and put in a transmitter, out where it still is today.”
Some of people that have worked with Houser, 79, are Brian Rozel, Loy Engelhart, Mike Jacobson, Lee Hughes, Wyatt Thompson, Dana Bronson, Eric Peterson and Steve Doocoy.
The term DJ stands for disc jockey as music was played on records in 1963.
“Spinning records has faded,” Houser said. “We don’t spin records anymore. I play music out of the computer, yes, but I put that music in the computer. When I started down in the basement of the hotel, we were playing 33 albums and 45 records. We had three turntables.”
There was an art to cuing records so the music started without dead air.
“And I can still do it today, just like I could back there,” he said.
He was also a DJ for dances for 25 years. He did that all on records. Karaoke is replacing the DJ today, he said.
“I was in it the good years,” House said. “I was in it during the disco era and also the country music era: the ‘Urban Cowboy’ type thing. And of course the old rock and roll, too.”
Houser said remotes were done live in the early days.
“I took turntables, cassette decks with me and I put on a show at the location like at Bankes or the old Gambles store,” he said. “We set up in the window and I would do my four hours on the air there. I would do the same thing at Steinhausers and Green Ford.”
Thursday morning’s show will end up with Houser’s Trading Mart, a program he started back in the 1960s.
And when you hear Houser on the radio, it will not be a recording.
“I don’t do anything that is not a live recording,” he said. “I want spontaneity. I did have a program once called ‘Open Line.’ That was a call in and comment type program. I combine that with ‘Trading Mart’ now.”