By TIM HORAN
Being a radio personality has provided some interested moments for Gary Houser.
Houser and KABI will both be celebrating 50-year anniversaries today as the station, with Houser as one of the original voices, opened on April 5, 1963.
Houser was on the air when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963.
“That was one of the first big things to happen when I was on the air: when Kennedy was assassinated,” Houser said.
He was also on the air to report the death of Buddy Holly in a plane crash, the death of Elvis, the tornado that hit Topeka with Bill Curtis reporting live and the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
However, one of the biggest events was a funeral as Houser was the Kansas network feed for the funeral of President D. Eisenhower.
“Being in the news media, I had access to all the media that was set up in the city building auditorium then,” he said of the funeral that was covered nationally.
“I have recorded several of the first advertisers that we had on the air,” Houser said of the anniversary.
Some of those early advertisers were Holton’s Meat Market, Green Ford and Bob Kooser.
One of those businesses that is still open today is Steinhauser’s, although it was referred to as Steinhauser’s Drug back then.
“Steinhauser’s Drug was one of our first advertisers,” Houser recalled. “Marcella put together a slogan, ‘Steinhauser’s Drug: four doors west of the post office and just as reliable.’”
Jerry’s IGA grocery store, located where the Impact Sports and Fitness is today, was another early advertiser owned by the late Jerry Davis.
“We had a little tiny cowbell that we would ring every time we would do Jerry’s ad,” he said. “We’d ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling and everyone knew it was time for Jerry’s IGA ad. There’s a lot of history in this town.”
Houser admits to a few blunders over the years but few like the one on a Sunday morning.
In the early days, KABI did a Sunday morning program live from the studio. The religious programs came on records which were played.
“Some of those programs came on big floppy type discs,” he said. “They would track from the center. They would run a half hour at a time.”
Some Sunday mornings, Houser would get the sermon started and walk to Wagon Wheel Cafe for coffee and a cinnamon roll.
“I knew I had a half hour and I would sit there for a while and then I would walk back to the studio,” he added. “As I walked down into the studio this one day, we had glass windows and I looked and all of my telephone lines were lit up. Uh-oh. I went right into the studio and here’s this program that had probably tracked 10 minutes. It had hit a crack. It came at a time when the preacher was saying, “And you who have sinned shall go to Hell.’ And then it hit the crack. Click. Go to Hell. Click. Go to Hell. Click. Go to Hell. All I did was pick the needle up and set it over and never answered the phones. That was the worse thing that has ever happened to me.”
Houser also has a lot of memories of President Eisenhower as Gary’s brother Richard worked at the Presidential Library and Museum.
“He became good friends with Ike,” Houser said. “As a matter of fact, when Ike would come to town and go through the museum, he would get with my brother and have my brother sneak him out the back door of the museum and haul him up to the cemetery to visit his mother’s grave. The Secret Service would go nuts. They finally figured out that anytime he was missing, he was at the cemetery.”