With the on-demand nature of much of today’s entertainment, it’s hard for anyone who didn’t experience it to understand the power radio had a recently as 1980. Prior to the introduction of the walkman a few years later and the proliferation of cable tv, radio was still a major source of news, sports, music and general entertainment. It would be nearly a decade before the air waves would begin slanting to the political right.
I started listening to KMOX-AM radio in St. Louis back in 1971, when I started following Cardinal baseball. The station also carried St. Louis Cardinal football (they didn’t move to Arizona until 1988), Blues hockey and University of Missouri football and basketball. KMOX gave Bob Costas his first broadcasting experience when they hired him to announce games for the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis in 1974.
Often, I had the radio on when I went to bed so I could listen to games while I went to sleep. Then I discovered a very interesting show that aired on nights when there were no sporting events to broadcast, or after the conclusion of the post-game show.
I think the name of the show changed through the years, but the host was always a man named Jim White. White had an interest in things like UFOs, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. He captured my attention and often kept me up late to listen as he talked with his guests and the people who called into the show.
The annual “Halloween Spooktacular” was always entertaining. Anything supernatural or eerie was fair game. In addition to a number of special guests and interesting discussions, White would play classic radio horror dramas.
It was Jim White who introduced me to the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald might not have killed Kennedy alone. This particular passion of mine didn’t fully blossom until the movie JFK came out in the early 1990s, but White planted the seed twenty years earlier. While White didn’t completely embrace everything that aired on his program, he generally allowed his guests leeway to present their theories, then began asking probing questions.
The people who called in to the show were a different matter. White wouldn’t hesitate to disconnect anyone if he felt they were too boring, or getting out of touch with reality. He knew that quality callers were almost as valuable as quality guests, and while a bit of lunacy could be entertaining, too much could cause the audience to tune out.
When I moved away from home in the late 70s to start college, I wasn’t able to receive the KMOX signal any more. I would try to listen when I came back home, but the show’s irregular schedule usually kept me from it. On Halloween night in 1988, I remember finding the faint KMOX signal on the clock radio in my Kansas City apartment. I was grateful to be able to listen to just a few minutes of the Spooktacular that night.
I incorporated many of the interests that I developed as a teenager into the book that I’m working on right now. If you wonder where the conspiracies, aliens, cryptids and other things come from, look no further. I picked up most of the basic ideas back in the 70s and carried them around with me until they were ready to emerge. I also have Jim White to thank for introducing me to my favorite author, but I’ll save that story for my next post.
Jim White passed away in 2009 at age 73, and is still remembered as an icon of St. Louis radio.