Wednesday, September 01, 2010

DJ Foreman Phillips

Nobody knows the name Bert "Foreman" Phillips anymore, but he was one of the most important figures in the development of Western Swing. A 1979 article in JEMF Quarterly rememberd him as "Western Swings King Maker." Like many other figures in Country and Western Music, he came from radio. He was born in 1897. As was common in that era, he served in the U. S. Navy during World War I. And after being discharged he got a job selling spots on KFWN. At least that's what all the written accounts say. But nobody seems to have recorded when that was.

In 1935 we know that he became the a sales manager for the Don Lee Network. But that's a substantial gap.  Foreman was 38 years old in 1935. If he served through all of WWI he would have been discharged on or around 1918. The First Whites radio log I have access to is 1925. In that year there is no KFWM, nor is there one all the way through 1935.  A 1921 list made by the Department of Commerce also does not include the list. These are the early days of radio. Another 1922 list included only 67 stations. There was however a 500 KFWM-AM in Oakland, CA owned by the Oakland Educational Society. It is possible, that this was recorded incorrectly in one history and repeated elsewhere. Even if it was KFWM, that station ceased to exist in 1929, leaving a mysterious 6 year gap.

Anyway... fast forward to 1935. Phillips is a sales manager for Don Lee and hosting the Western Hit Parade Show on the Don Lee Network.  This does make sense because the Don Lee Network was affiliated with Columbia before 1935.  In 1936 Don switched to the Mutual Network. I do not know what station Phillips was doing his program from but as Elizabeth McLeod wrote: "only 16 to 20 per cent of commercial programs heard over the Don Lee Network originated with Mutual. The majority were still produced by Don Lee itself, at KHJ or KFRC." (In 1951, the Don Lee sold his Network General Teleradio.)

Foreman Phillips began hosting country barn dances and other western themed events. One early venue for these was the Venice Pier in California. This was in on or about 1941. In 1938 he crossed the street to do his show on KRKD.  In a 1943 Billboard publication it was noted that he was opening other venues around LA.  and that he now had a 30 minute program on KRKD and KPAS. The latter was purported to be a country music news. He was talking primarily about the shows he booked, and the artists that played his shows.  More on KRKD here.

Foreman was cited in one 1944 article in Billboard for the success he had seen. At the time he was said to have several popular programs airing over KRKD. One of which was still titled the "Western Hit Parade." Phillips was booking move venues and with even bigger artists: Bob Wills, Al Dexter, Patsy Montana, Spade Cookley, the Sons of the Pioneers and hundreds of others.

By 1947, Phillips was said to have 20 hours of air time for his radio programs which were now carried on  KRKD, KXLA and KFOX.  He quit KRKD in 1947. Cliffie Stone took over as hos of his long-running radio program "Cowboy Hit Parade." In 1951 be began a three-hour show over KECA-TV in Los Angeles. But it wasn't enough to keep him in the biz.  He retired in 1952 and died in 1968.  The KRKD tower still stands over Los Angeles but hasn't been used in decades.