Thursday, June 21, 2012
The claim is dubious since his first radio job at 950 KSEL-AM in Lubbock, TX wasn't until 1946. He was born in 1913 so that makes him about 33 years old— another late starter. That first job by the way was in accounting, he didn't become a DJ until 1947. He hosted the Western Roundup Show, and under his reign it became the station's most popular show, expanding from from 30 minutes to a full hour and Pappy became station manager in 1948. In 1949 he expanded the hours of country music programming and added a live country music show on Saturdays called the Western Jamboree. It grew fast, it started in studio but soon had to move to larger venues eventually ended up in a wrestling arena. Then an airport hanger!
In 1953 he left KSEL and with an investor named Leroy Elmore, started another station, KDAV. This station was 100% country, though it was just a daytimer. This station was the key to his claim. In that era it was common to run block programming, with programs as short as 15 minutes. But country music had been popular radio fare for decades by then, especially in rural areas. The Grand Ol' Opry has been on air since 1925! The idea that the format was invented in 1953 is patently ridiculous. Despite that no one has ever been able to confirm the existence of an earlier one. The spoiler is that KDAV even had a rock radio program called the "Rock n' Roll Hit Parade" ...maybe it was 99% country. Waylon Jennings and Roger Miller were both disc jockeys on KDAV, that alone should be close enough.
But Stone did build the first country music radio network. After KDAV he added three more stations: 1310 KZIP-AM in Amarillo, TX; 1420 KPEP-AM in San Angelo, TX; and both 1580 KPIK-AM, and 94.3 KPIK-FM in Colorado Springs, CO. It was the first country music FM in the market. He moved to Colorado Springs and did a 2-hour show on KPIK which he hosted personally until he sold the station in 1978. [At least one book gives these calls wrong with KZIP as KGIT and KPEP as KCBT] Stone used that radio network to propel the popularity of country music. He booked a lot of country music concerts and with his all country network he was able to bring big Nashville acts out to west Texas. He even got Buddy Holly his first recording contract with Decca.
It's hard to give all the credit directly to Stone. But in 1961 there were 81 full time country music stations in America. Then by 1974 there were 1,020. The format had grown from a regional form to a national one. The formats popularity is said to have peaked in 1995, but there are over 2,000 today. That says something. (The book Cashville by Stephanie Schäfer covers these stats in great detail.) In 1999 Pappy was inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame, located in Nashville. He died on on February 18, 2004.