Monday, August 19, 2013

Spider Burks

If Spider Burk wasn't the first black DJ in St. Louis, he was close. Some sources cite Wiley Price as the first in that metro. Jesse Dillon "Spider" Burks was a graduate of the Hampton Institute, now called Hampton University in Virginia. his nickname actually came from his basketball game, not his radio chops. He began working at 1320 KXLW-AM the year it signed on as a 1,000 watt daytimer. It's GM Guy Runnion, a former newscaster from KMOX-AM. The station had no network affiliation so Runnion scheduled a lot of DJs. DJ's just flipped records and talked music. In short, they were cost-effective. More here.

Btu Spider Burks was no ordinary DJ, he was a St. Louis native, and a champion of jazz radio and was a confirmed money-maker. He got into the station as part of a brokered 30 minute block. A local store owner on Easton Avenue sponsored a half-hour block of time and used Spider as his disc jockey. He became so popular that two shows, "After School Swing Session" and "Down the Alley Behind My House." By 1949 Radio Daily was already praising both his "jive-talk" and his "vast inter-racial audience." Around then he began broadcasting from the local jazz club "Peacock Alley."

But KXLW was not a big station, and certainly had some problems. In 1948 the station suffered some downtime due to a combination of zoning problems and an IBEW strike preventing the station's planned move to a new transmitter. The station went into receivership and was sold in 1949. The station was bought out by it's own share holders. Spider Burk was retained. In 1952 it was announced that his popular program would be transcribed for broadcast on stations in Washington D.C., Kansas City and Memphis.

Spider stayed on staff until 1956. it was that year Spider was refused  to play rock n' roll. In variety magazine he was quoted as saying "They wanted me to play 'gut-bucket' music. that's an ignorant type of music." So he moved on to 690 KSTL-AM, where he often broadcast from a cocktail lounge named Toast of the Town or his own Palace garden Club. He moved from there to 1600 KATZ-AM.The station was also a daytimer but it operated at 5,000 watts making it a move up for Spider at least from KXLW.He stayed there until 1961.

In 1963 after a two year absence, Spider returned to radio and to KATZ-AM.  Jet magazine described his return triumphantly, but noted that his return ended a boycott by KATZ. It intimates that his departure from KATZ was less than amiable, but falls short on details. He later worked at KADY-AM/KADI-FM  left the business in 1969 disgusted with the rise of Top-40 radio. He died in 1974.  Ebony magazine gave the year as 1975. He willed his body to science. More here.