Back To Garden City

As you might recall, we spent a little bit of time last Saturday poking around a music survey released on March 15, 1974, by radio station KUPK of Garden City, Kansas. The thirty-record survey showed some familiar records, mostly at the upper end, and a fair number of records not so familiar. Four of the records on the KUPK survey, I noted, didn’t even dent the Billboard charts or its Bubbling Under section, and I chose one of those four – “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax – for our Saturday Single.

In addition, I noted that nine other records on the Garden City survey were ranked a good deal higher than they ever got on the Billboard charts. Now, it’s not out of the ordinary for records to do better in one market than they do nationally. But thirteen out of thirty? That seemed a bit odd. Here, listed by their rankings on the KUPK survey, are those thirteen records and their Billboard peaks:

No. 12: “Star” by Stealers Wheel, No. 29.
No. 16: “On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, No. 44.
No. 19: “I’m A Train” by Albert Hammond, No. 31.
No. 20: “Music Eyes” by Heartsfield, No. 95.
No. 22: “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax, did not chart.
No. 23: “Skybird” by Neil Diamond, No. 75.
No. 24: “Loving Arms” by Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, No. 86.
No. 25: “You’re So Unique” by Billy Preston, No. 48.
No. 26: “When The Morning Comes” by Hoyt Axton, No. 54.
No. 27: “All The Kings And Castles” by Shawn Phillips, did not chart.
No. 28: “Stone Country” by Johnny Winter, did not chart.
No. 29: “Invisible Song” by the Rainbow Canyon Band, did not chart.
No. 30: “Pepper Box” by the Peppers, No. 76.

Seven of those records were unfamiliar to me, though I knew most of the performers and one of the songs. I’d never heard of the Rainbow Canyon Band (listed only as “Rainbow Canyon” on the KUPK survey) or the Peppers. And I’ve known the song “Loving Arms” for years, but I’d never heard Kris and Rita’s cover. So after sharing “Roll It” last Saturday, I went and found videos of the six remaining unfamiliar records. Then, even though the Shawn Phillips track was one that I knew, I posted a video of it because it was one of those listed that did not chart in Billboard.

The Rainbow Canyon Band, according to the YouTube poster, was a well-known Cleveland group that came to the attention of James Gang drummer Jim Fox, who produced “Invisible Song” and brought James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin to the sessions. The Peppers, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, were an instrumental duo from Paris; “Pepper Box” was the duo’s only charting single.

As I noted last week, I’m not a chart maven; I do have a sense that the KUPK survey is odd in hosting so many singles that out-perform their national ranking. And I noticed a couple of other things that intrigued me about the KUPK survey.

First, in addition to the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, the survey – seen here – had a ten-record listing for easy listening and a twenty-record listing for country, so just from those three lists, it’s evident that the station had vastly different sorts of programming for different day-parts, something not at all rare for small town stations (and, by our estimate based on the 1970 and 1980 censuses listed at Wikipedia, Garden City had about 16,000 residents in 1974).

Supporting that assumption are three notes in the text at the top of the survey: “Capt. Weird, Roger Unruh” offered listeners the program Rock Garden on Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Jim Throneberry, the “Morning Mayor” was on the air from 7 to 9; and a new voice on the station was that of Bob Hill, who ran the Country Show from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (And I wonder if some of the records in the “Pop & Contemporary” listing might not have been heard on Capt. Weird’s Rock Garden.)

Here’s a guess at KUPK’s weekday: A morning show with news and farm reports from 4 to 7 a.m. followed by Jim Throneberry until 9 a.m., and then maybe easy listening (with some news at noon) until 5 p.m. After more news, country music from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Then more news, and “Pop & Contemporary” until 4 the next morning. (Perhaps on the FM side; the AM side went off the air at sunset, as friend and faithful reader Yah Shure notes below.)

After pondering that, I took a closer look at the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, and I was struck by the volatility of the survey. Of the thirty records listed, sixteen were new to the survey that week, including two in the top ten: Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” and Rick Derringer’s “Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo.” I’d love to have seen the KUPK surveys from the week before and the week after, but unfortunately, the March 15, 1974, survey is the only one from KUPK available at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, and a quick Googling found no others (although I did learn that the Davis Sisters of nearby Meade, sponsored by KUPK, won the 1973 Kansas State Fair Talent Contest).

As it happens, KUPK radio is no longer on the air; KUPK-TV is a satellite station of KAKE-TV in Wichita, about two hundred miles away; a segment of KAKE’s nightly show originates from a newsroom at the KUPK studios. I assume that arrangement dates from the Garden City station’s founding in 1964, as the call letters KUPK, according to Wikipedia, are meant to symbolize Kup-Kake.

(The station’s history is not quite right in that preceding paragraph. Yah Shure also untangled the KUPK story in his note, and he gets my thanks.)

So what does all this mean? I have absolutely no idea. It’s just interesting stuff – interesting to me, anyway – from forty years ago. And we’ll close this morning with what’s likely my favorite record of the thirty listed on the KUPK Music Survey from mid-March 1974: “When The Morning Comes,” on which Hoyt Axton got some help from Linda Ronstadt. As noted above, the record – from Axton’s 1974 album Life Machine – went to No. 54 on the Billboard pop chart (and to No. 10 on the country chart).

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2 Responses to “Back To Garden City”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    Those days of local and regional hits were sure a lot of fun! The Shawn Phillips listing is a true left-fielder, since “All The Kings And Castles” was never issued as a U.S. single by A&M. Glad to see Shawn got the spins, though.

    Garden City wasn’t quite big enough to have been a key secondary market to the record companies, and given the comparatively sparse population of the area and its distance beyond any listenable top-40 daytime signal out of Wichita, KUPK could pretty well play whatever it wanted, assuming they were being serviced well enough with promo 45s from the labels.

    Although KUPK simulcast its programming on both bands, KUPK-AM had to yield the 1050 spot to 150,000-watt XEG/Monterrey at sunset. FM penetration among teens probably wasn’t that high in 1974, so more of the town’s teens likely tuned to Oklahoma City’s KOMA than their hometown FM.

    Both stations still exist; the pair were sold by KAKE-TV & Radio, Inc. in mid-1977, at which time the call letters switched to KBUF-AM/FM. The stations were then sold two years later to Robert Ingstad out of Valley City, North Dakota (his heirs still own the pair.) KBUF-AM added nighttime service in 1984, moving from 1050 down to 1030 and changing its city of license from Garden City to tiny Holcomb, just to the west. 97.3 became KKJQ in 1984.

    KUPK was AM 1050’s third set of call letters since 1949, having taken them on with the acquisition by KAKE. Homer Simpson would’ve loved working there.

    KUPK’s rogue approach to playing what it may have felt best for its audience wasn’t unique in that part of the country. I’d heard tales from fellow record collectors in Oklahoma City that some real oddballs had been big hits in the city, including the Swampseeds’ bubbler, “Can I Carry Your Balloon” and a pair of local number ones: “Amy” by Bobby Darin (the B-side of “Lovin’ You”) and Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood’s “Summer Wine.”

    Sure enough, when I took a job at WKY, every one of the station’s weekly top-40 surveys – dating back to the late ’50s – had been bound into a hardbound volume, and those three records were listed exactly as they’d remembered. Had today’s consultants ruled at the time, I’m sure they would have had a major cow, but WKY so thoroughly dominated its competition up the dial at 1520 that it could play whatever it wanted and make it a local hit.

    We played “Pepper Box” at my college station. That record absolutely popped out of the AM radio speakers!

  2. Chuck Schechner says:

    Thanks for the KUPK history. I was on the air on the old KNCO when KAKE bought the station and changed to KUPK. I went by the air name of Chuck Hogan from 1965 to 1967. “Rock Garden” was created by a co-worker Kurt Lohbeck who has since passed away. Again thanks.

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