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Longview museum celebrates radio days

By BY CHARLOTTE STEWART cstewart@news-journal.com
June 4, 2011 at 11 p.m.


Before the personal computers used to whip up just about any sitcom or movie via the Internet, before iPods and iPads, before cable TV and even before rabbit-eared television sets, there was radio.

It was how America learned about the events of World Wars I and II. It was how America got breaking news stories – including a fictitious one about Martians attacking earth. It was how Americans got their entertainment – sports, music, comedy and even drama.

The Gregg County Historical Museum plans to breathe new life into the remnants left from a simpler time, from not so long ago, a time many people still remember.

From June 11 to July 9, the East Texas Radio Days exhibit will be at the museum, which will be open to the public free of charge.

The exhibit kicks off Saturday with a special presentation for East Texas home grown Texas Radio Hall of Famer Howard Anthony "Tony" Bridge Jr., who will moderate a literal round table of guests who are considered stars in the radio business. Museum visitors are welcome to ask the panel questions or just sit back and absorb the lively discussion expected when these stars come out to shine.

"We're getting up there in years," the near octogenarian said, "but we're a lively bunch. We all love talking radio."

Bridge got into the business of radio by chance.

"Believe it or not, when I was a boy of about 9, my Christmas present didn't arrive in time. Instead, they gave me a PA amplifier and a little kit, and I thought that was pretty sweet," he said.

Bridge said he pretended to be a disc jockey, "and I never thought of doing anything else."

Of course, he did go on to do other things, including owning and managing radio stations in Marshall, Longview and Shreveport.

Today Bridge and his wife, JoAnn Odom Bridge, live in Fort Worth to be closer to their children. He said upon moving to the Metroplex, he realized a lot of the voices he heard on the radio were familiar ones – ones he had employed.

"There was a chain," he explained. "A lot of people started in Marshall, graduated to Longview, went on to Tyler and then Dallas."

Eager to reunite with the familiar voices, he rented the Texas Rangers Stadium, and 175 people came out for a Bridge radio reunion.

"It's been good to me," he said of radio. "We've had a good life."

Bridge said he has put a lot of work into the East Texas Radio Days exhibit and hopes people will come out Saturday to enjoy nostalgia and learn a thing or two.

Museum volunteer Dave Bennett also has a lot of work in the exhibit.

Bennett said he was inspired by the great success of the other two "home grown" traveling exhibits at the museum.

"He really just grabbed the bull by the horns," said museum Director Neina Kennedy, adding Bennett found and contacted "key players" to make the exhibit work "and just kept at it, day after day."

Bridge was one of those key players. Others expected to be on the panel include Tom Perryman, Bev Brown, and Bridge's former employees who are now stars in their own rights - Doug Helton and Jerome Davis, Bridge said.

Elvis

In 1954 a shy young man from Tennessee was trying to catch a break.

"Local DJ Tom Perryman was asked to play his music," Bennett said. "That led to a gig in Gladewater, which led to a gig with the Louisiana Hayride, and that was the big time. Back then it was as big or bigger than the Grand Old Opry. We all know that the gig with the Louisiana Hayride led to – a phenomenon."

Perryman is quoted on www.elvis.com as saying: " 'Elvis' first day he ever worked in Texas was in Gladewater on Highway 271 at the Mint Club.' "

Perryman continued to book Elvis throughout East Texas and again in Gladewater when some gigs with the Louisiana Hayride fell through.

" 'Usually I would keep 15 percent of the profits for plugging the gig on the radio but I gave it all to Elvis' ", Perryman said. 'And he never forgot,' " he is quoted as saying on the website.

Elvis went on to play at several East Texas venues, including multiple gigs at Longview's Reo Palm Isle.

The exhibits

Booth 1 will be a potpourri, a variety of radio memorabilia that isn't necessarily a good fit in any of the other exhibits.

Booth 2 is named East Texas Pioneer Radio and will have a variety of artifacts and memorabilia from Tyler's KGKB, Kilgore's KOCA, and Longview's KRFO.

Called Top 40 Rock 'n' Roll, the third booth features Elvis Presley, the Beatles and several other rock artists.

No East Texas tribute to radio would be worth its salt without a Country Music booth, featuring memorabilia to include Tom Perryman and Jim Reeves.

The museum will also have a booth with a video replay of Saturday's discussion.

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