At 5 a.m. Friday, Jan. 16, 1948, people
around Orange for the first time could tune into AM 1600 KOGT.
On that day, listeners heard local news, a
Stark High basketball game, Bing Crosby and organ music.
These days, listeners will still hear local
news and a West Orange-Stark High basketball game, but donít expect the
"We may play some music from 1948 but
no organ music," said owner Gary Stelly, who bought the station in
Through the years, listeners have heard
about hurricanes, livestock, state championships, elections, murders and
scandals, all local.
In 1961, the station began a country music
format that has drawn loyal fans from around the area.
Richard Corder was again on the air this
morning and his voice is as much KOGT as the call letters.
Corder started working at the station in
January 1955 for more money than he was earning at KPAC, a station
operated by the then Port Arthur College.
Stelly refers to him as "King
Richard," a title for which he has a certificate. Corder was the last
King Neptune in Orange, crowned in 1978 as part of what for years was an
annual water festival.
Corder has stayed with KOGT through smooth
popular music, the Elvis rock Ďn roll revolution and into the
stationís stable format of country.
When he started, the station sold
programming to advertisers, who would request certain music. If a
businessman wanted to sponsor 30 minutes of Mantovani, he got Mantovani.
If the next buyer wanted 15 minutes of Pat Page, he got Patti Page.
"You can see how that wouldnít work
because you couldnít have an audience that could depend on
anything", Corder said.
Corder helped push the country format some
37 years ago. And the station found its audience.
"We have carved a niche for
ourselves," he said. "We probably the only real country station
in the area."
Stelly said the station plays some of the
contemporary country that resembles pop music, but itís core is true
For Corder, that means the Bob Wills and
Ernest Tubb style music. He credits the two stars with keeping country
music alive by helping people like Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty keep
groceries on their tables during their beginning years.
KOGT has kept a local audience, even those
who donít like country, by covering local news and live high school
Corder considers Hurricane Audrey in June
1957 as the biggest news event heís covered. The eye of the hurricane
went over Orange, but it was the stormís direct hit on nearby Cameron
that brought some 350 deaths and worldwide attention.
Corder said everyone knew the storm was in
the Bay of Campeche and he went to Port Arthur on Tuesday night. He got a
call from the station to come back because the storm was moving north at
25 to 30 mph, an unheard of speed for a hurricane.
As soon as he could fine someone who could
speak french, he began issuing the warnings in that language because of
all the Cajun people on the Louisiana coast.
The Cameron parish sheriff's office was
having a hard time getting people to leave, he said.
"They'll revert to their native
language in a time of crisis," he said.
The stations operations were at 5304 Meeks
Drive, where it is today. Electricity was out, but the phones were
working, Corder said. He had arranged for a ham operator in Cameron to
give him names of victims as soon as they were identified.
For a few days, people around the country
were calling KOGT to ask about relatives and friends in the Cameron area.
The National Guard, Red Cross and Salvation Army would bring food to the
Corder had a front row seat to another
major news event. ĎThe station had moved its studio to the upstairs of
an old building at the southwest corner of Main and Fifth streets in
One night, in the early 1960s, the block of
downtown across the street burned in a huge fire. He watched from a window
and broadcast the news live as firefighters sprayed the stationís roof
to keep the fire from spreading.
"It got so hot (in the station), we
had sweat breaking out while we were in the control room," he said.
Sports, too, has been a staple. Corder said
West Orange-Stark's back-to-back state football championships in 1986 and
'87 were the biggest events he's covered.
He also covered Bridge City's state
football championship in 1965 with All-American running back Steve Worster.
ĎThe only time he ever spoke to a game
official, he said, was when the old Stark High football team lost the
state semi-final game in 1962 while playing Pharr-SaníJuan Alamo in
The Tigers were playing without
All-American quarterback David Foster, who had a broken shoulder. Plus,
other players were injured, he said.
Corder chastised the officials after the
game and not for opinions on calls, he said.
"Some things they did on the field
were just so flat out wrong"í he said.
Back in the 1950s and Ď60s, Stark High
was the main school in the county. On Friday nights KOGT covered Stark and
on Saturday nights, the station covered the all black Wallace High.
Legendary coach Willie Ray Smith was at
Wallace in the Ď50s and Corder recalls the bed checks Smith did on his
players each night. KOGT had one of the players working and if the student
had extra work, the station manager would write an excuse to Smith so the
kid could be out later.
Corder said one of the Wallace games he
covered had pouring rain and the field was so wet the officials had to
stand on the ball between plays to keep it from floating away.
When KOGT started, itís antennas were
installed on land at 5304 Meeks Drive, which at the time was three miles
outside the Orange city limits.
The first production studio was in a
building owned by Joe Molley on 10th Street between Green and
Elm avenues. When Corder began working, the studios had moved out to
Meeks. Later, the studios moved to the downtown building acoss the street
from the Fair Store at Main and Fifth.
For some 20 years, now, all the station
operations have been back at Meeks Drive, at a site now surrounded by
Around 1960, Ed Lovelace, a legendary local
promoter, bought the station and ran it for several years. The station has
changed ownership several times in the past 20 years.
Stelly, an Orangefield High graduate who
had worked at KOGT when he was in college, bought the station from a
small, out-of-town company. Since 1992, heís replaced equipment and
doubled the size of the staff from six to 12.
He likes broadcasting sports and other
on-air duties, but as owner, heís also relegated to a lot of paper work.
Still, the KOGT crew goes on, knowing
theyíre entertaining and informing Orange County. Itís a job, but
itís also a love.
Originally appeared in the Jan 21, 1998
edition of The Orange Leader, Margaret Toal reporting.