/ KXLJ / KBLL Radio and TV
/ KXLJ Radio Studio, 1306 11th Avenue
COURTESY OF BEARTOOTH NBC AND THE HOFFMAN COLLECTION
of the KPFA / KXLJ Radio Studio
went on the air in 1937, broadcasting from studios located
at 1306 11th Avenue, in a log building (now demolished) that
was part of the former Intermountain College Lodges. The broadcasting
tower was located behind the studios. A nearby shopping center
christened itself the Tower Shopping Center because of its
proximtiy to the landmark. The shopping center was even home
to Tower Meats. The station operated from the 11th Ave. location
until 1958, when new TV and radio studios were built on North
Old Tower, 2010
Southwest corner of Brady and Henderson Streets
BY KERRY BROWN
KXLJ TV and Radio Studios, ca. 1958
First TV Station
OF WALLY PEEL
TV and radio studios at 2433 N. Montana Avenue, about 1958.
This Quonset Hut building has been demolished.
KTVH) was the first television station in Helena, signing on
the air January 1, 1958 as an NBC affiliate. The station was
part of the "XL" Radio Network, along with stations
KXLF Butte, KXXL Bozeman and KXLY Spokane, Washington.
5 1958 newspaper ad for Sherman Music Co., Magnavox TV dealers.
According to Bureau of Labor statistics, $219.50 in 1958
translates to about $2,100 in today's dollars -- about what
you'd pay now for a widescreen high-defintion set.
after KXLJ-TV signed on in 1958, Bob Magnus and two partners
bought the station and changed the call letters to KBLL-TV.
In 1969, former Montana Governor Tim M. Babcock bought the station
and changed the station's call letters to KTCM (Television for
the Capital of Montana).
sold the station to Lynn Koch in 1979, and the station changed
call letters again, this time to KTVG. A few years later, Koch
sold the station to Don Bradley, who again changed the call
letters to KTVH (TeleVision for Helena), which remain to this
the station was in financial trouble and Bradley sold it to
Big Sky Communications. Big Sky Communications restored the
station's financial health, and in 1997 sold KTVH to Beartooth
Communications. (This info adapted from the Wikipedia
entry about KTVH).
a detailed history of KXLJ and early Helena television,
please visit this informative and entertaining KTVH site,
created by long-time Helena broadcaster Wally Peel.
Site of KXLJ-TV, 2007
OF WALLY PEEL
The Checker Auto
Parts store is on the exact location.
Tribute to Helena Broadcaster
Jan. 26 1929 - Aug. 11 2009
All Photos Courtesy of Walli Johnson
as "Helena's Walter Cronkite", Alan 'Al' Keith Johnson,
was the preeminent voice of Helena radio for almost 50 years.
warm voice, kindly manner and rock-solid professionalism made
him a market mainstay in a notoriously capricious business.
Al worked steadily in the Helena market from 1956 to 2004, making
many friends along the way. Save for a short stint at KCAP around
1959, Al worked for KXLJ / KBLL.
in August of 2009 brought forth many stories and tributes, not
only from his professional colleagues, but from people who only
knew him through his broadcasts. Al had a way of connecting
to his work at KXLJ / KBLL, Al contracted to record commercials
for numerous businesses and organizations, often through Sage
Advertising of Helena. Some of his commercials aired over thousands
of stations nationwide.
Al was famous
among his co-workers not only for his perfect diction, but also
for his ability to multitask, which is essential in broadcasting.
According to Al's long-time co-worker Terry Bass, "He played
the ukulele, rolled a cigarette, read the encyclopedia, played
records and tended the teletype all at the same time."
That may only be a slight exaggeration.
enjoyed his beer, was an inveterate cigarette smoker, and still
lived to the age of 80. He played guitar and ukulele, developed
his own photographs, cooked, and kept a garden.
files which are linked to at the bottom of this page (the May
16 1981 Al Johnson Roast and the Aug. 14 2009 "Coffee Break"
program) will provide you with the best insight into Al's character
and talents, through testimonials by those who knew and worked
Don Maynard, who worked with Al at at KBLL --
played that cart [recorded tape cartridge] a thousand
times. Intro to "Coffee Break". His other
greatest hit was the intro to "Classics in the
Night". The most played tape in the history of
KBLL except for Sign On and Sign Off. They never changed
those three. The only way they'd be retired is if the
machine ate them."
was born in Minneapolis on Jan. 26, 1929, to the late Alvin and
Anna Johnson. He grew up in the Minneapolis area; studied voice
and piano, and was active in choirs and as a soloist. He worked
in a hamburger shop and as a spray painter.
served in the U.S. Army as a cook. He was based in Germany from
1951 to 1952. After his honorable discharge from the Army, he
attended the Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis, and
the University of North Dakota. Al started in radio as an announcer
at KILO in Grand Forks, North Dakota, but moved to Helena in 1956
and began announcing for KXLJ.
A Young Al Johnson at KXLJ
of Memorable 1950s Children's Radio Show, "Kiddie Corner"
Al hosted and produced numerous local radio shows during his
career, many Helena Baby Boomers will fondly recall tuning in
to KXLJ at 4:30 pm on weekdays for "Kiddie Corner",
hosted by "Uncle Al". The half-hour show featured
children's records and occasional mail-in contests.
As a dedicated
"Kiddie Corner" listener, your editor still
recalls Al commenting, after playing a Burl Ives tune, that
Burl "...plays a mean guitar". He didn't talk down
to kids, and was always entertaining.
on the "Kiddie Corner" playlist that really
stuck in listeners' heads (you'll hear it referenced in the
1981 Al Johnson Roast, linked to below) was Pinto Colvig's "Honkety
Hank". You can hear it again by clicking the graphic
to Children, 1950s
Probably taken at the KXLJ "log cabin" studios
on 11th Avenue
Bob Carroll (seated) & Others
Possibly a Remote Broadcast from the Montana Capitol
Wedding Day, June 17 1960
A Musician of Note
THE ARMY CA. 1951
musically inclined, Al played guitar in several bands in the Helena
area, including the "Gentlemen of Note." He was a life
member of the American Federation of Musicians, Helena Local 642.
Al brought classical music to the Helena airwaves with his radio
program "Classics in the Night", which ran for many
"Gentlemen of Note": Al Johnson, Jim Harrington and
Jim Strom. The combo played gigs as far away as Philipsburg.
A new camera in
1966. Al processed his photographs in his own darkroom.
Al Johnson Roast, 1981
NOTE: RATED PG
FOR SUGGESTIVE DIALOGUE AND SOME COARSE LANGUAGE
KBLL "Coffee Break" Program
August 14, 2009
On May 16
1981, the Last Chance Press Club "roasted" Al Johnson.
The event at the Colonial Inn was emceed by Helena broadcast
veteran Terry Bass. "Roasters" and other participants
include Art Donovan, Wally Peel, Rosetta Kamlowsky, Ron Davison,
Bob Carroll, Doug Sutherland, Jimmy Harrington, Bob Howard,
Bob Ruby, Les Liedle and Bob Henkel.
Lester Liedle of Valtron Recording Studio, who recorded the
Roast and made copies available.
Gladys Davenport for providing the cassette copy of the event,
and to Ken Benner in Tucson, Arizona for reviving the old tape
and making CD copies.
is about 90 minutes long, so these are very large mp3 files
that will take some time to download...
radio's "Coffee Break" program is hosted
by Jay Scott and Susan Clark, both of whom worked with Al
Johnson. On August 14, 2009, the program was devoted to reminiscences
are Wally Peel, Terry Bass, Bud Iwen, Doug Sutherland and
to Jay Scott and Susan Clark for doing the show, and to KBLL
Manager Dewey Bruce for granting permission for its use here.
thanks to Walli Johnson, Al's wife, who so kindly agreed to
this online tribute, and provided all the wonderful photographs.
Many thanks, Walli, and God Bless!
thanks also to Wally Peel, who spearheaded the gathering of
material for this tribute to Al . Without his efforts, it would
have been impossible. Thanks, Wally. You're tops!
Colleague Jeffrey Hall Remembers Al Johnson
knew Al personally because I worked with him at KBLL from 1984
to 1986. I started my broadcasting career when I was 21 at KBLL
in 1984 when then Program Director Scott Francis hired me.
first memory of Al starts when was about 5 years old. Every
night when my mom put me to bed she would turn on Al's show
"Classics in the Night" for me to listen to as I drifted
off to sleep. Well, when I first met Al a couple of days after
I was hired I related that story to him, and he turned to me
with a very pained look on his face and said: "Thanks,
kid, now I really feel old."
worked weekends, and almost every Saturday and Sunday we had
remote, live broadcasts from Power Townsend. Al was at the Power
Townsend end of the broadcast, and I handled things from the
studio board end. I must have done 3 to 4 hundred of these broadcasts
with Al over the 2 1/2 years that I was at KBLL, and Al would
always be ready on the other end when I'd toss it to him (baring
any equipment failures), except on 1 rather memorable occasion.
appointed time I did my usual intro, something like: "And
now it's time once again to check-in with Al Johnson at Power
Townsend to see what juicy deals he's got for us this time....",
and then I opened-up the "on-air" channel to the mic
on his end, but this time there was nothing there but silence,
and some background noise of the store. So I said: "Al,
are you there?", which was followed by a few pregnant moments
of silence. I then decided that he must be having some technical
difficulties, and made some comment on the air to that effect.
I was about to move on with something else, when just before
I could close his end of the line, I heard the sound of running
feet, very faintly, in the background. The sound got louder,
and louder, until Al came sliding into the chair at his end,
knocking over things on the table he had set up (including the
microphone), huffing and puffing to catch his breath. The mic
on his end was open the whole time, and all the listeners heard
this whole thing. It took Al several moment to recover from
his sprint so that he could speak. I took the opportunity to
gently give him the needle for being out of position. It turned
out that he had lost track of the time, and was at the very
back of the store at the appointed time. Al was consummate professional,
which is what makes this very uncharacteristic mistake so funny.
a lot about radio from Al . I was saddened when my mother called
me here in Seattle, where I now live, to tell me of his passing."
the loaf of Eddy's Bread to hear Al sing a commercial. This is
likely from the mid-1960s. Mp3 file courtesy of Wally Peel.