Big D Radio & Top 40

Radio legend Gordon McClendon started KLIF-AM in 1947 in the basement of the Cliff Towers Hotel, located just across the Trinity River from downtown Dallas in the suburb of Oak Cliff (hence the call letters). Although its basis in fact has since been questioned, the legend of Top 40's origin goes like this: Future McClendon employee Bill Stewart and radio pioneer Todd Storz were drinking in an Omaha bar one long night in the early Fifties. As the evening went on, they realized the same song had been playing over and over on the 40-selection jukebox. Stewart helped sell McClendon on this phenomenon, and KLIF began surveying Dallas area record shops for weekly sales figures to devise the station's music policy. While most "pop" stations were playing Kay Starr's No. 1 version of "Wheel of Fortune" and June Valli's "Crying in the Chapel," KLIF was spinning the Cardinals' and Orioles' original versions, respectively and respectfully. McClendon hired great radio hosts like Bruce Hayes, Ken Knox, Art Nelson, and Don Keyes, who spun records and ran the commercials, singing station IDs and promotions (e.g., burying a check in a Coke bottle somewhere in Dallas and giving clues twice daily to listeners). Top 40 radio was born. By 1955, KLIF was the highest rated metropolitan radio station in the U.S. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, when Wolfman Jack was blasting Howlin' Wolf from Villa Acuña, Mexico, over XERF, and Gene Nobles and John R. were selling blues records, baby chickens, and Bibles from WLAC in Nashville, Dallas was the best place to be when a teenager's best friend was his or her radio.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle