He called me Soul. He gave me strength and saved my ass. He was an angel with a microphone, the safety net I needed back during the mid-1970s when I was free-falling out of the daily newspaper business.
Ron Houston is the name.
The greatest voice in the history of San Antonio radio.
Maybe you read his obituary last month in the newspaper. Death, they say, has silenced the mellifluous voice. How this can be I am not sure. Over more than 40 years, Ron Houston and I were intent upon living forever. It was a feeling we both had, and a feeling which I experienced again last month as I stood next to a little gold-colored urn in the First United Methodist Church of Blanco, Texas.
Eulogy fell short of the mark
So the brief memorial service eulogy I tried to give for the man who became my soul brother seemed inadequate and far short of the mark. The church was packed with friends and fans, and many of them can recall the days when Ron Houston’s smooth voice purred over such radio stations as KTSA, KBUC, KFAN, KENS, and KEXL, the free-form outlaw rocker where I was to work a morning drive show with Houston in the dubious role of “alternative newscaster.”
Houston and I first met in the 1960s when I was writing a column for the San Antonio Express-News. I believe he was a KTSA DJ at the time. Our trails crossed and re-crossed over the years, as Houston became an unrepentant friend of San Antonio police character Bunny Eckert, and during the days that I hung out with people like Willie Nelson, middleweight slugger Al Juergens and a few others who would never be considered for membership in the Texas Cavaliers.
The official reason that Express-News executive editor Charlie Kilpatrick gave for my firing was “association with undesirable characters.” This happened shortly after I promoted the World Championship Menudo Cookoff in Raymond Russell Park, an event that featured Willie Nelson and some 30 other area bands.
Kicked off the grounds
As more than 50,000 rowdy drunks stumbled through an adjacent trailer park and passed out amid the tombstones of Sunset Memorial Park, I found time to have Hal Davis, the general manager of KITE AM and KEXL FM, thrown off the grounds for reasons which have completely slipped my mind. I believe he had been loudly arguing with someone, but I am not sure who.
Only days after my firing, I was dead broke and feeling lower than whale shit as I played 9-ball pool for $2 a game in a San Pedro skull orchard known as the Desert Fox.
I could scarcely believe my eyes and ears when Hal Davis walked into the beer joint and offered me an alternative newscasting job on KEXL FM Radio.
I recall telling Davis that I knew nothing about radio, and that I didn’t believe he would give me a job after what happened at the menudo cookoff and concert. I was to soon learn that Hal Davis was a far bigger man than I had even dreamed.
“I have an FM outlaw rock station with what I believe are thousands of dope-smoking hippie listeners,” Davis said. “I have a hunch that you might go over big in the market. If you are interested, be at the station on Data Point at 6 o’clock in the morning.”
He then walked out of the beer joint without uttering another word.
I was convinced that Davis had offered me the job just so he could toss me off the property, but he was true to his word. When I arrived at the KITE AM, KEXL FM studios, Davis pointed to a control room where a smiling Ron Houston was spinning records and waving me in.
“Sit behind that microphone, Soul,” Houston said, “and we will get this show on the road.”
“What do I do?”
“Just talk, Soul. I will play this Charlie Daniels record, and we will start jawboning.”
My voice is rougher than Houston’s was smooth, and the first word I uttered on the air caused the volume needles to all but bounce out of the box.
“You got it, Soul,” Ron laughed. “We are off and running.”
The rest was history
The rest is history. I was getting Action Magazine started at the time, but the KEXL salary kept me alive when I needed it most. Houston and I had a radio rapport which I find hard to explain (I believe it was spiritual), and there was sideline money as we cut commercials for land companies and western wear stores.
Ron always said he wanted to kick himself for failing to record our first air outing together.
Houston had an uncanny talent for hitting 30-second and one-minute commercial spots without a hitch or a script. He could hold rough, hand-scribbled notes from some radio ad salesman, and turn them into concise, entertaining, and informative air commercials as if he were reading from a prompter. And he taught me enough about commercial radio to make a few bucks on the side. While Ron was selling property for G.G. Gale, I was hawking land for the late S.A. Sam Green, a.k.a. Father Benedict, who always said, “The Good Lord ain’t makin’ anymore land.”
So this column is for you, Soul. It is also for Sheryl, your life love and beautiful wife who you first started dating when we formed our unlikely KEXL tandem. This one is also for the many people you helped anonymously, for the cats and dogs and ducks you took in and fed simply because you loved animals and people. And this is for your adopted hometown where you worked tirelessly as a city councilman and promoter of local events.
Houston’s wife Sheryl was an attorney in the A.L. Hernden law firm when she and Ron got together, and Hernden called me shortly after Houston’s fatal heart attack to say that Sheryl was the best lawyer ever to work in his office.
Ron had told me that he had joined the Methodist Church, and that he was a firm believer in the oldest carpenter story of all time. Death wasn’t casting much of a shadow as I stumbled over my eulogy in that brightly-lighted Methodist Church, and I could almost hear the Billy Joe Shaver refrain:?I’m gonna cross that river, I’m gonna live forever….
It’s what we always wanted. And if the water ain’t too deep, Soul, I plan on seeing you later.