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Don O. Has Been KNON's Blues Champion for 30 Years. Here's to 30 More

Don O. in the KNON Studios, 1990.
Don O. in the KNON Studios, 1990.

Don O. has been playing blues records on 89.3 KNON for thirty years now.

He was there when KNON broadcast out of an old house with no air conditioning and he's never been late for a single airshift (despite 20 miles of traffic each way). He's since been informally knighted as the KNON historian, and has maintained a simple and workable website on DFW Blues.

On October 20th he'll be the center of a big celebration for the mark and toast it with live blues, free BBQ, and cake at Poor David's Pub. Hopefully, Don will follow that with another 30 years of keeping Freddie King on the radio. Don tells all this better than anyone can, so the floor is his. Happy 30th from DC9, Don.

Don O. Has Been KNON's Blues Champion for 30 Years. Here's to 30 More

30 years at KNON! Paint the picture of that world back on the day of your first show.

Well that was in August of 1983. I had a co-host named Joan back then, and we showed up at the beat-up old house in east Dallas that used to be the KNON studio. It was on the second floor, literally in an old closet. It was hot as hell, and the equipment barely worked. We were following Groovey Joe Poovey who was doing a country show. He had only been on air a few weeks himself but he showed us a few switches and knobs. Then he was out the door and gone.

That was your on-air training??

That was our training. Two minutes of "flip this switch, turn this knob, and push this button." Then it was basically sink or swim. We dogpaddled a bit, but it wasn't too different than a home stereo on steroids. Only my stereo at home worked a lot better than that junk. The trick was jumping from turntable to turntable and getting in the rhythm of doing a show. Remember it was all LPs and 45s back then. Every now and then some thoughtful listener would call in and remind us to turn the microphone off.

Ha!

Ah, community radio at its finest! We had no clue what we were doing, we just loved blues and felt it needed to be on the radio. I probably still don't have a clue, but I'm still there for the same reason.

Are you the current resident KNON historian? That's the rumor.

Due to my long tenure, the board of directors asked me to put together a short history of the station to help celebrate the station's 30th anniversary of broadcasting in late July. I had all the old newsletters, station schedules, and other debris of 30 years at KNON. I scanned everything and put it up online as the KNON online history museum. Here it is: http://knonhistory.blogspot.com/

Don O. with BB King, 1991.
Don O. with BB King, 1991.

I was up there at KNON recently. How old are the vinyl racks in there?

The cabinets and racks we have now were custom built by volunteers when we moved into our new studio back in 2004. The interesting thing is that whoever built the LP racks did not make them tall enough to stand an LP in. So typical of KNON. You just can't make this stuff up. We actually de-commissioned all the blues LPs a year or so later because there was no way to store them vertically. There is still a lot of vinyl laying around in those bins, but most of it is pretty trashed. The LP racks at the old studio were built into the walls and stayed in place when we left. Well, maybe not in place, I think a few of them actually collapsed when we took the records out.

And the turntables at KNON...it would seem to be a BYOS situation nowadays..."Bring Your Own Stylus"?

True. Everytime we install a new cartridge some idiot breaks the needle off. There are really only a handful of hardcore vinyl fans at the station anymore and we have all learned to bring our own cartridge. However most of us also digitize vinyl at home, dump them to wav files, then burn a disc. Nothing beats the sound of vinyl, though, and sometimes you just have to go old school.  

Don O. with Bluesman ZuZu Bollin, 1988.
Don O. with Bluesman ZuZu Bollin, 1988.
Photo: Terry Groff

I remember learning how to back-cue vinyl. It was right at the end of the turntable run for vinyl so only got do do it a few dozen times.

I miss back-cueing. I bet we are the only radio station in Dallas with two working turntables plugged into the board. We are also probably the only radio station in Dallas without a digital music system. We do have a port where folks can plug in their laptops and a lot of our DJs make use of that. There is a digital music system in the works for us, but it's the usual problems of money and personnel, which we never have enough of. Hey, it's community radio.

Tell us about the shindig on October 20. It sure seems you picked the right spot for it.

David Card of Poor David's Pub has been a great friend and supporter of KNON since the early days. In fact, he used to do a radio show on KNON back in the mid 80's. He has a great sounding room and he and his staff host a lot of our events. He was the readers pick for the Best Blues Club in your recent Best of Dallas issue, and that says it all.

Shows like this can be a vital income stream for KNON, correct?

One of the ways KNON raises operating money is through live music shows. My 30th anniversary just seemed like a great excuse to have a party and make some money for the station. We have 3 outstanding blues bands playing. Larry Lampkin is a young talent from Fort Worth who is doing excellent original material with strong vocals and exciting guitar work. Greg Izor and the Box Kickers are coming up from Austin for a 90 minute set of hardcore harmonica blues. Closing the show is Jason Elmore and Hoodoo Witch who won Best Blues Band in the 2012 Dallas Observer Music Awards. The show includes a free BBQ dinner from the Alligator Cafe, while it lasts. Plus I'm donating cake for 200. It's my party so there has to be cake. I like cake.

Speaking of Poor David's Pub, I recently did a piece on great sound men, and was properly reprimanded for not knowing what a live-sound superhero Carlos Sanchez is. Care to give the man his just due right now, right here?

I couldn't possibly give Carlos the tribute he really deserves. I'll just say he deserves his own stand-alone interview or feature write-up. Get on that, will you? I want to read it.

If you'll help me get in touch with him, you've got a deal. That was the really tough part. What's next for you, Don? Im hoping that retirement is a phrase youre allergic to. How about another 30 years?

Next? Hey, I'm an unpaid volunteer, yet in over 30 years I have never been late once. For most of that time I've had to fight 20 miles of 5 pm Friday DFW traffic just to get to the studio. Every time I have the opportunity to play the music I love, blues, on the radio it's an amazing thing. It is still a little surprising to me that I get to do that. KNON is such an incredible asset for the people of North Texas. It is a privilege to be a small part of that. I may fall over or they might run me off if people stop pledging during pledge drive, but other than that, I'm up for another 30 years. Somebody has to keep Freddie King on the radio in Dallas. I'll keep doing that as long as they let me.

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