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Texas Top Hands standing beside their tour bus in front of radio station KONO in San Antonio, ca. 1950. UTSA Libraries Special Collections (Zintgraff Collection), No. Z-1361.
KONO. KONO is a radio station located in San Antonio, Texas, which pioneered the popular music format of the late 1950s and 1960s. The station was founded by Eugene Roth in a room over his garage and bicycle shop in downtown San Antonio and is the fourth oldest AM frequency in the Alamo City. Roth’s initial interest in radio broadcasting was merely as a hobby, and the station’s original format was country and western. Popular area western swing band, the Texas Top Hands, for example, often performed on the station and promoted their sponsor, Lone Star Beer, in the mid-1950s. In the late 1950s, the station changed its format to “Top 40,” which coincided with the rise in popularity of rock-and-roll.
Jack Roth, the son of Eugene Roth, inherited the station. In the 1960s KONO was the top-rated AM station, and later in the decade its sister station, KITY-FM, was the top-rated FM station.
In its heyday in the 1960s KONO gained national attention for its radio personalities and their on-air creativity. Some of the key personnel during its heyday were Howard Edwards, Don Couser, Woody Roberts, Don “Skinny” Green, Lee ”Baby” Simms, Dave Mitchell, Johnny Shannon, and Charlie Scott. Notable news personalities included Brad Messer, Tom Ellis, Dick Porter, Bob Tisdale, and Larry Webb.
The “Radio Wars” between KONO and rival Top 40 station KTSA were legendary. These battles raged from the late 1950s into the 1970s. In one classic antic, station owner Jack Roth walked around San Antonio in character as the “KONO Millionaire,” a mysterious man who would hand out cash to people. The KONO disc jockeys started airing a "phrase of the day" once per hour, and listeners who spotted the millionaire walking the streets and could tell him that phrase would have money handed to them. The six-week promotion ended when a woman was injured when a crowd estimated at around 35,000 gathered to see the “KONO Millionaire.” The Hooper ratings company showed the station's total audience share on the final Sunday of the promotion at a staggering ninety-seven percent.
The Roth family launched KONO-TV, Channel 12, on January 21, 1957, as an ABC affiliate. They operated the station until 1968 when the station was sold to The Outlet Company of Providence, Rhode Island, which changed its call letters to KSAT. KONO-AM was sister station of KSAT-TV 12 for many years.
Broadcast on the AM frequency 860 and thus known as the “the Big 86,” KONO was a leading Top 40 station for many years. Since May of 1990 the station has been broadcast on FM as KONO-FM 101.1, as an “oldies” or “classic hits” format from its heyday. The station is simulcast on its original AM signal of 860 AM and uses the slogan "San Antonio's Greatest Hits." As of 2015 the station was licensed to Helotes, (Bexar County) Texas, and was owned by Cox Radio.
KONO helped popularize many Texas musicians, such as Sunny and the Sunliners, The Five Americans, Michael Nesmith, Doug Sahm, Roger Miller, Ray Price, Billy Joe Royal, Freddy Fender, and Willie Nelson.
KONO-FM (http://www.kono1011.com), accessed September 2, 2015. Fred Lozano, “Recalling the greatest radio contest ever,” KENS 5.com (http://www.kens5.com/on-tv/kens-reporters/fred-lozano/The-greatest-radio-contest-ever-81218502.html), accessed October 20, 2011. Radio-locater: KONO-FM 101.1 MHz (http://www.radio-locator.com/info/KONO-FM), accessed September 2, 2015. Texas Radio Hall of Fame (http://www.texasradiohalloffame.com), accessed October 20, 2011.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Art Martinez de Vara, "KONO," accessed September 16, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ebk06.
Uploaded on May 26, 2015. Modified on December 2, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.