Independent survivor Radio free Gonzales

KCTI: obits, polka, and an occasional off-color joke

L.D. Decker (left), takes over the controls in Studio A to deliver the noon newscast. Joe Haynes (right), was named KCTI general manager in the mid-1990s. (Photo by Michael Cary)
From an old bank vault in the rear of KCTI 1450AM, Aaron "Double A" Allan retrieves a stack of records, then walks to Studio B, which features an old Gateway 80 radio console and turntables. There, he spins vinyl - the Dinning Sisters, Harry Belafonte - some of them, thick 78rpm lacquers and chats on the microphone with his co-host Joe Haynes.

Haynes is the station's general manager, but he also works the afternoon shift five days a week, playing the straight man to Allan, a former WOAI jock who provides the color, or off-color, depending on the listener. "I don't think I go overboard that much," says Allan, 75.

A locally owned, independent radio station, KCTI has served Gonzalez County since December 17, 1948, when Woody Wilson and his brother-in-law Lawrence Walshak flipped the switches that put it on the air. In addition to reaching the 38,000 people in Gonzalez County, the station's signal extends as far east as Columbus, near Houston, to Buda on I-35 near Austin, and strangely, it fades right at the Guadalupe River in Seguin - just short of tapping into a potential audience of about 150,000.

"With all the stations corporate-owned and feed non-local, I believe in local content," says Haynes, who has worked at KCTI for 22 years. "Lockhart used to have a local station, and you don't realize what you have until you don't have it anymore. Local communities need a voice."

KCTI has six full-time and two part-time employees, including retired schoolteacher John Zavadil, who runs the Polka Club in the mornings, and often announces 50- and 60-year wedding anniversaries in surrounding towns: Shiner, Hallettsville, Moulton, Lockhart, Luling, Smiley.

L.D. Decker is the news man and sports director, overseeing coverage of the Houston Astros, Texas A&M Aggies, and Dallas Cowboys, and the local newscasts at 6, 7, and 7:30 a.m, noon, and 5 p.m. The newscasts regularly broadcast obituaries, one of the station's most popular features. Haynes once killed obits for about a week, but revived them after receiving numerous complaints.

"A lot of people are already buried before the newspaper comes out," says Ray Cowey, owner of a barbershop of the same name facing the town's main square. "We need the radio station."

In his shop, Cowey keeps a radio tuned to KCTI as he trims hair, and particularly enjoys the morning polka program, although he is not always fond of some of the station's content. "Sometimes it is pretty good. Sometimes it is pretty sorry. The afternoon show has gotten out of hand," Cowey says.

Another man in the barbershop who refused to identify himself acknowledges the Haynes and Allan Show is not for him. "They talk about sex and tell nasty jokes. In the afternoons they are vulgar."

As if to punctuate the man's comment, Allan plays a tune by John Prine and Iris Dement: "She don't like her eggs all runny ... she crosses her legs all funny ... she thinks all my jokes are corny, convict movies make her horny."

Unlike many large stations whose programming is determined by consultants, KCTI isn't confined to a playlist. "I hate to play clocks that tell fast song here, slow song there," explains Haynes, who prefers rock 'n' roll to country, or even to the German and Czech-style polka music the station airs six times a week. "I never had heard of polka music before; these people just love their music."

Allan says he feels at home at KCTI. "Big time radio is backbiting, backstabbing," he explains. "Our music speaks for itself. The less concept, the more off- the-wall, the more chance of something untoward will occur.

"I'm the devil's advocate on the show. If we were the same, the show would be vanilla. He's (Haynes) a born-again Christian, I'm going to hell," explains Allan, who is also a songwriter whose compositions have been recorded by Willie Nelson and Johnny Bush.

"I would have preferred that he not do those top eight Polish jokes," Haynes says one afternoon after the show. "I'm everybody's friend. If something is vulgar, it will be him, because it's not going to be me. We're always at odds and people think we don't like each other ... That's not true. I love Aaron, and I think he likes me."

Airing obituaries and high school sports, old 78s and polka, KCTI is nestled at the far end of the AM dial, yet is the centerpiece of the Gonzalez community - and of Allan's life.

"I love this little station," Allan adds. "I have creative autonomy, and you don't find that much anymore. I will probably die on the air, which will be fine with me."

By Michael Cary

Scroll to read more Movie Reviews & News articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.