King Biscuit Time
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2010)|
- "King Biscuit Time" is also the name under which ex-Beta Band frontman Steve Mason releases his solo work.
King Biscuit Time is the longest-running daily American radio broadcast in history. The program is broadcast each weekday from KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, and has won the George Foster Peabody Award for broadcasting excellence.
History and description
The first broadcast of King Biscuit Time was on November 21, 1941 on KFFA in Helena, and featured the African-American blues artists Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) and Robert Lockwood, Jr. Williamson and Lockwood played live in the studio and were the key musicians in the original studio band, the King Biscuit Entertainers. Other musicians who joined the original band were Pinetop Perkins on piano and James Peck Curtis on drums. Williamson left the program in 1947 but returned for a stint in 1965 just prior to his death. When I was a young teen, about 1960 or 61, Sonny Boy Williamson was living in Helena and playing on KFFA. The radio show was called The Sony Boy Williamson King Biscuit Flour Hour and I believe that the show was an hour from 12:15 to one or one fifteen. So 45 minutes or an hour. I used to walk, in the summer, across Walnut street from Cherry street down , I think it s, Missouri st. his house was an old dilapidated rental,the first house on the right behind Walnut st. by a concrete ditch or water run off channel. on week days when weather allowed, Sonny and his band would rehearse on his front lawn with the guest for the next days show. His wife hated me being there and always tried to run me off, but Sonny said it was alright and called me his white blues boy and gave me my first harmonica. I was in California when he died in 1965 and he had not been on the show just before that as he was on a tour in England and Europe and played with many British groups such as the Rolling Stones. The 30-minute long live radio program is broadcast at 12:15 pm every weekday and was named after the local flour company, King Biscuit Flour. The local grocery distributor financed the show at the behest of Williamson in exchange for endorsements and naming rights. KFFA was the only station that would play music by African-Americans, and it reached an audience throughout the Mississippi Delta region and inspired a host of important blues musicians including B.B. King, Robert Nighthawk, James Cotton, and Ike Turner. The show's 12:15 pm time slot was chosen to match the lunch break of African-American workers in the Delta.
King Biscuit Time celebrated its 16,000th broadcast on June 22, 2010. KBT has more broadcasts than the Grand Ole Opry and American Bandstand. Since 1951 the program has been hosted by the award winning "Sunshine" Sonny Payne who opens each broadcast with "pass the biscuits, cause its King Biscuit Time!" Before Payne, the show was hosted by Hugh Smith from 1943-1951. Over the years the biggest names in blues have been associated with the program, and important blues artists continue to perform live.
The popularity of the program made Helena a major blues center. Helena became a stopping place for blues musicians on their way from the Delta region to the Chicago blues nightclubs and was also convenient to Memphis, Tennessee and its lively blues culture. Several blues musicians came to Helena and made it their home, such as Little Walter Jacobs and Jimmy Rogers.
King Biscuit Time was also a major breakthrough for African-American music in general. The popularity of the program and its reach into the untapped African-American demographic gained notice and spawned a host of imitators. By 1947 the first black disc jockey in the South, Early Wright, had been signed at WROX across the river. WDIA in Memphis soon became the first radio station in the South with an all black staff (including deejay B.B. King) and musical format based on the success of King Biscuit Time.
In 1986 the first annual King Biscuit Blues Festival (later renamed to Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival and returned to King Biscuit Blues Festival in 2011) was held in Helena, attracting thousands of blues aficionados from around the world. A magazine spin-off, King Biscuit Time edited by Donald Wilcock, has won several awards from the Blues Foundation, including the "Keeping the Blues Alive Award", and features interviews and biographies of major blues personalities.