Ralph D. Foster

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Ralph D. Foster
Ralph D. Foster.jpg
Foster c.1956
Background information
Birth name Ralph David Foster
Born (1893-04-25)April 25, 1893
Origin St. Joseph, Missouri, USA
Died August 11, 1984(1984-08-11) (aged 91)
Genres country music
Occupation(s) radio station owner
radio and TV program creator-producer
Website Ralph Foster biography

Ralph David Foster (April 25, 1893–August 11, 1984), was an American broadcasting pioneer and philanthropist who created the framework for Springfield, Missouri to challenge Nashville, Tennessee as the nation's country music capital during the 1950s. His KWTO was a stepping-stone for many top country artists; and with his music businesses, led to creation of Ozark Jubilee, the first U.S. network television program to feature country's top stars.

Biography[edit]

Foster was born April 25, 1893 in St. Joseph, Missouri. In 1924, at age 31, he set up a low-power AM radio station with his partner, Jerry Hall, in a corner of their Firestone dealership, Foster-Hall Tire Co., in St. Joseph. It began as a hobby, but as local businesses increasingly sought to advertise on the station, it became a full-time occupation. He increased its power and on June 30, 1926, it was licensed as KGBX on 1040 kHz.[1] Foster built a new service station and glassed-in studios for the radio station a few blocks north. A singer himself, he and Hall performed on the station as The Radio Rubber Twins.[2]

"Keep Watching the Ozarks"[edit]

In 1932 Hall moved to California, and Foster and his brother-in-law, Art Johnson, relocated the station to Springfield (KGBX-AM was licensed for 1310 kHz on November 3). Unable to get its transmitting power increased, the next year he bought the license of a station in Grant City and moved it to Springfield, signing on December 25, 1933 on 560 kHz. He requested and received the call letters KWTO and used the on-air slogan, "Keep Watching the Ozarks." As president and general manager, Foster made KWTO-AM the dominant station in the region. In 1944, KGBX-AM (operating by then on 1260 kHz) was sold under new FCC ownership rules.[3]

Foster began to realize radio's full potential after World War II. The Assembly of God, with national headquarters in Springfield, sponsored a 30-minute program on KWTO called Sermons in Song. He began transcribing the show for other stations, and eventually 200 carried the program. To expand his business into country music, Foster started RadiOzark Enterprises, Inc. with Si Siman as vice president and local businessman Lester E. Cox as a financial backer. They produced transcription disks of programs starring Smiley Burnette, George Morgan, Bill Ring and Tennessee Ernie Ford (Ring was producer for 260 15-minute episodes of The Tennessee Ernie Show), and ABC Radio picked up Ring's show, sponsored by General Mills.[4] Eventually, more than 1,200 U.S. and Canadian stations aired their programs.[5]

Live broadcasts, however, dominated KWTO's programming. Many country music stars either got their start or performed on the station, including Porter Wagoner, Chet Atkins, the Carter Family, The Browns, Wynn Stewart, Les Paul, Homer and Jethro, and Slim Wilson. Korn’s-A-Krackin’, a weekly “hillbilly variety” program, was carried nationally by the Mutual radio network.

Crossroads of country music[edit]

Foster believed Springfield might overtake Nashville, Tennessee to become the "crossroads of country music," and knew his best opportunity would be to put his local TV show, Ozark Jubilee, on national television. He named his new enterprise Crossroads TV Productions, Inc., with Siman and Foster's nephew, John B. Mahaffey, as managing vice presidents and KWTO commercial manager Leslie I. Kennon as vice president.

In April 1954, Siman lured Red Foley, considered America's top country music star, from Nashville with the promise of hosting a national TV program. Foster leased the Jewell Theatre and spent nearly $100,000 to outfit it for live TV production. On January 22, 1955, Ozark Jubilee debuted on ABC-TV, the first network television series featuring national country music stars, which ran for almost six years.[6] Known by the cast and crew as "the Skipper," Foster made his only appearance on its final telecast (by then renamed Jubilee USA) on September 24, 1960, singing "Woodman, Spare That Tree".

Crossroads TV also produced the show's spin-off, NBC-TV's Five Star Jubilee (1961); as well as The Eddy Arnold Show (1956) and Talent Varieties (1955), both ABC. From 1960–1961, the company produced Today on the Farm for NBC from Chicago.

The networks, however, passed on two other efforts to expand programming from Springfield: early in 1957, Crossroads produced a pilot for a proposed ABC-TV series called Pig 'N Poke, a quiz show (popular at the time) with a country theme hosted by Smiley Burnette;[7] and in January 1960, Crossroads videotaped a pilot for a pop-variety TV series, Snooky Lanson Time. Guests were Brenda Lee, the Anita Kerr Singers, Betty Ann Grove and Paul Mitchell's instrumental combo.[8]

To represent the regular performers on KWTO and the Jubilee, Foster established Top Talent, Inc. (under General Manager W.E. "Lucky" Moeller); and to publish their compositions, he founded Earl Barton Music, Inc., originally headed by C.R. "Lou" Black, KWTO's program director, who was succeeded after his death in 1956 by Moeller.[9] Crossroads also sold outdoor advertising. The combined companies grossed $2.5 million annually.[10]

Later years[edit]

In 1963, Foster, Siman and Mahaffey formed Tele-Color, Inc., which in 1964 filmed color segments for ABC's Wide World of Sports and other programs.

Foster was a member of the board of directors for the Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield for more than 20 years and was involved in many other civic activities. He died August 11, 1984 in Springfield and was buried in St. Joseph Memorial Park Cemetery. His widow, Harriett, died December 5, 1986.

Ralph Foster Museum[edit]

Foster was an avid hunter and fisherman and a strong conservationist. He collected Native American and Western artifacts and firearms for many years, and in the 1960s donated a large collection to The School of the Ozarks museum in Point Lookout, Missouri near Branson. In 1969, Foster's financial donations saw to the addition of a new wing, a new entrance, and a new name: the Ralph Foster Museum.[1]

The museum's focus is the history and culture of the Ozarks region. Exhibits include the original vehicle used in the television series The Beverly Hillbillies, antiques, weapons, dolls, circus toys and miniature model circus, metal banks and toys, furniture and household items, glassware, natural history, mounted animal displays, personal hobby collections and a display on Ozark music personalities.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ralph Foster Museum, Who Was Ralph Foster, retrieved 2009-01-06 
  2. ^ Dessauer, Phil "Springfield, Mo.-Radio City of Country Music" (April 1957), Coronet, p. 152
  3. ^ Turtle, Howard "Ozarks Folk Tunes and Comedy Make Springfield a TV Center" (January 29, 1956), Kansas City Star, p. C1
  4. ^ Sachs, Bill "Folk Talent and Tunes" (August 3, 1959), The Billboard, p. 45
  5. ^ International News Service "Rural Music Rocks, Too" (April 29, 1956), Springfield News & Leader, p. A16
  6. ^ Spears-Stewart, Rita (1993), Remembering the Ozark Jubilee, Stewart, Dillbeck & White Productions, ISBN 0-9638648-0-7 .
  7. ^ Billings, Jim "Comes Long Way From Dwarf Role," (January 20, 1957), Springfield News & Leader, p. D2
  8. ^ "Plan New TV Series for Lanson" (January 25, 1960), The Billboard, p. 12
  9. ^ "Rites for Black, of Top Talent, in Springfield" (November 24, 1956), The Billboard, p. 17
  10. ^ Misurrell, Ed "How a Local Boy's Hobby Brought TV to the Ozarks" (October 2, 1955), "Pictorial TView," New York Journal American, p. 9

References[edit]

  • "Tin Pan Alley in the Ozarks" (January 3, 1955), Broadcasting/Telecasting, p. 35
  • Ozark Jubilee Souvenir Picture Album (first edition, 1955)
  • Misurrell, Ed "How a Local Boy's Hobby Brought TV to the Ozarks" (October 2, 1955), "Pictorial TView," New York Journal American, p. 9
  • Turtle, Howard "Ozarks Folk Tunes and Comedy Make Springfield a TV Center" (January 29, 1956), Kansas City Star, p. C1
  • Terry, Dickson "Hillbilly Music Center" (February 5, 1956), St. Louis Post-Dispatch "The Everyday Magazine", p. 1
  • "They Love Mountain Music" (May 7, 1956), Time
  • The Ozark Jubilee starring Red Foley (1956), RadiOzark Enterprises, Inc.
  • "Hillbilly TV Show Hits the Big Time" (March 10, 1956), Business Week, p. 30
  • International News Service "Rural Music Rocks, Too" (April 29, 1956), Springfield News & Leader, p. A16
  • Ozark Jubilee Souvenir Picture Album (second edition, 1956), © Ozark Jubilee's Crossroads Store
  • Country Music Jubilee Souvenir Picture Album (third edition, 1957)
  • Dessauer, Phil "Springfield, Mo.-Radio City of Country Music" (April 1957), Coronet, p. 152
  • Spears-Stewart, Rita (1993), Remembering the Ozark Jubilee, Stewart, Dillbeck & White Productions, ISBN 0-9638648-0-7 .
  • Ralph Foster Museum, Ralph Foster, retrieved 2009-01-06 

External links[edit]