From the archives - Bonnie Henry: Legend returns

Broadcasting Hall of Famer who sold his five stations, including KCUB and KIIM, re-enters Tucson market
2006-11-12T00:00:00Z 2013-04-29T13:54:38Z From the archives - Bonnie Henry: Legend returnsBonnie Henry Arizona Daily Star
November 12, 2006 12:00 am  • 

In his living room is a guitar from Buck Owens. On his dining room wall are photos of a life that harkens back to high school basketball days in small-town New Mexico.

And in his head are the hummings of what he's going to do with his latest "toy."

Going on six years after Jim Slone sold his five Tucson radio stations for a jaw-dropping $63 million, he's back in the game, plunking down $2.5 million for Spanish-language radio station KEVT (1030-AM).

There will be a format change. Count on it. Could go country, could veer toward the old standards Slone grew up with - Patti Page. Perry Como. Could go both ways.

"I'm not sure yet," Slone says. "I'll do a little research, see where the biggest hole is."

Whatever that hole may be, count on the Arizona Broadcasters Association Foundation Hall of Fame member filling it - just as he's done for more than a half-century at stations stretching from Lubbock, Texas, to Tucson.

After all, this is the guy who:

● Faced down an angry mob after country legend George Jones failed to show. Twice.

● Begged Buck Owens not to put him out of business.

● Took Tucson's KCUB radio from near-bottom in the rankings to being named No. 1 in the world by Billboard magazine.

"My professional life has been incredible. I got to do what I liked," says Slone, 70. "Making money - that part was a big surprise. I thought I'd end my life spinning records for my grandkids' requests."

Turns out, he may do just that. Turns out, that would be fine.

"Radio is my passion," says Slone, who carries the same soft twang spoken on the high plains of eastern New Mexico.

Born and raised in the tiny town of Causey, N.M., Slone grew up listening to the radio stations beaming out across the flatlands from Lubbock and Amarillo.

"Daddy gave me a little time when I got home from school before I had to do the chores."

Senior year of high school he transferred to nearby Portales to play basketball at a bigger school.

After high school, he stayed in Portales, enrolling at Eastern New Mexico University in the fall of '54. There is where he would meet Norma Lozier, his future wife.

He and Norma have a slightly different take on how they started dating. Here's her version:

"I was dating his best friend, Fred," says Norma. "Then one day, Jim came up to me and said, 'I've got it all arranged with Fred. Saturday night, you're going out with me, and Fred is going out with so and so.' I refused. I said, 'I'm not about to do that.' But he was very persistent."

They've been together ever since.

During his sophomore year, Slone landed a job with KENM, the lone radio station in Portales, covering high school basketball games and opening up the station, 5:30 every a.m.

"For the first 15 minutes, I played Sons of the Pioneers," says Slone. "By the fourth day, I knew all the words to 'Cool Water' and 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds.' "

The station, managed by Leola Randolph, was also where he learned how to ad lib.

"Leola would go out and sell ads, but the copy wasn't written yet. So I would say things like, 'Granny, here's something I know you will just love.' Or, 'They're selling overalls over at J.C. Penney's for $2.49 a pair.' "

After graduation, Slone became lead singer of a trio dubbed The Shy Guys, recording a few records and going on tour to such hot spots as Boise, Idaho, and Elko, Nev.

But when it came time to serve his six months with the Army Reserve, Slone told the group he wouldn't be coming back.

Instead, he jumped right back into radio at a station in Farmington, N.M. "It became a country station three days after I got there in the fall of 1960," says Slone. "That was OK by me. I liked all kinds of music."

Six months later, the station manager asked if he'd like to be the morning man at a station the owner had just bought in Albuquerque. "I thought I'd died and gone to Hollywood."

There, he spun records, sold ads, got to know everyone from Glen Campbell to Willie Nelson.

But by 1963, he was getting restless - just about the time a new country station in Tucson came calling. Its name: KHOS.

"I played the first record on KHOS on Aug. 10, 1963. It was Porter Wagoner singing 'Company's Comin'.' "

The station - a mobile home squatted down at the base of "A" Mountain - was taking on Tucson country station KMOP.

"Their joke was, we'd pull up our mobile home in the middle of the night," says Slone.

But the joke was on KMOP.

"We wiped them off the air. We were 24 hours, and they weren't."

Within six months, Slone was managing KHOS and booking acts ranging from Buck Owens to Conway Twitty into stomping grounds like the Tucson Gardens and Tucson Sports Center.

Then there was George Jones.

In the mid-'60s, Slone booked the country legend into the Sports Center. The night of the concert, Slone was at a football game with son, Jamie, then about 4, when he called to see how the concert was going.

"They told me, 'Get down here. George hasn't shown up and they're about to tear up the place.'

"I got down there, and people were yelling and throwing beer bottles. I got up on stage with Jamie and said, 'You people wouldn't throw beer bottles at a baby, would you?'

"I still get people who remind me of that today."

Slone managed to calm the crowd, promising everyone they'd get their money back.

Sometime later, he booked Jones again. Same no-show. This time Slone went to see attorney Tom Chandler.

"We put a judgment on him that if he came into the state of Arizona we would garnish his proceeds and put a levy on his bus," says Chandler, who's known Slone for 40 years.

After Jones married Tammy Wynette in 1969, Slone made a deal with Jones. "We said, 'OK, you and Tammy come down and do a free show and we'll call it even.' "

Even then, Slone had to pound on the door of the tour bus to get Jones to come out and perform. "He came in all pouty. I think he sang three songs, no autographs. But it was enough."

In the fall of 1971, Chandler came to Slone with a little business proposition. "He wanted me to come and manage KCUB, which was in the bottom of the cellar," says Slone. "I said not unless I had some ownership."

Chandler, who was part owner of KCUB, told Slone that wouldn't be a problem. But, says Slone, "I told him, 'I don't have any money.' We were living paycheck to paycheck."

Chandler, says Slone, told him, "There are ways of getting around that."

And so there were. With his old boss in New Mexico, and a retired Federal Communications Commission attorney hammering out the details, Slone took 49 percent ownership of KCUB for $5,000.

Next came the stipulation that if he met other projections in three years' time, he would receive another 2 percent of the station for $300, giving him majority ownership.

"It was like sweat equity. I never thought they'd go for it, but they did," says Slone.

"He made a proposal that was good for everyone, and as people wanted to go on and do something else, he acquired their interest," says Chandler. "He always did it in a fair, upright manner."

Slone wasted no time meeting his projections, hiring away many of the hands at KHOS. "Back in those days, there were no noncompetitive clauses," he says. He also brought on former KTKT general manager Phil Richardson as his sales manager.

"Phil also did the news reports every five minutes on the hour," says Slone. "But five minutes was all I allowed. It was, 'Get back to the music and get back in a hurry.' "

Less than five years after signing on with KCUB, Slone and crew took a floundering station all the way to No. 1, after Billboard magazine declared KCUB the top music station in the world in December 1976.

"I could have never done this by myself," says Slone.

Among those sharing in the glory was DJ "Sunny" Jim Arnold, KCUB's one-time morning man, who had also worked with Slone at KHOS.

"KCUB was just so magical," says Arnold, now vice president and general manager of KOLD News 13. "We had a group of people who were just so in tune with each other. "

In 1978, Arnold moved to Texas for a while to manage three stations Slone owned and eventually sold - two in El Paso, one in Lubbock.

Even as KCUB continued to pull in top Arbitron ratings into the 1980s, Slone was looking to buy his first Tucson FM station.

He had the financing in hand. The deal was set. And then the station's owner called and said Buck Owens was coming to town for a look-see.

"Buck already owned KNIX in Phoenix and other things in Bakersfield. I knew if he came in, I was through," says Slone, figuring his AM station could not compete against FM.

"So I called Buck and said, 'Buck, don't do this to me. You have other stations. This is my whole future for me and my family.' "

Owens said he was still coming to town. "I spent a sleepless night," says Slone. "The next morning, the phone rang at 7 a.m. It was Buck. He said, 'I've been thinking about what you said, that friends don't do friends this way.' "

And so in the summer of '83, Slone acquired KNDE-FM for $2.65 million. Just months later, KNDE became country station KIIM-FM, the flagship of what would become Slone Broadcasting.

At its zenith, Slone Broadcasting owned five Tucson stations, all with different formats ranging from smooth jazz to country to the old standards.

As time went by, the three Slone children came into the business.

Oldest son Jamie Slone served as general manager. Son Fred Slone became national sales manager. And daughter Mary Slone Wambach filled out half of the popular KIIM duo on "Max & Mary in the Morning."

"I started answering phones in high school," says Wambach, who did promotions and sold ads for the station before agreeing to fill in for the morning slot.

"I said if Arbitron says I'm bad, I'm out of here, but we continued. I did eight years filling in."

In December of 2000, Jim Slone agreed to sell it all to national radio giant Citadel Communications for $63 million.

"I could see all the mom-and-pops were being swallowed up by the conglomerates," says Slone. "But I was not going to sell until everybody said yes."

Jamie Slone was the last holdout. "We went out to eat, and Jamie said, 'Daddy, it's time to sell.' "

"I wanted to stay in the game and compete, but I realized that was somewhat selfish," says Jamie, who stayed on in Tucson as a Citadel manager until the spring of 2002.

"I miss the people and all that stuff, but now I get to take my girls to school every day," says Jamie, 44, the father of 13-year-old twins.

When he's not at home in Tucson, he's on the circuit as a professional race car driver, as is brother Fred.

Meanwhile, Wambach, 46, stepped away from her morning show in early 2002, citing the need to spend more time with her children, now ages 6 and 8.

Both she and Jamie are glad their dad is back in radio. "I'm happy for him," says Wambach. "He's always said, 'Follow your passion.' "

Says the man who's obviously not quite ready for retirement: "I'm going to have a radio jukebox filled with songs that I love. I am very fortunate. I can drive around and listen to my own jukebox."

Stay tuned.

radio's Jim Slone

● Bonnie Henry's column appears Sundays in Accent. Reach her at 434-4074 or at bhenry@azstarnet.com, or write to 3295 W. Ina Road, Suite 125, Tucson, AZ 85741. Bonnie's new book ● To order Bonnie Henry's new collection of writings about Tucson's rich history, call 573-4417. "Tucson Memories" is $39.95, plus tax, shipping and handling.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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