He is, apparently, the only man alive who can remember being on the radio in St. Louis prior to 1930. As Roy Queen tells it, he hitched a ride on a freight train to get to St. Louis for an audition for a job as a musician on KMOX.
Queen lived in Iron County, Missouri near Possum Hollow. The general store owner there had heard an announcement on the radio that KMOX was looking for talented people and told Queen about it. It was March 29, 1929. The young guitar player was 16-years-old.
"I went into KMOX that morning scared to death. It was on the mezzanine floor of the Mayfair Hotel. There were about 20 people there, and when it came my turn, France Laux, the program's announcer, said 'Now here's a little chubby boy from Pilot Knob gonna sing his little song entitled "I Can't Give Up My Good Old Rough and Rowdy Ways."
"And brother, my hands were sweating. I finally got started and I just kind of shut my eyes and forgot that I had that microphone in front of me. After the show was over the manager, who was a woman then. asked France who that kid was who made the funny noises in his throat when he sang. France said it was 'that little chubby boy over there with the overalls on.'
"Her name was Frances Mclntire, and she asked me to come into her office. She asked me if I had something in my throat to make those yodeling noises. I told her the good Lord had given me that."
The KMOX general manager hired Queen on the spot; offering him $40 $50 a week.
"Well," Queen says, "I had to pick myself up off the floor because I'd just quit a sawmill job at Potosi that paid me a dollar a day and board."
Later, KMOX brought in a female musician from Chicago who played the banjo. Cousin Emmy was teamed up with Queen in the 5:30 a.m. slot five days a week. Queen says it didn't work out, so he offered to get a band together. Mclntire gave him the go-ahead.
"We got so good that we fed the network through WBBM's facilities in Chicago," Queen says. "The International Heating Oil Company was the sponsor, and the show was called 'Roy Queen and the Ozark Mountaineers.'"
KMOX moved its studios to the Mart Building in 1932, and the facilities were a radio performer's dream. There was a huge performance auditorium that gave them the ability to originate different shows.
"We started what they called the 'County Fair' on KMOX," Queen says. "When we moved to the Mart Building they wanted to start a barn dance. It fizzled out because we couldn't find any talent."
It was in the midst of bad times for everyone. The country was suffering through the Great Depression.
Roy Queen gave in to the impulse to wander, leaving KMOX for a chance to play with Bob Wills in Texas, and KMOX hired a young man named Charley Stookey. Queen worked the circuit in Texas, later splitting with Wills and returning to the KMOX studios. Wanderlust was rampant. Charley Stookey had hit the road with the band he'd developed (Shucks Austin and Skeets and Frankie) and the station was glad to see Queen. He was teamed up with Peppy Cheshire, a vaudeville veteran Out of Kansas.
The result was a show known as "Uncle Dick Slack's Barn Dance." Dick Slack owned a furniture store in East St. Louis, and he had a knack for choosing the popular radio shows to sponsor. "I asked Uncle Dick (the Jolly Irishman). if I could use the show to announce my engagements where I'd be playing," Queen says, "and he said it was okay as long as I promoted his store at the engagements. He got so big that he built the building at Natural Bridge and Union."
Queen says he ended up working with about 40 performers on the show, but it wasn't as costly as one might think. "You know what union scale was? Seven dollars a night, and that's for four hours. Most of the folks were being paid $35 a week. A lot of them came in for the publicity, just to be on the radio. I actually made more money with my personal appearances."
Roy Queen left KMOX in 1948, but ho stayed on the radio in the St. Louis area as a disc jockey on WIL, KXLW, KMOX (again) and KWRE over the next several decades. He is now retired at age 87 and living near Bixby, Missouri.
Frank Absher is a St. Louis radio consultant.
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|Publication:||St. Louis Journalism Review|
|Date:||May 1, 2000|
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