Skeets was St. Louis' hillbilly heaven.
Clyde A. "Skeets" Yaney was working a construction job when he began his work on the air at KMOX. He told a St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporter in a 1950 interview that he simply started showing up at the studios at 5 a.m. and performing for free on the station's early morning hillbilly program. When the show ended at 7 a.m., he'd walk down 12th Street to his construction job where he made $18 a week. His career gamble paid off when KMOX mega-advertiser, "Uncle Dick Slack," decided to use Yaney as a commercial spokesman.
As Skeets told it, he took a pay cut, quit the construction gig and went to work on a six-day-a-week, two-hour radio program. He was paid a weekly salary of $15.00. More money came later, along with more airtime. KMOX listeners soon heard him daily from 5-7 a.m., 8-8:30 a.m., two hours in the afternoon and another half-hour in the early evening. On Saturdays, he appeared on all those shows and the evening barn dance. Sundays brought a half hour program of Yaney singing hymns. As he told Globe-Democrat reporter Beulah Schacht, "Didn't nobody know me much in the early days, but if you keep pushing yourself down people's throats for 19 years, they're bound to remember you."
His relationship with Uncle Dick Slack was apparently lucrative for both parties. Slack sponsored most of Skeets' radio shows, and Skeets did lots of personal appearances for the furniture merchant. Known for his elaborate costumes, Yaney had a closet full of rhinestone-studded shirts. It was reported, with the possibility of slight exaggeration, that Yaney once received 50,000 pieces of fan mail at KMOX in one week, flooding the halls of the Mart Building studios with mail bags. He teamed up with accordion player Frankie Taylor in 1936 and the two of them were an inseparable musical team in the eyes of the KMOX listeners, who often referred to "Skeetsandfrankie" as a single artist. Yaney's daughter Jean Lochirco remembers going to the KMOX studios as a small child on Saturday nights and sitting in the main auditorium to watch her dad perform. "They'd put stacks of hay on the studio stage and all the chairs in the audience would fill up."
Lochirco says the duo spread themselves thin during their heyday. "They had two hillbilly bars they were running and these places were so popular that they literally had to lock the doors to keep from violating occupancy limits. The one I remember was called 'Skeets' and Frankie's Tavern' and it was in South St. Louis, down on Gravois. They didn't take too much time off back then. Making people happy is what kept them going."
His long and prosperous recording career aside, Skeets Yaney made quite a name for himself ,on St. Louis' airwaves. In addition to his musical performances spanning two decades on KMOX, Yaney was also known as a country & western disc jockey. He spent several years working at WEW, although only one of his biographies mentions this. In 1960, he began a long deejay stint on KSTL. As he had done throughout his entire broadcast career, Yaney continued to supplement his income with personal appearances, fronting his National Champion Hillbillies, although he cut back some during these later years. His road shows included the Range Riders, Lucky Penny Trio, Tommy Watson and Ray Perandri.
Skeets Yaney received many honors over his career, including being named "Mr. Deejay U.S.A." twice and "Most Popular Deejay in the Country," an honor bestowed by WSM radio in Nashville. He was inducted into the Country Music Deejay Hall of Fame posthumously in 1980.
(Editor's note: Information for this article was provided by the St. Louis Media Archives at the St. Louis Public Library.)
Frank Absher is a St. Louis radio consultant.
(St. Louis radio history is available online at http://www.stlradio.com)
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|Title Annotation:||Radio History|
|Publication:||St. Louis Journalism Review|
|Date:||May 1, 2004|
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