Radio Hall of Fame inductee Barry Kaye in the KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune studio at 1007 Avenue K in Marble Falls. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
UPDATE: Barry Kaye retired from radio at the end of June. We are sorry not to see him every day, but he will always be a part of the family at Victory Media. See you on the radio, Barry!
Radio entertainer Barry Kaye never just talks to one person, whether he’s introducing a song on the air or saying “howdy” to a stranger at a local shop.
“I talk like I’m on stage with 5 million people in the audience,” Kaye said when asked about his 55 years on the airwaves. “I’m always on.”
Until his retirement in June, listeners could hear his “golden,” “velvet smooth,” and “energetic” voice in the afternoons on KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune.
“I’m going to entertain on the radio or I’m not going to be working,” said Kaye, who lives in Granite Shoals. “It gives me the opportunity to entertain, the opportunity to feel like a star. I’m not afraid to say it: I wanted to be an entertainer from day one.”
Kaye first hit the stage when he was 3 years old, a chip off the old family gene pool. His mother, Opal Keller, was the star of the TV show “The Keller Cloggers” and owned and operated a dance and music studio in Utah. His father played violin in an orchestra, traveling around the world to perform. Kaye was always at their side, learning there’s no business like show business, even as a toddler.
He released his first record at age 15. “Love You Forever” beat out Elvis Presley on the Billboard chart, which didn’t make Kaye any less starry-eyed over The King, even when being touted as “the eighth wonder of the world.”
“I was in the same building with Elvis, but I was afraid if I went up and introduced myself, I would scream like a little girl and pass out,” Kaye said. “When he’d shake his hips, 50,000 people would move with him. It was the charisma – a man who could stand there and take his hips and go like this and the whole Astrodome would move. That’s big. That’s given to you by God. You’re born charismatic.”
Kaye cast his own brand of “charis-magic,” whether singing on stage or talking on the radio. In his youth, he was on five major labels, including MCA and Capitol. Nothing was catching on, though, and he was making salads at Little John’s Steakhouse in Corpus Christiwhen radio stardom came calling.
Kaye was 16 and working for $21 a week when he heard about a disc jockey job in nearby Beeville. It paid a whopping $55 a week.
“That was $5 more than they ever paid anyone before,” Kaye said.
He hung up his tomato-stained apron for the last time and headed inland. Seven years later and a lot farther west, he was on the rarified morning airwaves of Hollywood station KHJ. Called “Boss Radio,” KHJ was known for its lineup of “personality” DJs and as the station that ushered in the Top 40 format. Kaye was part of that radio revolution.
“I was full of it,” he said. “I took entertainment to radio.”
In 1974, he was voted Major Market Disc Jockey of the Year at the Radio Program Conference by the Gavin Convention, the Academy Awards of radio. He was working forKILT in Houston at the time.
“Being recognized by the Gavin Convention was bigger than Billboard,” he said. “There was nothing bigger than Gavin.”
The Texas Radio Hall of Fame inducted Kaye in 2003, and his star joined those of George Strait and Selena Quintanilla Perez on the South Texas Music Walk of Fame in Corpus Christi in 2016.
His best job ever (not counting the one at KBEY, of course) was the KHJ gig in Hollywood.
“I was a star among stars,” he said. “As far as I was concerned, I was. People sing and dance for you, even the gas attendants. There’s nobody (in Hollywood) who doesn’t want to be a star.”
Though Kaye was on the radio, he didn’t give up singing. He cut a record of songwriter Morris Albert’s “Feelings,” which quickly shot up the charts. Andy Williams heard it and decided to make his own version.
“Andy became a star and I didn’t,” said Kaye, but with no hard feelings. “It got me performing at Country Fan Fair, which was sponsored by the Grand Ole Opry.”
Which put Kaye in his happy place: in front of an audience.
“I have the heart of a 19-year-old and energy of a 28-year-old,” Kaye said. “I’m so privileged to be 74 and still be on the radio.”