|Bill Anderson, a.k.a. Cousin Carl
Bill Anderson’s lifelong love of radio began when he was just a little boy. As was the custom in the early 40’s, radio was the means of entertainment and information, especially to farm families. Such was the case for the Andersons on the family farm in their corner of Southeast Oklahoma.
Like many children's first exposure to radio, to Bill, the "little bitty people" inside the radio would get up and start to play when his mom or dad would turn the radio on. He could only imagine what each instrument looked like, having no exposure to live instruments. To this day, McCurtain County in Oklahoma remains a very rural area, and at that time the opportunity for live shows were few and far between.
One day his Mama caught him using a kitchen knife, trying to take the back off of the family radio. She asked him why was he tearing up the radio, knowing how much he enjoyed listening. His response was that he wanted to see the little men inside. Bill was very shy as a child and his feelings were hurt very easily, so she explained that the sound came through the air from a radio station in Shreveport, LA.
Bill can’t remember a time when he didn't want to be a radio announcer. He grew up listening to Jim Reeves working as an announcer at KWHH, as well as famed announcers like Horace Logan, Nat Stuckey and Charlie Walker. The rich quality baritone voices sounded larger than life. Bill wanted to be like the men he admired and become an “announcer,” not a DJ.
However, at the age of 13, Bill’s dad passed away, leaving the day-to-day operations of the farm to Bill. It would be some years before Bill would be able to pursue his dream.
Bill’s first paying job in radio began when he was a senior in high school. He was hired to work part-time at the Dequeen, AR station. He had previously worked part time for no pay at KBEL in Idabel, OK.
During this time, Bill was working and running the family farm by day, working a shift at the Lone Star Ammunitions Plant in Texarkana, and going on the air nights and weekends in DeQueen.
While Bill was working in Dequeen, The Brother Hal Show was on KRLA in Little Rock. KRLA was the #1 station in the state, and Brother Hal was the hottest thing in Arkansas. As a tribute to Brother Hal, Bill recorded a commercial for Ball Chevrolet using the “Cousin Carl” voice. While Bill was on the air one Saturday night, Don Hopson from Locksburg stopped by and wanted to know who had done the Ball Chevrolet spot. Don told him he was trying to build a station, and when he finished it he wanted Bill to come to work for him.
Two years later, Don found out where he Bill lived and stopped by the house.
“The tower is half way up; are you still coming?" said Don. “I’ll make it worth your while. I’ll pay well.”
Bill gave it some thought and decided to check it out, but had all intentions of declining the offer. Bill traveled to Holdenville, OK one weekend.
Don didn't hesitate to ask Bill, “When are you going on the air?" The pay offered was better than the shift at Lone Star and Bill had a family to support. He took the offer-- not to do the character show, but to be an announcer.
Don wanted Bill to start out with three hours of this hokey, country character, but Bill told him he just couldn’t do that.
"That’s the reason I hired you; I want the character," said Don. "I can hire Bill Anderson’s all day long. Why did you take the “gosh darn” job?”
Bill wanted to ease into the character and see how it worked first. When asked why he didn’t want to do it, Bill’s response was, “I think I’ll be laughed out of town." Don knew better, and talked about all the success of Brother Hal and how he believed it would work. He then came up with the now famous character name: “Cousin Carl.”
Advertising time for the Cousin Carl Show was sold out in three months and the station was paid off in eighteen months. Bill would do the character during the show, and then switch to his normal voice for the newscasts. No one in the community realized that Bill Anderson and Cousin Carl were one and the same. Even with live appearances, the public did not make the connection.
Two years later, Bill took an offer from a television station and moved to Dodge City, KS. Bill was missed back in Holdenville, and after fifteen phone calls and seven telegrams, Don came to Dodge City. He wasn’t taking no for an answer; he wanted Bill back in Holdenville. Don promised to furnish a car, give Bill weekends off and asked for Cousin Carl only. Bill went back and stayed nine more years, eventually receiving the Country Music DJ of the Year Award in Nashville in 1961 at the Ryman Auditorium.
After returning to Holdenville, Bill had started his own small business as a pilot. He had a route for Kerr McGee Oil where he flew the pipelines in the area to check for leaks. That grew into a crop dusting business. Texas was in need of aerial applicators, so Bill took a leave of absence and went to work the spraying season in Texas.
He left the station and never went back.
After several years in Texas, Bill realized he missed radio. He talked to several stations, including WBAP in Fort Worth. WBAP offered him a shift doing a show that catered to truckers on overnights. With a family to support, it didn’t seem like wise choice. After some thought, Bill called his friend Bill Mack and told him about the show to see if Bill Mack was interested in it.
Bill Anderson’s sister was living in Conway, Arkansas at the time, so he decided to look for a opening in Little Rock. He didn’t think anyone would want a character that would go head to head with Brother Hal, but he thought it was worth a try. "Maybe some crumbs will come my way, since it's a market where a character had been proven successful," Bill thought.
He spoke with Harvey Fritts, owner of KDXE, over the phone. When Bill mentioned he did a character show, Harvey asked him, “Where are you now?"
Bill told him he was in Conway. Harvey asked Bill to meet him at the Twin City Bank building. After meeting and talking, they struck a deal, and Bill had a job before he left town. Just like before, Cousin Carl sold out in the first three months it was on the air.
Cousin Carl was hired to do a remote broadcast at a Little Rock furniture store that was owned by Sikeston native, Bob McCord. Bob and Bill talked about radio, and Bob could tell Bill had the right frame of mind to make things happen.
During the broadcast, Bob offered Bill the Sikeston station, KSIM. Bill decided it would be worth it to visit the station, and after a trip to Sikeston, Bill accepted the job and moved in 1979.
He changed the format of KSIM from Adult Contemporary to Country. Many of the businessmen in Sikeston told him it would fail, but to their chagrin, KSIM became the top AM station in the area.
After KSIM was sold, Bill was once again unsure which direction to go. After searching in the area, he found an FM station in Portageville, MO. He was confident that the Cousin Carl character could make a living for his family. He also knew he wanted to do things a little differently than the status quo in radio. He purchased the morning drive slot from the station, and decided to sell and produce his own show.
The show immediately sold out again, thanks to the humor, warmth and live commercials of Cousin Carl. Based on that success, Bill then purchased several hours of the afternoon drive time and did his show live from a local truck stop.
Truck Stop Radio was born. Drivers from all over the country made it a point to stop by and see the Cousin Carl Show in action.
Bill always had a dream of owning his own station, but was afraid that it would always be out of the question. Even still, he kept his eyes on the market, and noticed several new frequencies were available in the Charleston, MO area.
Years of hard work paid off, and Bill was awarded the license for KWKZ 106.1, a 50,000 watt FM frequency. He contacted who he considered the best radio engineer in the business, Palmer Johnson, and told him to build the station as if were building it for himself. Bill wanted the best sound that was available.
Palmer did just that. The KWKZ sound was far and above better than any on the dial. In the beginning, the offices and studio were located in the First National Bank (now Montgomery Bank) building on Broadway in Cape Girardeau, MO. Bill was told once again by many local businessmen that the Cousin Carl character would not be successful in the Cape Girardeau market. This time, he decided to go with a satellite program, CD Country.
CD Country was a success in the beginning; however, after a few months, it began to have the same programming as every other country station. That cookie cutter format wasn’t what Bill wanted. He has always been a lover of true, traditional country music and western swing. It was the music he played on his show and those were the artists that he knew personally from his years in the industry. However, the doubts planted about Cousin Carl were hard to overcome. After much prayer and thought, Bill finally decided to give the Cousin Carl Show one more try. If it didn’t work, Bill reasoned, he hadn’t lost anything, and hopefully it would have the success it always had in the past.
Rolling the dice proved to be a success, and here were are, years later, and Cousin Carl has become the most-recognized, most-loved show in the five state area. Bill received an Addy Award in 2010.
The success has come from many areas: Years of hard work, many, many prayers, the generosity of clients who have stayed with Cousin Carl through the years and, of course, the listeners who have been so loyal. But also it is a showing of true care for each and every person that Bill reaches, as well as those that the air waves can’t reach. The stories that have been passed back, the letters received… I hope I can touch and brighten as many lives in my lifetime as Cousin Carl has.
- Susan Anderson Bell