Local Radio and Television Entrepreneur

Chester Smith

1930 - 2008

When Chester Smith died at the age of 78, the online Modesto Radio Museum published many photos and a complete article about the Modesto entertainer and successful businessman. Here is an excerpt of the obituary with a link to the actual article: 

Chester Smith was born in Durant, Oklahoma on March 29, 1930,  the son of Louis and Effie Smith who came to California in 1935 after four straight years of trying to make a living in the Oklahoma dust bowl.  The family settled in a migrant camp in the small Fresno County town of Tranquillity. He started singing Gene Autry songs in 1939 at the age of 9 on Fresno radio station KMJ.

In 1942 his family moved to Turlock and shortly thereafter moved to Modesto. Smith found his way to KTRB when he was 12 and sang several times on the Children's Hour hosted by Mrs. Carol Glass, a prominent local teacher.  Four years later at the age of 16, he dropped out of Modesto High school and started his own DJ program on KTRB beginning January 3, 1947. He was on the air immediately following the popular program of country music greats the Maddox Brothers and Rose.  He sold his own advertising and bought the air time from KTRB.  His popularity quickly grew as did his on-air greeting,  "This is Chester Smith speakin' right atcha"  which opened each show.  This was the beginning of Chester working for himself.  He never received a pay check in his lifetime.

 On more than one occasion during his slightly more than 16 years at KTRB he was visited by country greats including Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, Skeets McDonald, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Cash  and young country singers like Buck Owens, Marty Robbins , Merle Haggard, Del Reeves and others.

Smith was still a minor when he formed a small country music band while at KTRB, and began playing at public night spots including the Riverbank Club House. In the first few years Smith himself was not able to play with his band at venues where liquor was served because he was too young to legally get in. So, his band played without him.

In 1953 he signed a recording contract with Capitol records  at the age of 23.   Smith's musical career took off a year later in 1954 when he was approached by Modesto housewife Hazel Houser to record a religious song she had written called  "Wait a little longer please Jesus".  They recorded the song together and it was released by Capitol records becoming a hit in the gospel genre. As a result, Smith was named best new talent by the country music disc jockeys that year.  46 years later in 2000,  Chester made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry where he and lifelong friend Merle Haggard sang the song together. Through the years, more than 100 other artists recorded the song,  one of the most covered recordings ever. 

Chester left KTRB in March 1963 at the age of 33  when he  received a license to build a radio station in Ceres.  KLOC went on the air October 17, 1963 and it was the beginning of the change from entertainer to businessman.  He was following in the footsteps of his early inspiration Gene Autry, cowboy singer/entertainer,  who turned from entertainer to broadcaster and then businessman.  "I'd seen Autry move to the other side of the desk and do a lot better than he ever did singing," Smith said.

n 1966, Smith took the giant step into television putting channel 19, KLOC-TV in Modesto,  on the air on August 26, 1966.  Operations were  located in a new building he built next to his radio studios on Iowa Ave. west of Modesto.    He continued to operate both stations until 1981 when he sold KLOC radio and with the monies derived from the sale he built his second TV station, KCBA, channel 35 in Salinas-Monterey which he later sold,

Channel 19 became a giant in northern California for Spanish programming  and increased its power to 5 million watts in full color becoming the most powerful UHF station on the air.   It was  the original Spanish language station north of Los Angeles and later it became the flagship for all stations in northern and central California and northern Nevada for the network.

The business relationship with SIN lasted 30 years until 1996 when Smith sold channel 19 to SIN for $40 million and stock valued at an additional $45 million. After the ownership change, their business name was changed to Univision and their studios were moved from Modesto to Sacramento and the call letters changed to KUVS.

For the rest of the story, photos and media, check out the link below.

Link: Chester Smith on ModestoRadioMuseum.org

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