About The Artist
Illinois native Kenneth Louis Houchins had a two decade career as a country musician that extended from radio stations in the Midwest to a Hollywood B-Western. He grew up in Champaign. By the end of 1930 Ken began on radio at WDZ in Tuscola, a station where Smiley Burnette, later a close associate of Gene Autry, also started. Over the next few years, he appeared on several stations in the region including WWAE in Hammond and WIND in Gary, both in Indiana.
Houchins also launched his recording career in the Hoosier state in the Gennett studios in Richmond. With the Great Depression near a low point, the company had discontinued using the Gennett label and issued most of their discs on their budget firm Champion. As a result, Ken's recordings did not sell many copies and although he cut more than forty masters, most are quite scarce today. Most show influences of Jimmie Rodgers and Gene Autry. By then end of 1934, his solo recording efforts had terminated.
Radio work continued and probably peaked in 1936 when Ken joined the well known Prairie Ramblers at WLS as a temporary replacement for Floyd "Salty" Holmes. When Holmes returned after a couple of months, he seems to have remained for a time participating in record sessions in 1936 and 1937 which included backing cowgirl vocalist Patsy Montana in addition to Ramblers' recordings. After leaving Chicago, he worked for several months at WXYZ in Detroit.
From late 1938 into much of the 1940's, Ken was a regular on the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic in Des Moines. For a time, he was a part of a five man band called "Buddy Webster and His Borderland Buckaroos." In the fall of 1940 and going into 1943, he had his own show on WHO radio.
In 1950, he journeyed to Hollywood and appeared in the Durango Kid motion picture Lightning Guns, where he again worked with Smiley Burnette, then working as comic sidekick for lead star Charles Starrett.
Smiley never forgot the time that Ken told Gene Autry that a young, unknown talent by the name of Smiley Burnette was "...just what Gene needed for his touring act." Gene took the advice and hired Smiley. Ken went on his way to perform at various radio stations but Smiley remembered his friend. He arranged to have him come to Hollywood and was cast in a movie starring Charles Starrett — Lightning Guns.
In 1949 found work on WBAP-TV in Fort Worth, Texas and was part of an effort by the Hoffman Electronics Corporation to introduce television to that market. The idea came from its president, H. Leslie Hoffman. The company would find a local country artist to headline a show usually called the Hoffman Hayride. The concept started in San Francisco with Dude Martin hosting the show. Ken was the star of the show and there were square dancers and guest stars such as Bill Ring. The show was initially at the WBAP-TV studios at 3900 Barnett Street in Fort Worth. The audience was able to get free tickets to the show at various outlets around town, usually stores that were selling the Hoffman television sets.
The show in Fort Worth began in early 1950. Columnist Elston Brooks told readers that WBAP-TV expected an audience of about 2,000 persons to see the "Hoffman Roundup" at the Paschal High School Auditorium. It was deemed the largest remote broadcast in the southwest at the time. Tickets were free. A special hook up would be setup at the school so people could see themselves on television. On that show was Cowboy Ken Houchins, Bob Crawford, Roscoe Pierce, Bill Ring, The Westernaire Trio, Peggy Wilder, Calvin Moore and his square dancers, Dixie Harper and a ventriloquist by the name of Fred Stroud.
In 1951, WOC radio and WOC-TV announced that they had hired "guitarist and American folk singer" Ken Houchins. Their release stated he had been on the Iowa Barn Dance Frolics for some nine years. Initially, he was going to be on the air each morning, Monday through Saturday at 6:00 am on WOC.
After 1951, almost nothing is known of Houchins until he died in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 78 in 1990.
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