Billy Parker: A nice guy who finishes first
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, December 18, 2011
12/18/11 at 4:50 AM
Everybody has their list of good guys. Those folks, other than family, who, whether you know them personally or not, are nice guys.
Near the top of my list is a man who has been playing music, one way or another, for half a century in and around Tulsa. Billy Parker just celebrated his 40th year as a disc jockey at KVOO radio in Tulsa.
Parker, who has never been much for attending meetings, was summoned to one with a new station manager. He had decided not to go, but was persuaded by his wife that it might be a good idea to attend a meeting with the new boss. Parker went and was surprised by a huge reception by KVOO employees who helped him celebrate his 40th year.
I, like many other people, have a personal fondness and recollection of Parker. It so happens that he began his work at KVOO in 1971, the same year I started at the Tulsa World. When I first heard his show, I was an immediate fan.
The road and back
Parker, now 72, was not as wet behind the ears at his job as I was at mine. His first disc jockey gig was in 1959 for KFMJ AM. After a stint there, he got the performance bug - he is an excellent singer and has recorded several albums. He landed with the legendary Ernest Tubb and traveled with Tubb and his Texas Troubadours for three years. Tiring of the road and missing his family, he returned to Tulsa and hired on with KVOO in 1971.
Along the way Parker, a native Oklahoman and proud of it, has picked up his share of awards. He holds a Country Music Association award, four Academy of Country Music Awards and the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters' Lifetime Achievement Award. He also was named a member of the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame and the Western Swing Hall of Fame.
All well-deserved awards. But all the awards in the world could not measure what Parker has done for many people - most of whom he has never met.
During the 1970s, the best thing someone on the road late at night could hope for was a sketchy eight-track tape or, even better, Parker's late-night radio show. It covered a good deal of the country with its powerful 50,000 watts. On a good night, he could be heard over a huge part of the country.
I was lucky enough to live in Tulsa and the reception was excellent. In those days, some of my friends and I worked the late shift at the World. Quitting time was anywhere from 9 p.m. til midnight or 1 a.m. Being young and single, the late hours fit quite well into my schedule. I was always off in time for a drink or two at a familiar bar where there was little problem with getting a drink with a wink.
This one goes out to ...
We often ended up at another pal's house and we would tune into Parker's show. Making that even more interesting was the fact that one of our colleagues, Tom Carter, was a buddy of Parker's and often wound up on the show where he would happily dedicate songs to us such as "Take This Job and Shove It" and "There Stands the Glass," among others.
But it was Parker who commanded the most attention. His impressive knowledge of country music and his willingness to play songs that other DJs would not, including local artists, made his show different. The fact that he tolerated our good friend Carter was enough to make him aces in our books.
Many an hour was spent listening to his easygoing voice and his ability to make everyone seem like his best friend. It wasn't until a few years later that I actually got to meet Parker face to face. And I quickly learned that he was no fake.
I'm not immune to the glimmer of celebrity. It must have been four or five months after I first met Parker that I found myself at the Cain's Ballroom for some event - can't remember what, other than it had something to do with country music. I was across Main Street and saw Parker getting ready to enter Cain's. I saw him look across the street, but thought nothing much more of it. Then, I heard that familiar voice ring out, "Hey, Mike, how ya doin'?" That's Billy Parker. I doubt that he ever met anyone he didn't like and I still wonder if he remembers everyone he's met.
In the years since, I have seen Parker rarely. And that's too bad for me. When I called him for this column, however, he sounded as if we were best of friends. You know, I think we are. Me and thousands of others who have counted Parker as their friend, whether they know him or not.
If they don't know him from his radio show they likely have seen him on TV, helping sell siding for Bill Haynes or cars for Ernie Miller and now Marc Miller.
The right stuff
On the way to the golf course one recent Saturday morning, I tuned into his show. He sounded as if he was still in 1971. He had a guest on and they joked, plugged the sponsor and played some good ol' country music. I mean the really good stuff: Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard, George Jones, the Wilburn Brothers, Porter Wagoner and many others young country music fans today have probably never heard of. If you like country music or if you simply like to hear a radio show performed the way it ought to be, it's well worth the listen on KVOO on Saturday mornings.
Legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher once surmised that "nice guys finish last." Not in Parker's case. He's first on a lot of lists.
Parker says he will continue with his job "as long as I have a breath and the station has the courage to keep me around."
Well, from one person who grew up listening to country music and one who appreciates the knowledge and sincerity of Parker, I hope they keep him around as long as he wants to stay.
It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Original Print Headline: Mr. Nice Guy
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332