Wink Martindale celebrates 70 years on the airwaves
Perhaps known across the country as the longtime host of television’s Tic-Tac-Dough, we know him best as one of radio’s best DJs. I’m speaking, of course, of Wink Martindale.
Born Winston Conrad Martindale in Jackson, Tennessee, Wink Martindale saw his dream career become a reality in 1951 when, at the age of 17, he landed a job at a radio station WPLI right in his hometown. The station was managed by his Sunday School teacher, and the gig paid $25 per week to handle announcing the evening shift … and pretty much any other job that needed to be done around the station.
A short two months later, Martindale was hired away by local competitor WTJS where his responsibilities expanded to include play-by-play announcing of the local high school football and basketball games in addition to his regular DJ shift. Soon he found himself at the remaining local station, WDXI. Each move brought him more responsibility and a experience.
In 1953, he made the move to WHBQ/Memphis, which is where he really made a name for himself. Hosting mornings while attending Memphis State College — he graduated with a BS in 1957 — he eventually met, and became close friends with, Elvis Presley.
Not that this was planned. Even though he worked mornings, he happened to be in the studios one night in July, 1954 when station DJ Dewey Philips played an acetate — not even a finished record — of a song called “That’s All Right Mama” recorded by Presley and brought in to the station by Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records. Sam wanted Dewey to play the song on the air to gauge listener reaction.
Listeners went crazy; the station played the song seven times in a row. Martindale called the Presley home to get him into the station for an interview, but Elvis wasn’t home. So he headed out to find him at a local theater where he was watching a Western double feature, and convinced him to go to the studios. That’s the night he met the King, “and we remained friends until the day he died,” Martindale said.
Interestingly, his wife, Sandy, was also friends with Elvis. In fact, she dated him! Wink won that popularity contest, it seems, as Sandy and Wink got married in 1974. But I digress.
1959 brought Martindale to KHJ (930 AM) where he also worked mornings, though only for a short time. One year later he was at the original KRLA (now KRDC, 1110 AM) and then in 1962 at KFWB (980 AM). When KFWB turned to news in 1968, he made his way over to KGIL (now KMZT, 1260 AM).
KMPC (now KSPN) is where most people probably remember him on the radio, though, where he was one of the Great Entertainers from 1971 to 1979, and again from 1983 to 1987. His smooth delivery, sharp wit, high intelligence, amazing memory and supremely positive attitude served him well on the Station of the Stars, where he not only played records, he was your friend.
Remember that smile he had on Tic-Tac-Dough and his many other game shows? That is the real Wink Martindale. And you can hear his smile on the radio as well.
One of his ongoing projects is a YouTube channel called Wink’s Vault, were he gives a tour of “his house:” a weekly trip through radio, TV and music history. You can find it at https://www.youtube.com/c/WinkMartindaleGames/featured.
Martindale has been honored by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters (now known as the Hollywood Media Professionals) for his life-long achievements in radio and television, and members not long ago got up close and personal with the star when he presented a special afternoon talk. You can see part of it yourself by heading over to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFwOkmSmabo. Included in the interview: a special recording of some of his very early announcing work when he first started in radio.
Wink is one of the nicest guys ever to work in radio and television, and with great humility and humbleness as well … I’d like to congratulate him on 70 years in the business!
“This story is probably too late for your tales of KHJ request and it’s not quite pure radio trivia but I thought I’d share it before it is lost to the shifting sands of time.
“KHJ’s Big Kahuna promo was a BIG DEAL to us kids. And fortune smiled upon us – the Big Kahuna actually visited my grade school in a personal appearance – much to his regret! KHJ sent him to Ladera Elementary School in Manhattan Beach. The year was likely 1966, I would have been in 6th grade. I was amongst horde of excited young beach rowdies eagerly awaiting Kahuna in our “cafetorium” (at least I think that’s what it was called).
“After a patience-trying wait – enter the Big Kahuna, gloriously bedecked in his massively opulent shimmering feather robe and, if memory serves, the robe had a bunch of dollar bills pinned to it, presumably to be distributed to us kids in an orderly fashion that never materialized. Any notion of an organized, orchestrated event was shattered an instant after his arrival. The sight of Big Kahuna and the wearable fortune in 1966 allowance money was just too much.
“Without warning, Big Kahuna was swarmed by a spontaneous volcano-like eruption of greedy little preteen hands and fingers, denuding his feather robe of the coveted greenbacks within seconds in a frenzied chaos of shrieking kids, helplessly flailing adults and flying feathers, tearing his magnificent feather robe to shreds.
“Big Kahuna, the remnants of his tattered garment, and his handlers fled Ladera in shock as fast as they could to escape we diminutive looters, never to grace its hallowed halls again. I managed to secure a single feather from the mangled cape as a souvenir of the day.
“Sadly, my memento has since been lost to the tides of time.” — Joe Lanning