The year was 1922. The United States had 30 AM radio stations. And for those
stations, 100,000 radios were manufactured. It was still two years before Vernon
Dalhart would record his million seller, The Prisoner's Song. The NFL welcomed
a new team from Green Bay, Wisconsin. And in Osceola, South Dakota the person
folks would come to know as Balin' Wire Bob Strack was welcomed into the world
by his parents.
Bob got the itch for playing country music at an early age. A 1953 article notes
he had been playing in various bands and combos since he was 15 years old. Even
when he was in the military service, he entertained the troops while a part of
a USO troupe.
A 1960 articles tells us that when he got out of the military service, he went
back to the Montana area. That's where he decided to marry the gal "...he decided
he didn't want to leave behind." At the same time, he decided he wanted to try
his luck at music and entertainment.
But we will bet you are wondering where the "Balin' Wire Bob" nickname comes from
before we go any further. Bob wrote us after our conversation how that came about:
"Now, that name of Balin' Wire Bob...have (a) seat.
Way back when I was about 17 or 18, a neighbor kid that I grew up with,
got a job out in western Montana working on a dude ranch. There was
a "vacancy gap" in the time frame between when the summer dudes
left and when the elk and deer hunters arrived for the fall hunting season.
So my friend invited his brother and me to come up during that slack
season and we'd do some good trout fishing. So, away we went.
One day we were at a mountain lake drowning the worms, but no one
was pullin' them in but me. After about an afternoon of failing to have
any success at all, another dude wrangler (who had just gone along for
the lack of something to do that day) said to my dude wrangler friend,
"What has Bob got on the end of that line for a leader, balin' wire????"
Well, the name stuck for some reason. Though it all happened many years
ago, when I got into radio, record shows, disc-jockeying, etc., I thought that was
a good moniker to use. So I did. And many people still write to me and/or
refer to me as Balin' Wire Bob. In fact, most of the music world people know me
as Balin' Wire Bob."
It was perhaps about this time he found work on KXLJ out of Helena, Montana.
Bob recalls that this station as well as a later experience in Temple, Texas
were the two best jobs he had looking back. When he left those stations,
the station management left him feeling that they didn't want to see him
go. They wanted to know where he would be next and what hours he would be on
to let fans know where to find him.
In 1953, Bob was working at radio station KOGT down in Orange, Texas, a town
due east of Beaumont near the Texas - Louisiana border. And when we say
'working' at KOGT, we do mean working. Its not often you'd find that a DJ or
entertainer would be putting in a shift of nearly 7 hours as Balin' Wire Bob
was doing back then. He worked from 5:00am to noon. He'd have a half-hour
of singing songs to the listening audience with just him and his guitar.
He'd play the many requests that fans would call in or write. He could
also dish out what might be termed "foothills philosophy".
Bob told us in an interview that
basically he invented a couple of characters who he would carry on a conversation
with at the studio. These characters would never talk on the air, but he would
talk to them as if they were in the studio and handling chores for him such as
spinning the records while he went out and got a cup of coffee during a break.
While at KOGT, he was part of a show that was described as sort of a "young" Grand
Ole Opry called the "South Texas Serenade". Bob said they tried, but the show
did not last very long.
In 1954, Bob got a position at KTEM in Temple, Texas with a bit less hectic
of an on-air schedule. A 1954 writeup indicated he was working on the air
two and a half hours a day during the week and putting in four hours on Saturdays.
He wore several hats - disc jockey, staff announcer as well as that of singer
and musician. He tipped his hat to a friend, Charline Arthur for helping
him get a spot on the KRLD Big 'D' Jamboree that aired out of Dallas, Texas.
Bob played several instruments, including the guitar, banjo, mandolin, the Jews
harp and the mouth harp. He also started developing his songwriting skills
while at KRLD and continued to write through the years.
The 1954 article notes that he was married and had two children, a son and a daughter.
While he was at KTEM, his career took another turn. A rising star from KWKH at the time
and disc jockey by the name of Jim Reeves stopped by to visit Balin' Wire Bob one day.
He got to talk with Jim during his show and later on, Jim sent him an album of his songs.
Unbeknownst to Bob at the time, Jim went back to KWKH and told them he was getting ready
to leave and try his luck in Nashville. That would have left a void on the show that
followed the Louisiana Hayride on Saturday Nights. Jim recommended that the station look
into hiring Balin' Wire Bob Strack as his replacement on the Red River Roundup show.
And it wasn't too long before Bob got a call to come and interview at the station.
He got the job.
If you do a search of the internet, you will find that during Bob's tenure at KWKH,
he got to interview a young singer by the name of Elvis Presley at the time and describe
the experience / reaction of the female audience at the time listening in or watching.
Sammy Lillibridge wrote in his column for Country & Western Jamboree magazine
back in May of 1955 that he had appeared on Bob's show, the Red River Roundup
on Saturday, March 5.
A short while later, Balin' Wire Bob had a fan club that was being run by
Frances Marth in Temple. She duly wrote the folks at Country & Western Jamboree
magazine in June of 1955 trying to get them to feature Bob.
Smokey Warren notes in his 1957 column that Balin' Wire Bob had wrote him about
Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters and their new TV show in Austin, Texas.
By 1957, Bob had moved to radio station KIMO in Independence, Missouri. His new
fan club president was Mrs. Blanche Trinjastick who was in Avondale, Colorado.
She noted in a letter to the Rustic Rhythm magazine that Balin' Wire Bob had a record
out on the Fee Bee record label - "Anyplace I Hang My Hat is Home" b/w "Hillbilly Lovin'".
Bob penned the tune "Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home".
Bob did a fair amount of writing for the folks at Country & Western Jamboree,
contributing several columns in their "Cross Country Jamboree" columns from various
parts around the country.
In one issue, the magazine featured the various hillbilly music 'theme parks' or outdoor
venues where the artists would entertain fans. Bob wrote of three such parks in the
Kansas City area.
One such park was Wildwood Park, about five miles south of Kansas City. He mentions
the park had the "usual country music park facilities" and also had other attractions
such as swimming, fishing, playgrounds, picnic areas and dancing
Another park Bob wrote about was Sportsmen's Park, about 35 miles south of Kansas City.
It featured a large outdoor dance floor where square dancing was the attraction.
Balin' Wire Bob goes on to write that the newest park in the area back then was
tiny Tillman's Happy Hollow Lake, about 35 miles southeast of metropolitan Kansas City. He noted that
top country acts were being booked to play the park on Saturday nights and Sunday
afternoons during the summer season.
Balin' Wire Bob goes on to note the connection in history to these outdoor entertainment
venues. It all started perhaps at the old time camp meetings, gatherings and picnics
or perhaps a lone mountaineer strumming his banjo or guitar and singing to the folks who had gathered
nearby or even a cowboy singing around the campfire with his partners. Or even just
the farm boy enjoying a break playing the music on the front porch with friends.
By 1960, Balin' Wire Bob was working at KOAM in Pittsburg, Kansas, a town straight
south of Kansas City and west of Springfield, Missouri. Bob was up an at it at 5:00am
at KOAM, spinning records and entertaining the listening audience. That 1960 article
mentions his hobby then was collecting miniature horses. At this time, he was recording
for the Del Ray label. He had released "Ramblin' Eyes, Gamblin' Heart" b/w "Is This The End".
Among the over 350 songs that are attributed to Bob in BMI's database is the tune "Is This
Bob has retired from the working life and the entertainment industry. He is enjoying
the settled life in the northwest United States.
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank the man himself,
Balin' Wire Bob Strack for the time and patience with us in helping
us put together this write-up, including email queries as well
as an interview over the phone.
- Cowboy Songs; No. 30; December 1953; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Cowboy Songs; No. 38; December 1954; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Country Song Roundup; No. 38; May 1955; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Country & Western Jamboree; May 1955; Maher Publications, Inc.; Chicago, IL
- Country & Western Jamboree; June 1955; Country & Western Jamboree, Inc.; Chicago, IL
- Country & Western Jamboree; September 1957; Maher Publications, Inc.; Chicago, IL
- Rustic Rhythm; September 1957; Rustic Rhythm, Inc.; New York, NY
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