Here is your chance to meet legendary outdoors television host Don Wallace, who will be my guest during my online chat Friday from the H&H Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City near I-40 and Meridian.
You can participate in a live chat online on NewsOk.com with Don and I on Friday from 11:30 a.m. until noon. The topic is outdoors so you if you ever wanted to know about Don’s favorite lake, favorite show or favorite hunting trip, just ask.
After the online chat, we will be sticking around H&H until 1 p.m. to visit with customers.
Wallace, who is just coming off hip replacement surgery, was the television host of the popular “Wallace Wildlife Show” in Oklahoma City from 1965-1989. Counting reruns, the show aired for more than 40 years.
Even though Don is now 81, he is still active in the outdoors. Every summer, he escorts a group of anglers on a fishing trip to Canada.
Here is an interview with Don that I did for a collected wisdom that was published in August in The Oklahoman.
“I was born in Parsons, Kan. I grew up in Parsons, Pittsburg, Coffeyville and Oswego, that general area of southeast Kansas. My dad was register of deeds of Labette County, Kan., in the 1930s.
I loved to fish and hunt. I just kind of did it on my own. I just roamed the creeks and rivers in southeastern Kansas. My dad was either in the service or he was busy as register of deeds. He took me out once in awhile.
When I was kid, I liked to fish in the Neosho River in southeastern Kansas for carp in the spring. Fishing is just fun for me. I like to fish anything and everything.
I had a BB gun at first and finally got a shotgun. I was so glad to get that shotgun. I loved it. I would go hunting rabbits and squirrels and things like that.
I wasn’t an Oklahoman but I got here as fast as I could. I love Oklahoma. Absolutely love it. It’s been good to me. I feel like it’s my home state. I spent my entire working career in Oklahoma.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do until my senior year of high school in Pittsburg, Kan. Part of our speech class that year, a six-week period of it, was devoted to radio announcing. At the end of that six week period the class voted me the most likely to succeed as a radio announcer.
I thought this would be an easy way to make a living. I started practicing, reading the newspaper out loud. I remember my dad, he once said, ‘Son, you will never make a living doing this.’ As I look back, he may have been right.
But I enjoyed it and I got a job at KWON in Bartlesville in 1949. It was my first job. It paid $1 an hour. Big bucks. I was a radio announcer, reading commercials during breaks, working the switch board, the control board, doing everything myself.
I didn’t stay in Bartlesville very long. I decided I better go to college. I took a pay cut and went to Miami, Okla., for 85 cents an hour. I worked 48 hours a week on the air at KGLC which was a new independent station and I spun records there and went to college at Northeastern A&M.
I bounced around several towns for several years doing radio work. I worked in Muskogee, Tulsa and finally came to Oklahoma City in 1958 to work as a DJ at WKY radio.
I started teen hops in the state of Oklahoma in Tulsa in 1955 and was the first one to play rock and roll on the air in Tulsa. My peers in Tulsa didn’t want to play rock and roll because they thought it was trashy music. But it worked well for me.
My ratings went way up. I had a great following. I had a little fan club with 10,000 card carrying members. I put out a fan club newsletter each month. I did a lot of things like that.
No one in the Oklahoma City market was doing teen hops. I came over to Oklahoma City from Tulsa primarily because WKY was changing its format to go top 40. They allowed me to do teen hops so I ran all over the state for years doing teen hops.
I could see this outdoor thing blossoming. I finally convinced management (at WKY-TV) there was a need for an outdoors show. It took four years of convincing. I wrote memos and gave statistics and stuff like that. This started in 1961. Finally, they gave me an opportunity in 1965 on a drop-in show.
They would just drop me in on weekends wherever they needed to fill 15 minutes. I bought my first camera from the news department for $25. It was a wind-up Bell and Howell. They were going to trade it in. It had one lens on it, a wide-angle lens.
I would shoot film and solicit help anywhere I could. I would go from one teen hop on Friday night to one on Saturday night. In between I would go to some lake somewhere and take my tube or drag a boat and try to get a little footage, come back and put it together.
From the very beginning it was called the Wallace Wildlife Show. This went on for six years as a 15-minute drop in show. In 1971, they had another need in prime time. NBC was not programming against the second half of Marcus Welby, M.D., the most popular show in the United States, so the local stations had to come up with their own.
I lobbied for that 30 minutes. They allowed me to try it. It was a big gamble on my part. If I hadn’t made it, I would have been without a job because I quit radio. I said I could beat the second half of Marcus Welby. I didn’t but I came in second.
Joe Krieger in Tulsa was the first outdoor show in Oklahoma. He was a weatherman in Tulsa and dabbling in the outdoor thing. I was the first in Oklahoma City for sure and one of the first in the nation.
I retired in 1989 but my show was on the air somewhere in the Oklahoma City market from 1965 until just several years ago. I had a big mail count (at WKY-TV). During the ’70s, my show pulled the highest pieces of mail. More than Foreman Scotty or Danny Williams.
I averaged 500 pieces of mail a week. Of course, a lot of them were just writing to me to try to win a prize. I used the old Foreman Scotty hopper and spun it around and gave away prizes out of that.
One of my highest rated shows was in 1974. I was opposite The Muppets. The Muppets were a very strong show on ABC. Everybody thought the Muppets were going to kill me.
I had made a show at the new Lake Guerrero in Mexico. I had promoted it several weeks in advance but didn’t say what lake. It was a show where I caught 33 bass in 33 straight casts. I announced for weeks that it was a lake within relatively easy driving distance of Oklahoma City. Well, everything in life is relative.
I had people with their campers loaded up and their cars loaded up ready to go fishing at this new mystery bass lake. When I finally announced it was Lake Guerrero, a thousand miles away from Oklahoma City, the switchboard went crazy at Channel 4.
I got called a lot of things but I had very high ratings. I guess I am pretty lucky I didn’t get lynched.
I had virtually little or no budget. I got a picture that Bob Lilly, the famous (Dallas Cowboys) football player gave me one time. It said, “To Don Wallace, the best one-man band I know.” I am proud of that picture.
They say if you like what you are doing you can work all day and all night. I am living proof. It was the hardest job I ever loved.
I miss parts of the television show. I enjoyed the camaraderie with the people and traveling and doing things but it was an awful lot of work. One time I figured up that I shot from 1965 to 1989 more than 150 miles of film if it were end to end.
I still love to fish. It’s a lot more fun to fish for fun instead of trying to make TV shows. Those fish don’t bite every day.
Texoma is probably my favorite lake in Oklahoma because you can always catch something there. You won’t get skunked.
Every day is the greatest day of my life. Every day that I wake up on the proper side of the grass. I am very, very lucky.”