Cactus Pryor—The Voice of Austin
He was the voice of Austin, Texas. Richard “Cactus” Pryor’s voice is now silent.
No, it’s not really silent—too many people remember.
OK. Maybe this is a page from “Old Austin”. A lot of people are Austin residents now who may have never hear his voice, but Cactus Pryor is an integral part of Austin broadcast history and Austin itself.
There will be many memorials over the coming days about him. This is not one. I’ll leave that to others.
I’m talking about the voice that was and is Austin.
In Austin’s broadcast history, there have been several distinctive voices. Paul Bolton, a former KTBC AM, FM & TV news director. Neal Spelce won national awards for coverage of the shootings from the UT Tower in 1966 for KTBC AM. He later anchored at both KTBC and KEYE TV. These are news voices. What about others?
There was Joyce Isaacs at what was KTVT-TV, now KXAN-TV. She was on radio too. There are Bob Cole, Jodie Denberg, John Aielli, and Sammy Allred
Jim Swift continues at KXAN TV.
One could consider Dave Jarrott, Larry Todd, Judy Maggio, and Kevin Conner. All moved from station to station, but stayed in Austin becoming part of the fabric of the city.
So far none has achieved the level of Richard “Cactus” Pryor. He worked for KTBC/KLBJ for some 60 years. Yes, Cactus appeared on TV, but he didn’t do news.
For years, he was a morning staple. The “Cac and Jack” show followed the morning news block on KTBC-AM and later KLBJ-AM. He and “Packer” Jack Wallace exchanged barbs for a couple of hours. They might play a little music. It was sometimes irreverent, and it was “don’t miss” AM radio in Austin. It was nothing, nothing like talk radio nowadays—or maybe it was. Jack left us in the 1980s.
Cactus continued his morning “commentaries” on KLBJ. I became news director of KLBJ AM & FM in the early 1970s. When Cactus would go on vacation, he’d ask me to fill in.
No, I could never fill in for Cactus Pryor, but I had lots of fun being able to write stuff in the first person. News is almost always in the third person. I could actually say something rather than report something. I’m not witty, however. After Cactus was on vacation once, I asked him if he’d heard any of what I’d aired. He said that he had. I asked him if it was OK. He smiled graciously.
Gracious. That’s one of the adjectives one could use to describe Cactus Pryor.
Besides being Austin’s voice, he was Austin’s Bard. There are many, many venues where he held forth and held important people’s feet to the fire, including Lyndon Johnson. (Lady Bird Johnson owned KTBC AM-FM-TV).
Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary, wrote in her book “Start with a Laugh”, “Well, that’s Cactus. I love him, the whole state loves him, and well they should because he never has forsaken us for the big time and the bright lights. Let use lift our glasses, our flasks, or coffee cups to Cactus.”
© Jim McNabb, 2011