Radio Old Timers gather for KTRB's 47th
Wednesday June 18, 1980

It was June 1934.  The Great Depression was winding down, but jobs were still scarce in the valley.  Headlines in The Bee reported' 'Von Papen, Aide of Hitler, Raps Nazi Policies."  The Dionne quintuplets were three weeks old and gaining weight.  Mrs. Roosevelt was off on a trip to Connecticut in her roadster. At the Strand, Claudette Colbert and Ben Lyon were starring in "I Cover the Waterfront."  Max Baer was heavyweight champion of the world. Lunch at Gould's was 35 cents and a standard Ford V -8 coupe cost $701.

Meanwhile, around the valley, rattling through dozens of milking sheds, could be heard the strains of The Swanee Cowboys, live and direct from the studios of KTRB, Modesto. Modestans Roy (alias "Hungry") Sanderson and Stanley (aka "Skeeter") Dennis remember those days. They were members of the band.

KTRB; radio 860, went on the air 47 years ago today. It featured a mixture of live and recorded music. The Cowboys playing the station's 7 to 7:30 a.m. time slot (it was later expanded to an hour), were starring performers for four years, along with such as The Maddox Brothers and Rose and Arkie and the Hillbillies.

Tonight, along with the only other surviving member of the Cowboys, Cliff (" Jake") Wheeler of Placerville, the former musicians will be on hand for an "old timer's" anniversary party at the North 40 on Prescott Road. Rose Maddox, who got her first break in radio with Sanderson's help, will entertain.

When Sanderson talks about those early days, it is clear his nickname "Hungry" was appropriate. "Me and Slats (Eldon Barrick, a band member now deceased) were rooming together in Oakdale, working on ranches for 35 cents an hour," Sanderson recalls.

"It was the tail end of the depression and that was about the only work around.  I taught myself the guitar.  I was born in Oklahoma and everyone played guitar there. Slats and I used to pick together.  When we decided to start the band, we started fishing around for guys we could harmonize with."

They found them.  One was Dennis.  "We got him right out of grade school, " notes Sanderson, who was 22 when the group was formed.  The fifth member of the band was Sidney ("Si") London, now deceased. 

When the sound was right, the group was hired by KTRB as one of only two "staff bands" employed at the station, which was then located in the vicinity of the Sylvan Club on McHenry.  Other bands had to dig up their own sponsors.

"We played every morning and each of us made $10 a week," recalls Dennis.'" But we still worked on ranches on the side." "We played Sunday afternoons, too," chimes in Sanderson. "Our program was sponsored by the Federal Outfitting Company on 10th Street and Johnson's Grill on J Street."    

It wasn't long before the Swanee Cowboys had a following. "We used to get fan mail," notes Dennis. They told us the cows wouldn't give milk until the turned us on the radio."

The fan mail came from as far away as Oregon and Utah.  One letter came from 17-year-old Ethel Hansen, the daughter of the Stanislaus County road foreman.  She loved the show and she especially loved "Hungry" Sanderson.  In fact, she married him- on the air. "Getting married on the air was our announcer's idea," explains Sanderson.  "It was a real western wedding. She had on a lady's western riding suit and I wore my band outfit. We rehearsed it twice. I didn't to any singing, but the other guys sang, "There'll Be A Cowboy Wedding Today."

We had an hour on Sunday, Nov. 17, 1935, but the wedding ran over the length of the program and we couldn't get all the guests and fans into the studio.  Some were laughing and some were crying.  When the ceremony was over, they sat us on the hood of this red 1926 Packard bus we had at the station and rode us all over Modesto.  I like to froze to death."

(This incomplete news clipping was found in a box at KTRB.  Unfortunately the remainder of the article was not located. We thought you would enjoy what was recovered.)