Gilbert Villarreal + Manuel + Ricky = Teen’s Choice
“Teen’s Choice” was a two-hour after school English-language Mexican American Top 40 tunes program on KUKA. And Manuel Dávila Jr., Ricky Dávila and Gilbert Garza Villarreal were the three teenagers who hosted this popular dedication show.
Most important, the program which aired from 5 – 7 p.m. five days a week gave many local Chicano groups the necessary airplay and exposure required to create a hit record.
On the Mexican side, KCOR played Mexican music 24/7 and KUKA, Radio Fiesta, from sunrise-to-sunset. However, neither played locally produced music, especially tunes with English lyrics. There was no happy medium, nothing in between.
This signaled the need for Chicanos to create their own radio programming and it all started in late 1957 when Manuel Dávila Sr. and José “Pepino” Lozano Villarreal saw that void. They became business partners and signed a contract with Manuel Leal, who owned the KUKA license.
At the time, the owner’s daughter Sylvia Leal and her friend, Teresa Garza, who owned a massive record collection dating back to 1953, were doing a program called “Tops and Bops” where her melodious “Stay cool, that’s the rule,” phrase had caught on with listeners.
“We kind of spun off “Tops and Bops” when we came in in October of 1959,” Rick said.
“The Davila’s took over before I joined and once they took over, Sylvia moved aside and they moved in,” Gilbert revealed. “A month later, my dad told Manuel Sr., ‘Why don’t I get my son to join your boys.”
To this Rick added, “Gilbert wanted to attend the seminary to be a priest and his dad wanted him to follow in his footsteps so he asked me to convince him to come into radio so I kind of feel guilty because he would have made a good priest.”
Manuel Jr. is the one that gave the program its name and in interviews the Davila’s used the date that Gilbert joined in December 1959 as the official start date of the program.
What set them apart is that while KTSA and KONO, which both played a few local record releases, were very strong, “Teen’s Choice” forte were the “dedications” and that the disc jockeys were themselves teenage high school students.
“We were the first to introduce Sunny and the Sun-Glows, The Dinos, Vince Cantú and the Rockin’ Dominos and other groups,” Víllarreal said. “At the time we used to call it the ‘West Side Sound’ because our listeners were mostly from the West Side of San Antonio. However, the music itself was like rhythm and blues, and soul.
Therefore another big reason for the threesome’s popularity is because they gave many local groups the necessary airplay and exposure required to create sales and a demand to see them perform, from that point on, they became the champions for the underdog.
“The car clubs would also back us up and we were in contact with kids as we emceed sock hops at Brack, Tech, Lanier and other schools all over the city where we would feature at least one group and if we couldn’t get a band, we’d just play records. This added to our popularity and listenership,” Gilbert stated.
“To top it off, we would also bring in nationally famous names, such as Lloyd Price to the Municipal Auditorium”
“Our Spanish wasn’t worth a crap, but ‘Teen’s Choice’ was a hit because of the dedications and because we spoke English,” said Manuel Jr. “We also played the slow stuff and the tunes other stations stopped playing once they were six months old, so people also saw us as the first oldies station in San Antonio.”
“It was an exciting moment in the lives of many Chicano/Mexican American teenagers long before our music came to be known as la onda Chicana and later Tejano music,” Gilbert said with a hint of nostalgia.
Although the program was an instant hit, it came to an end when Manuel Jr. graduated from George W. Brackenridge and Gilbert from Louis W. Fox Vocational and Technical High School in May 1962. Ricky, now known as “Güero Polkas,” graduated from Brackenridge in 1964.
However, that did not leave a void for the Westside Sound because since Gilbert’s father had financed KUBO, Radio Gallito, he immediately went to Studio A at the Alameda Theater building on Houston Street and with Fred Schneider created a spin-off of they called “Teen Platter Time.”
Without skipping a beat, all listeners had to do was to move their dials over to the new frequency. To promote their program, which aired Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to sunset, they would give out up to 1,000 post cards (see photo) at the station and at dances.
Fred’s brother, Jesse Schneider, who owned Renner Records and also worked at Perry Shankle Company (the exclusive record distribution for RCA Records), and Gilbert had a mutual friend. It was Rudy Gonzales of the Reno Bops. Thus when Fred moved on, he was replaced by Rudy and the program was re-named “Top Teen Tunes,” or some people would also call it, “The Triple T Show.”
Next Edgewood High School’s Little Jr. Jesse Vallado, of the Teardrops, and Henry Peña, of the Kasuals, joined “Top Teen Tunes,” but that’s another story and another article.
When Rudy’s career took off in Mexico, he had no choice but to quit and bask in the limelight of the Reno Bops’ popularity. At the end of August 1964, Gilbert voluntarily joined the U.S. Army and this time, the show’s fans really felt the void of their Chicano music crusader.
On December 4, 1964 Gilbert has the distinction of being the first Latino to graduate from the Department of Defense’s Information School in Fort Slocum, New York as “Broadcast Specialist.”
Then he was transferred to Pusan, Korea doing what Robin Williams did in “Good Morning Vietnam.” “But without the exaggeration,” Gilbert added with a laugh.
In May 1966, Gilbert’s father got sick and the then Spec. 5 was transferred to the Information Office at the Fort Sam Houston Quadrangle under the command of Major General Chester Dahlen.
While stationed there, he also free lanced as a broadcaster at KQXT and KITY; and along the way made friends with Congressman Henry B. González, who even came to pay him a personal visit him at the base.
After his Honorary Discharge, on July 8, 1967, Gilbert married the former Magdalena “Maggie” Kosub then went to work at KCCT in Corpus Christi, where his son Joe was born in 1968. The start of the new decade found Gilbert back in KUKA, where he worked seven years before accepting an offer as program director for KBNO, Que Buena, in Denver, Colorado. In late 1978, he received a call from KCOR offering him a full-time job when as Gilbert says, “It was a surprise and an honor since KCOR would only hire top-notch flowery, flawless Spanish speaking broadcasters from Mexico.”
In 2002, he received an “Associate of the Month” crystal award for making his department a success and last month the 69-year-old radio trail brazier retired on August 15.
As for the future, Gilbert said, “For now I plan to spend more time with Maggie, my sons Joe and Jason; and my grandchildren, Lauren, Nick and Caleb plus a fourth due to arrive in November.