Game show host Wink Martindale started out in radio, and he was around when the Elvis phenomenon was just beginning. I’ve heard several interviews with Wink and his wife, Sandy, on Elvis radio. They both adored Elvis and have the utmost respect for him.
Wink was part of a historical day in 1954. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Wink about that time:
“My dream was to work at WHBQ radio and do the morning show called ‘Clockwatchers’ — all the teenagers listened to that.”
His dream came true in 1954, when he auditioned and got the morning gig when he was just 19 years old. It was also the year he met Elvis Presley, with whom he was friends until the King’s death in 1977.
“I happened to be at the radio station one night showing a group of former football buddies from high school around the radio station,” Martindale recalls. “It was at night when there was a show called ‘Red Hot & Blue’ with a guy named Dewey Phillips. He played black music for white kids. All of a sudden I hear a commotion going on. The phones were lit up and I went into Dewey’s control room.”
It so happened that was the night that Sun Records founder Sam Phillips walked into Phillips’ control room with an acetate recording of Presley’s “That’s All Right Mama.”
“Dewey put it on the turntable and the switchboard lit up. He kept playing it over and over. Sam gave me Gladys and Vernon Presley’s telephone number and said get them on the phone and ask them where Elvis is. I was the one who made the call and got Gladys on the phone.”
Martindale told Presley’s mother that Dewey Phillips wanted to interview him that night at the station. His parents got into their truck and found their son at a movie theater by himself catching a western double bill.
“He got into the truck and went down and sat in front of the microphone,” says Martindale. That was the beginning of Presley mania. I think of that as the night when the course of popular music changed forever.”
Just a few years later, Jul 4, 1956,Wink would interview Elvis. Elvis was performing a benefit concert for at Russwood Park in Memphis for The Cynthia Mil Fund and the Variety Club’s Home for Convalescent Children. I love that Elvis was not only charitable, but that most of his charitable acts were to help children.
Colonel Parker did not want Elvis to appear on television without getting paid, but Elvis did so anyway. This is one of the first ever televised interviews of Elvis.
The beginning of Elvis’ unprecedented career is rich with history and momentous events. Yet, even as it was happening, and even up to the day he passed away, he really wasn’t aware of the impact he had on the world. He was often afraid that his popularity would fade, that people would forget him. I imagine he would be blown away to see how his legend has lived on, how his life and career are still celebrated.