This is an excerpt from an article by GREG BEETS that appeared in The Austin Chronicle on May 4, 2001, entitled "Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hits! R.I.P., K-tel...
Until its stateside demise, K-tel was best known for jam-packed compilations of both past and present hits direct-marketed to consumers via garish, cheaply produced TV ads. Although K-tel's buffet-style MO seems quintessentially American, the company was actually founded in Winnipeg, Ontario, by Phillip Kives in 1962 before moving to Minneapolis in the early Seventies. Having cut its teeth selling items like non-stick pans on TV, K-tel released its first album, 25 Polka Greats, in 1971.
K-tel wasn't the first label to specialize in compilations. California disc jockey Art Laboe pioneered the practice of licensing material from several labels with his Oldies but Goodies series in the Sixties. Ron Popeil's Ronco (immortalized in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Mr. Popeil") sold plenty of compilations alongside useful products like Mr. Microphone and the Record Vacuum. However, it was K-tel that truly cultivated the form into a pop culture institution ripe for parody.
I can’t remember the exact date, but it was after one of those Nashville Fan Fairs that I used to love. My cohorts in product development for Time Warner were with me. I know that much.
We were heading north of Nashville to find this barbq truck we’d heard about. (We found the thing, actually, and there is a great picture of the three of us–Joe, Charlie, and me–with the sauce dribbling down our swag T-shirts [on mine, it looked like Merle had blood dripping down his face]).
Anyway, after the food break, we decided to locate this guy Freeman Kitchens, who had been contacting Charlie for awhile to see if our repackaged oldies biz would release a Carter Family set for TV direct-response sales.
Of course, the sound of ancient Carter Family recordings on TV would have put us out of business–not to mention the fact that there wasn’t any real footage. I mean, A.P. wandering the Virginia hills with a handheld camera behind him, wobbling as his depressed thoughts meandered, would have been great, but…..that’s the real problem with the media overload: all the good stuff was long before YouHooLookAtMeTube even existed.
And so, we find Mr. Freeman, who turns out to be a great host, and he’s surrounded by reel-to-reel & cassette tapes of the Carter Family with tons of memorabilia & stuff all over the place. He sure had focus, I’m telling ya. He was a really kind and thoughtful gentleman, and we stayed for an hour or so, but didn’t really promise him anything. Nevertheless, we came to believe in the Carter Family even more.
But not enough to put them on TV, mind you.