John William "Sunshine" Sonny Payne, the longtime host of King Biscuit Time, the award-winning radio show that influenced generations of blues musicians and fans, died today in Helena. He was 92.
Payne was just 16 in 1941 when he first went to work at Helena radio station KFFA, sweeping the floors and running errands. Not long after, he was given on-air duties.
He served in the Army during World War II and later played bass in big bands and jazz ensembles. By the early 1950s, he was back home in Helena and on the air at KFFA, hosting King Biscuit Time, which featured bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson, guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. and many others performing live in the studio.
The show, which was the first to regularly feature blues performers, won a George Foster Peabody Award in 1992 for outstanding achievement in radio.
Payne, who also worked as a salesman at the station, was behind the mic for the majority of the program's 17,000-plus broadcasts and continued to appear each weekday from 12:15 p.m.-12:45 p.m. until recently, when illness prevented him from signing on.