Ace Ball, country musician, stage entertainer, and radio personality, was born Arthur Chester Balch in the New Home community of Lynn County, Texas, on January 13, 1922, the son of Chester Arthur and Eunice (DePriest) Balch. He was given a guitar at the age of eleven and set his sights on becoming a professional. After high school, he worked for a brief time as a land surveyor for Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) in Lubbock, and in the closing months of World War II served in the United States Navy. Upon discharge, he worked with dance bands in New Mexico and West Texas. In 1952 Balch began what would become a decades-long career in radio, serving in various capacities as performer, announcer, deejay, and engineer.
The following year, he signed a contract with OKeh Records, Columbia’s budget label, and was billed as “Ace Ball.” Although his contract with OKeh was not renewed after eight sides, he continued to record regularly for many independent labels in Nashville and elsewhere through the years, including Caprock Records out of Big Spring, Texas, and his own Ace-Hi Records. Like many other youngsters attempting to break into the recording business at the time, he faced stiff competition, and other musicians who knew him attributed the easy-going Balch’s failure to attract less than a national audience to the fact that he too readily deferred to what he thought record executives and show producers wanted, rather than pursuing his own unique style and selection of material. An even more detrimental factor was bad timing: Balch’s attempt to become a country music recording artist ran straight into the rising tide of rock-and-roll, which all but submerged country music for a time in the 1950s and early 1960s.
In the meantime, however, Balch gained increasing popularity as a broadcaster. Between 1952 and the 1970s, he was heard on no fewer than eleven radio stations—stretching from Clovis, New Mexico, to Dayton, Ohio—while also performing on several television broadcasts. He made at least two appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, one segment of which included Carl Smith, George Morgan, Goldie Hill, and Grandpa Jones. He was also on the All-Star Country Roadshow, broadcast over WBAP, Fort Worth, became a regular on KFDA-TV’s Downtown Jamboree in Amarillo, and played some of the more prominent country shows across the nation, including Louisiana Hayride on KWKH, Shreveport; the West Coast’s premier Town Hall Party in Compton, California, which aired on KFI and KTTV-TV, Los Angeles; and Dallas’s Big D Jamboree and Saturday Night Shindig, both on WFAA, with a segment of the latter carried on the CBS radio network. As a deejay on Dave Stone’s KDAV in Lubbock, considered the nation’s first full-time country station, he was instrumental in the careers of such locals as Waylon Jennings, Sonny Curtis, Buddy Holly, and Roy Orbison.
One of the more fortuitous events in Balch’s life was his meeting with seventeen-year-old Dorothy Stark while he was working at KCLV in Clovis, New Mexico, in 1952. Stark had been singing and playing guitar since childhood and had already appeared on the Big D Jamboree, broadcast on WFAA in Dallas. Returning to her home in Clovis, she heard about a proposed stage show and called the radio station for information. She was referred to Balch, who told her the show was only a rumor but invited her to bring her guitar to the station and appear on his program. Consequently, she became a once-a-week feature on the show, and the two of them, clearly attracted, began to date occasionally. Stark’s father, however, was a deputy sheriff and quite strict; he frowned on the fourteen-year age difference between his daughter and her mentor. That situation seemed resolved when Stark’s family moved across the state to Deming, New Mexico. But the two maintained a long-distance romance until finally, on June 27, 1954, they were married. Soon, as “Ace and Dottie Ball,” they began a musical duo, a business partnership, and a happy marriage that lasted fifty-one years, until Balch’s death in 2005. They were the parents of three children: Randy, Larry, and Barbara.
Dorothy Balch might have achieved a national reputation on her own—she was an extremely talented vocalist—and in the early years of their marriage often traveled with Ace and appeared with him onstage, but ultimately she found that she preferred home and family to stardom.
In 1969 the Balches moved to Pueblo, Colorado, and Ace assumed deejay duties on KPUB, where he remained for thirteen years. After the move to Colorado, Balch’s music became increasingly devoted to cowboy and western themes. He later worked at KCST and KIDN in the same city, while continuing to make personal appearances and perform on a multitude of stage shows, benefits, and jamborees. He retired from active radio work in the 1970s, after some twenty-five years on the air, but still gave freely of his time to entertain whenever called upon. In September 2005, at the age of eighty-three, he had in fact gone to Denver, Colorado, to perform at a retirement center when he slipped on an icy step and never recovered from the resulting fall. He died on September 26, 2005.