KBTA-AM is a radio station in Batesville (Independence County) broadcasting a sports radio format. The station is owned by WRD Entertainment and features programming from ABC Radio and CBS Sports Radio.
KBTA (1340 AM) was Batesville’s first radio station. Located on the banks of the White River near Riverside Park, the station was launched as a joint venture by Batesville mayor Jared Trevathan, Jim F. Higginbottom of Oklahoma Tire and Supply, and Albert West of Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L). The first broadcast took place on June 30, 1950, and was a gala event. Higginbottom, who was president and general manager of the station, eventually bought out his two partners to become sole owner of the station. He received the Arkansas Airwaves Pioneer Award in 1976. KBTA used the slogan: “Key to the Batesville Trade Area on the banks of the beautiful White River,” or at times “… in the beautiful White River Valley.”
In addition to radio network shows, local programming included musical groups such as the Crystal River Boys (composed of Jackie Tipton, Leeman James, Jack Smith, Johnny Duncan, and Bill Medlock) and Paul Medlock and His Rhythm Rangers (composed of Paul Medlock, Raymond Duncan, and Leeman James). Raymond Duncan also did comedy. Jack Smith was the chief DJ for the station. Local events such as the annual White River Water Carnival were also broadcast. A popular man-on-the-street show was broadcast live from Heuer’s Shoe Store on Main Street in Batesville. Another early broadcast in 1956 was from the stage of the Melba Theater, where a talent show was scheduled just prior to the Saturday afternoon western matinees.
Duffie Bryant broadcast his Hunting and Fishing Club show live from the John E. Bryant and Sons Lumber Company. Bryant’s show, with its “Gone Fishin’” theme song, ran for more than thirty years on KBTA. Bryant read the lunch menus for the county schools, announced who caught the biggest fish, and kept listeners informed about community events.
A high school student named Butch Ketz, whose father was a local physician, became a popular DJ in the late 1950s. Butch played nothing but rock and roll and spun a few records that had been banned elsewhere, such as on Memphis, Tennessee, radio—for instance, the uncensored version of “The Battle of New Orleans” by Jimmy Driftwood. Gene Stewart was DJ and news director at KBTA in Batesville and KCON in Conway (Faulkner County), and then KAAY in Little Rock (Pulaski County). He went on to work as the police and fire reporter; a producer, writer, and news editor for Eyewitness News 4, KARK; and a reporter for the Sky 4 Eyewitness News helicopter.
Progressive young DJs such as Butch Ketz and Gene Stewart who were popular with the younger crowd still had competition from pre–rock and roll elements. Mood music, which featured such recording artists as Mantovani played by local DJs such as Chuck Smith, continued to be on KBTA until a Top 40 news, weather, and sports format evolved around 1960. Country music experienced a resurgence in the late 1950s and early 1960s and was also featured on the station.
In the fall of 1975, Roy A. Henderson took over direction of KBTA from James Higginbottom. Henderson was first employed by White River Broadcasting, the licensee of radio station KBTA, in 1967, and he stayed with the station until March 1977. Henderson was station manager and was also a corporate vice president and a member of the board of directors, having first been elected a director on January 5, 1970. Joe Biard was the owner, broadcaster, and announcer of KBTA and KZLE beginning in the mid-1970s, following the resignation of Henderson. Biard was active in community activities and served as mayor of Batesville from January 1995 through December 2006.
In the twenty-first century, WRD Entertainment is owned by the Grace family of Batesville and operates six radio stations, including KBTA-AM and KBTA-FM (99.5) in Batesville. WRD began in 1981 as Maggie Incorporated Broadcasting and Mountain View Broadcasting.
For additional information:
Ogilvie, Craig. “Radio Station KBTA Nears 70th Year of Broadcasting.” Independence County Chronicle 60 (July 2019): 34–48.
Poindexter, Ray. Arkansas Airwaves. North Little Rock, AR: 1974.
Van Buren, Arkansas
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