WEHCO Media, Inc.

WEHCO Media, Inc., of Little Rock (Pulaski County) is a privately owned communications company with interests in newspaper publishing, cable television, and digital services. Established in 1909, it operates daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, and cable television companies in six states. WEHCO (pronounced WAY-CO) is an acronym for Walter E. Hussman Company. The company chairman is Walter E. Hussman Jr., who also serves as publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the company’s largest newspaper. Hussman is the grandson of Clyde E. Palmer, whose media holdings formed the basis of WEHCO, and the son of newspaper publisher Walter Hussman Sr. The company has almost 2,000 employees.

In a history of his family for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, Hussman wrote: “In 1909, my grandfather, Clyde Eber Palmer, was taking a train from Fort Worth to Florida with his new bride. They got off the train in Texarkana, Ark., to spend the night and while they were there, they decided they liked the town and decided to stay. My grandfather paid $900 for one of several newspapers in Texarkana at the time, the Texarkana Courier, which he renamed the Four States Press. He eventually prevailed against other competitors in the Texarkana market, and he ended up as publisher of the Texarkana Gazette.”

Palmer later bought daily newspapers in Hot Springs (Garland County), El Dorado (Union County), Camden (Ouachita County), Magnolia (Columbia County), and Hope (Hempstead County). In 1930, Palmer introduced high-speed telegraph service to his newspapers. In 1942, Palmer Newspapers established the nation’s first automatic tele-typesetter circuits connecting a group of newspapers. When there was a shortage of workers during World War II, the so-called Palmer Circuit allowed the six newspapers in the Palmer chain to share news without having to hire additional staff.

Palmer’s daughter Betty Palmer was born at Texarkana (Miller County) in 1911. She attended college at the University of Missouri, where she met Walter E. Hussman Sr. The couple married in 1931. After selling insurance for a time, Hussman Sr. went to work for his father-in-law in the newspaper business. After working in Texarkana for several years, he moved to Hot Springs to serve as publisher of the newspaper there.

“In 1941, my father headed off to Europe for World War II, where he and Don Reynolds were co-publishers of Yank magazine, published for the U.S. troops in Europe,” Hussman Jr. wrote. “Among many other duties, he was head of procurement for newsprint, operating out of Paris after it was liberated by Gen. George Patton.”

Hussman Sr. returned to Arkansas in 1945. He and his wife had their third child, Walter Hussman Jr., in 1947. In 1949, Hussman Sr. purchased the Camden News from his father-in-law.

Palmer had put the first Texarkana radio station on the air in 1933. In 1952, Palmer put a CBS affiliate television station on the air in Texarkana. When CBS decided in 1960 to affiliate with an existing Shreveport, Louisiana, station, Palmer negotiated a deal with NBC to serve both markets. He constructed what was at that time the second-tallest television tower in the South. KTAL-TV stood for Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana; it also became known as K-Tall because of the tower. Palmer died in 1957, and Hussman Sr. took over the Palmer Newspaper holdings in Texarkana, Hot Springs, El Dorado, and Magnolia.

In addition to the television station, the company had radio stations at Texarkana and Camden. WEHCO later sold all of its broadcast properties.

“In 1963, my father launched the first microwave high-speed, high-definition facsimile network interconnecting a group of newspapers,” Hussman Jr. wrote. “This allowed the company to purchase what was then expensive cold-type composition equipment, handling all ad production in one city and sharing those ads with the entire group of newspapers. Typesetting of news copy also was available from this shared facility.”

In the 1960s, Hussman Sr. began investing in the cable television business. He invested in a company called Midwest Video that obtained franchises in Greenville, Mississippi; Bryan–College Station, Texas; and other cities in the region. He later bought franchises in Hope, Camden, and Hot Springs in Arkansas; Vicksburg in Mississippi; and Kilgore and Longview in eastern Texas.

Walter Hussman Jr. joined the company in 1970 and became vice president and general manager for the Palmer Newspapers in 1973. That was the year that Hussman Sr. came up with the new name WEHCO, an abbreviation of Walter E. Hussman Co.

In 1974, WEHCO bought the Arkansas Democrat, an afternoon daily newspaper in Little Rock. Hussman Jr. moved to Little Rock to become Democrat publisher at age twenty-seven. He became president of WEHCO in 1981. After an intense battle for subscribers and advertisers, the competing Arkansas Gazette was closed in October 1991 by the Gannett Corp. WEHCO bought the assets of the newspaper, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published its first edition on October 19, 1991.

Since that time, WEHCO has made additional newspaper purchases, formed new partnerships and launched advanced cable television products and services. WEHCO purchased the Chattanooga Free Press in 1998 and the Chattanooga Times in 1999. The two publications were combined into the Chattanooga Times Free Press. WEHCO then purchased three Missouri newspapers in 2008—the Jefferson City News Tribune, the Fulton Sun, and the California Democrat. In November 2000, the company’s video division launched a cable broadband package to serve more than 56,000 subscribers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. In July 2012, WEHCO unveiled the company’s newest division, WEHCO Digital Services, Inc. It offers services such as Internet marketing, digital product development, and website design.

Nat Lea, who joined the company in February 2002, began serving as WEHCO’s president in January 2014. Lea was named the company’s chief executive officer in May 2016.

For additional information:
Hussman, Walter E., Jr. “The Palmer-Hussman families.” Arkansas Online. https://www.arkansasonline.com/tools/palmerhussmanhistory/ (accessed March 7, 2019).

WEHCO Media, Inc. http://www.wehco.com (accessed March 7, 2019).

Rex Nelson
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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