Broadcasting

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KTHS

KTHS, which became KAAY in 1962, is thought to be Arkansas’s third-oldest continuously licensed broadcast radio station. The station survived the turbulent years of broadcasting’s infancy, government regulations, and changes in location and frequencies to become Arkansas’s first 50,000-watt clear-channel station. KTHS was also known for its role in launching the career of the comedy team Lum and Abner. Radio station KTHS was built in 1924 on the upper floor of the new Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs (Garland County). Facilities included studios and ballrooms wired for broadcast. Two steel towers were installed on the roof between the hotel building’s towers, one 150 feet tall, the other 125 feet, to support the transmitting antenna. Test broadcasts began on December 11, …

KUAF

KUAF began broadcasting as a ten-watt station in January 1973 from a renovated clapboard house on Duncan Street in Fayetteville (Washington County). Owned by the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville, the station began as a student-run operation with a staff of twenty-five students and a faculty advisor, Dennis O’Neal, from the Department of Journalism. The station served as a training ground for students. Planning for the station began the year before its debut. The initial finances were provided by the Associated Student Government and Student Services Allocations. A transmitter was installed on the top of Yocum Hall, and a survey was conducted during registration in fall 1972 to determine what type of music the students most preferred. The most …

KUOA

Radio station KUOA started at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and later belonged to John Brown University (JBU) in Siloam Springs (Benton County). These schools used the station to broadcast programs such as educational talks, religious programs, music, local information, and sports. In the twenty-first century, KUOA is an all-sports station nicknamed “Hog Sportsradio.” It is generally considered to be the oldest radio station in Arkansas that is still broadcasting. According to Ray Poindexter in his book Arkansas Airwaves, the UA Department of Engineering began experiments with a wireless telegraph in 1897 and had a wireless station in 1916 licensed with the call letters 5YM. A license for the school’s first commercial AM radio station, KFMQ, …

KWEM

The landscape of American music was on the brink of change when KWEM began its first broadcast on February 23, 1947. The KXLR-Razorback Network brought its new station and a unique listening experience to West Memphis (Crittenden County), featuring local musicians who played live on the air. The success of live broadcasts on KFFA in nearby Helena (Phillips County) inspired KWEM to incorporate a “pay-to-play” revenue model, in which the opportunity to perform live on its daytime broadcasts was available to anyone able to secure a sponsor or pay a $15 fee. For emerging artists, appearances on KWEM provided exposure within the vibrant West Memphis music scene and ignited the rise to greatness for numerous musical legends, including Ike Turner, …

Lauck, Chet

aka: Chester Harris Lauck
Chester Harris (Chet) Lauck and his partner, Norris “Tuffy” Goff, created Lum and Abner, a radio program based on life in Pine Ridge (Montgomery County) that was popular nationwide from 1931 to 1955. Lauck portrayed Lum Edwards (pronounced “Eddards”), Grandpappy Spears, and Cedric Wehunt, with Goff doing the voices of the other characters. Chet Lauck was born on October 10, 1902, in Alleene (Little River County) to W. J. and Cora Lauck. The family moved to Mena (Polk County) in 1911. The Lauck and Goff families were prominent in local events in Mena, and as children, the two boys began a lifelong friendship. Lauck was expected to continue his father’s business interests, banking and lumber, but was more interested in …

Lester, Ketty

Ketty Lester is a singer and actress best known for her chart-topping single “Love Letters,” as well as her appearance in the cult classic film Blacula (1972). Lester was a regular on the daytime drama Days of Our Lives and was especially known for her long-running role on the TV series Little House on the Prairie. Ketty Lester was born Revoyda Frierson in Hope (Hempstead County) on August 16, 1934. She was one of fifteen children born to a farm family. Her interest and talent for music led to her singing at church and in school choirs. She won a scholarship to San Francisco City College in California, where she studied music. In San Francisco, she began singing professionally at …

Lum and Abner

From 1931 to 1955, the Lum and Abner radio show brought the town of Pine Ridge (Montgomery County), into the homes of millions of listeners across the country. During World War II, Armed Forces Radio took Lum and Abner around the world. Chester “Chet” Lauck and Findley Norris “Tuffy” Goff, two young comedians from Mena (Polk County), created the characters when they were invited to appear on a statewide flood relief broadcast over KTHS radio in Hot Springs (Garland County) on April 26, 1931. Seconds before being introduced, they created the names Lum Edwards (pronounced “Eddards”) for Lauck and Abner Peabody for Goff. The two old codgers (Lauck and Goff were actually in their late twenties) ran the Jot ‘Em …

MacKrell, James “Uncle Mac”

James “Uncle Mac” MacKrell made a name for himself in Arkansas, first through radio and then through politics. Known as “Uncle Mac” to his adolescent radio audience and as a radio evangelical to others, he is perhaps most remembered for his two campaigns for governor of Arkansas, in 1948 and in 1970. James MacKrell was born in Houston, Texas, on August 8, 1902. He lived in Texas until 1929, and there he attended primary and secondary schools as well as Southern Methodist University in Dallas. After moving to Arkansas in 1929, MacKrell began his career in radio in Fayetteville (Washington County). In 1930, he moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) and accepted a job at KLRA. In 1934, MacKrell began …

Martin, Paula Marie

Paula Martin is a writer and educator best known for her work as the host and producer of the radio show Tales from the South. Paula Marie Martin was born on October 9, 1967, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Her family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) when she was twelve, and she has lived there periodically throughout her life. She graduated from Little Rock’s Parkview High School. In the late 1980s, Martin and schoolmate Jason Morell, who had begun dating after graduation, sold all their belongings and moved to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where they began working in a restaurant. The couple married and had three children. As they pursued their dream of opening a restaurant, they traveled and …

May, Ralphie

Ralphie D. May was a stand-up comedian famous for his topical humor combined with hip-hop slang and Southern comedy, as well as his numerous appearances on reality and talk shows. May appeared in such films as For da Love of Money and was the only white standup comedian featured on The Big Black Comedy Show, Vol. 4 DVD in 2005. Ralphie May was born on February 1, 1972, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was raised in Clarksville (Johnson County). He grew up listening to veteran comedians Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Sam Kinison. May had wanted to be a comedian since age nine when he first saw Johnny Carson hosting The Tonight Show and thought that Carson was truly bombing his …

Miller, David

David Freeland Miller, who maintains a broadcasting studio in his Little Rock (Pulaski County) home, is producer and host of Swingin’ Down the Lane, a one-hour program that is broadcast weekly on more than forty National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates and independent commercial stations. The program is also heard on stations in Perth, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany. David Miller was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on April 6, 1928, the third of four children of Alan and Margaret Miller. He received his secondary education at the Pingry School in Elizabeth. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Princeton University and master’s and PhD degrees, also in psychology, from the University of Michigan. While still pursuing his doctorate, Miller was …

Murphy, Benjamin Edward (Ben)

Ben Murphy is an actor and tennis star who is perhaps best known for his leading role in the popular 1970s television series Alias Smith and Jones, although he is also known for starring roles in a number of other TV series, including The Name of the Game, Griff, Gemini Man, and Berrenger’s. He played a major character in the landmark TV mini-series The Winds of War and appeared in feature films including The Graduate (1967), Yours, Mine & Ours (1968), The Thousand Plane Raid (1969), To Protect and Serve (2001), and The Uniform Motion of Folly (2006). He is also a highly regarded tennis player on the United States Tennis Association (USTA) singles and doubles circuit. Benjamin Edward (Ben) …

Our Town [X-Files Episode]

“Our Town” was a 1995 episode of the television program The X-Files that began with a mysterious disappearance in the fictional town and county of Dudley (Seth County) in Arkansas and centered on strange happenings associated with a poultry-processing operation. Airing on May 12, 1995, “Our Town” was the twenty-fourth episode in the second season of The X-Files, a popular science fiction/mystery program that originally ran on the Fox Network from 1993 to 2002. In the episode, FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) come to Arkansas to investigate the disappearance of a federal chicken plant inspector; the conspiracy-minded Mulder is also intrigued by the report of “foxfire” in the area, though the local sheriff (Gary …

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) is a documentary filmed for HBO (but later released into theaters) by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky dealing with the 1994 trials of three teenagers charged with murdering and mutilating three eight-year-old boys in 1993. The defendants became known as the West Memphis Three because the murders happened in West Memphis (Crittenden County). The directors spent ten months interviewing those involved with the case. The documentary brought to light inadequacies in the local judicial system and led many to believe that the defendants had been wrongly accused and prosecuted. The film won a Primetime Emmy and was followed by two sequels: Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) and Paradise Lost 3: …

Payne, “Sunshine” Sonny

aka: John William Payne
“Sunshine” Sonny Payne was the longtime host of King Biscuit Time, the radio program broadcast on KFFA 1360 AM in Helena (Phillips County) (now Helena-West Helena) that has done much to popularize blues music. As blues journalist Don Wilcock wrote, “Sunshine Sonny Payne exists totally outside the boundaries that define and confine most of society. That he loves blues music and the people…all people…who make it and that he has a vehicle for expressing that love to thousands who then in turn influence millions makes the contribution of his cherub wisdom and good humor of incalculable value.” Sonny Payne was born John William Payne on November 29, 1925, to Gladys Swope Payne and William G. Payne, in Helena (Phillips County). …

Pittman, Montgomery

Montgomery Pittman was a television writer, director, and actor noted for writing the movie Come Next Spring set in a fictional version of Cushman (Independence County) in the 1920s. Other credits include writing and directing episodes of The Twilight Zone, Maverick, and 77 Sunset Strip. According to his California death certificate, Social Security records, and other official documents, Montgomery Cherlez Pittman was born in Louisiana on March 1, 1917; however, his World War II draft card gives his date of birth as March 1, 1920, and place of birth as specifically New Orleans. His parents’ names are often given as John Griffin Pittman and Mary Belle Thompson, but he is not listed as a member of their household in the …

Purcell, Lee

Emmy Award–nominated actress, producer, writer, and director Lee Purcell has starred in numerous films, television shows, and stage productions. At the beginning of her career, she was mentored by legendary movie star Steve McQueen, who said he chose her from about 500 actresses because she “seemed to jump right out of the screen.” Lee Purcell was born Lee Jeune Williams at the Cherrypoint Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina on June 15, 1947. Her father, Major Frank D. Williams Jr., was a highly decorated Marine Corps pilot who was killed while on active duty when she was a child. She was placed into the care of various relatives until her mother, Lee McKnight Williams, married again, this time to …

Robbins, Bob

aka: Robert Spears
Bob Robbins became a fixture of Arkansas radio in 1967, when he began working for KAAY in Little Rock (Pulaski County). In 1979, Robbins moved to KSSN 96 FM, Arkansas’s top country station. Robbins stayed with KSSN until the end of 2013. Since then, he has been heard on classic country station 105.1 “The Wolf.” In 1996, Robbins was named Broadcast Personality of the Year by the Country Music Association. In 2008, he was inducted into the Country Radio Broadcasters’ DJ Hall of Fame. Bob Robbins was born Robert Spears in Auburndale, Florida, on May 16, 1944. His father died from cancer when Spears was one month old. Spears, his siblings, and their mother were living on a farm in …

Rogers, Betty Blake

Betty Blake Rogers was the wife of Will Rogers, one of the most beloved entertainers of the twentieth century. In addition to her roles as wife and mother, she managed the family’s finances, a job made difficult by Will’s enormous success and generous nature. She was a partner in his career, encouraging him to start on the lecture circuit and helping him choose film scripts. Betty Blake was born on September 9, 1879, at Silver Springs, later called Monte Ne (Benton County), to James Wyeth Blake, a miller, and Amelia Crowder Blake. Her father died when she was young, and the family moved a few miles north to Rogers (Benton County). Betty was seventh in a family of nine, and …

Shead, Henry Wallace, Sr.

aka: Henry Shed
Henry Wallace Shead Sr. (a.k.a. Henry Shed) was a pianist, vocalist, composer, recording artist, actor, choral director, and teacher. He grew up playing and singing in his father’s church, and by the time he had finished college, he had developed the singing and piano-playing styles for which he became famous. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame in 2018. Henry Wallace Shead was born in Fordyce (Dallas County) on March 31, 1941, the third of five children born to the Reverend Henry Arthur Shead and Willie Labehel Reed Shead. He was raised in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and was introduced to the piano at the age of six …

Simple Life, The

The Simple Life is a reality television series broadcast on the Fox network depicting two wealthy young socialites, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, as they struggle with everyday tasks, including manual labor and low-paying jobs such as doing farm work, serving meals in fast-food restaurants, and working as camp counselors. The first season of The Simple Life (2003–2004) was set in Altus (Franklin County), a small town in the Arkansas Valley known for its vineyards. Fox executives wanted to return to the heyday of the sitcom, when such low-concept shows as Green Acres originally aired. The idea for the show involved doing Green Acres as a reality show. Hilton was chosen because of her popularity with young people. Richie was …

Smith, P. Allen

P. Allen Smith is an award-winning designer, a nationally known gardening/lifestyle expert, and the host of two public television programs, P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home and P. Allen Smith’s Garden to Table, as well as the syndicated show P. Allen Smith Gardens. He appears frequently as a guest on such programs as the CBS Early Show and the Today show on NBC, and on the Weather Channel, sharing design and gardening tips with viewers. He is a contributor for a number of national publications such as Elle Décor, House Beautiful, Southern Accents, Southern Living, and Woman’s Day, and is the author of several bestselling books. Paul Allen Smith Jr., the oldest of four children, was born on March 12, 1960, …

Stephens, Steve

aka: Stephen Owen Stephens
Stephen Owen Stephens was a well-known television and communications pioneer, most famous for Steve’s Show, a popular television program in the 1960s. He remained a communications specialist well into his retirement. Steve Stephens was born on April 22, 1930, as Rufus James Stephens to Owen and Allie Mae Stephens, owners of a restaurant service station in Newport (Jackson County). Later his parents opened a furniture store in the same town, which they successfully operated for more than twenty years. Stephens attended Castle Heights Military Academy and later graduated from Newport High School in 1948. Following graduation, he attended the University of Arkansas until the fall of 1950 when, “looking for adventure,” he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Attaining the rank …

Stickney, Phyllis Yvonne

Phyllis Yvonne Stickney is an actress, comedian, poet, playwright, producer, and motivational speaker best known for her television and film roles in the late 1980s and 1990s. Noted in the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of Essence magazine as one of 200 African-American women who have changed the world, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1998. Phyllis Stickney was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Belle and Felix Stickney Jr. She has publicly been vague about her age, and no available sources offer the year of her birth. Her father was an executive with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and the family moved frequently. She has two siblings, one of whom, Timothy, is also an …

Stouffer, Marty

Martin Luther Stouffer Jr. is a documentary filmmaker best known for his Wild America PBS television series involving endangered wildlife. Whereas many previous wildlife documentarians focused on filming in exotic locales in other countries, Stouffer primarily filmed in American locations in order to raise awareness of the plight of these animals. Marty Stouffer was born on September 5, 1948, near Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and grew up there with his parents, Martin Sr. and Agnes, two brothers, and a sister. Stouffer Sr. owned Arkansas Rebuilders Supply, which supplied auto parts for rebuilders. According to Stouffer, his parents encouraged him to explore the natural world; the woods and wild areas near his home awoke a love of nature in him, and …

Sullivan, Orean Lencola

Orean Lencola Sullivan of Morrilton (Conway County) broke many color barriers in Arkansas and became a nationally known public figure. She won four scholarship pageants from 1977 to 1980 and was the first African American to win those pageants. She was Miss Morrilton in 1977, Miss University of Central Arkansas in 1978, Miss White River in 1979, and Miss Arkansas in 1980. In September 1980, Sullivan competed in the Miss America Pageant and won the preliminary swimsuit competition. Overall, she was the fourth runner-up in the national pageant, the highest placement achieved by an African-American contestant up to that time. Lencola Sullivan was born on October 29, 1957, to Richard and Macie Sullivan of Morrilton. She was the oldest of …

Takei, George Hosato

George Hosato Takei gained international fame as Lieutenant Sulu in the original Star Trek television series and six movies. When he was a boy, he and his family were held in the War Relocation Authority Camp in Rohwer (Desha County). George Takei was born on April 20, 1937, in Los Angeles, California. His father, Takekuma Norman Takei, immigrated to the United States from Japan at age thirteen, graduated from Hills Business College in San Francisco, and owned a cleaning shop in the Wilshire corridor of Los Angeles. His mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura Takei, was a native U.S. citizen who was educated in Japan. In 1942, after the outbreak of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, …

Tales from the South

Tales from the South was a nationally recognized radio show. During its first year in 2005, shows were recorded in the studio of public radio station KUAR (FM 89.1) in Little Rock (Pulaski County). In 2005, Paula Martin Morell and her business partner and husband at the time, Jason Morell, opened the Starving Artist Café in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock (Pulaski County) and later began recording shows there. The café closed in 2014, and the show began recording at various venues in Little Rock and North Little Rock, as well as around Arkansas as part of a touring arts program, before ceasing production in 2016. On Tales from the South, amateur and professional writers read their own …

Thomas, John Orval

John Orval Thomas was a teacher, mentor, and role model for many television and film industry professionals in Arkansas. He worked as a sound engineer on major motion pictures, produced political campaign commercials, and had a variety of jobs in the television industry. Orval Thomas Jr. was born in Slocomb (Saline County) on November 25, 1919, to John Quincy Thomas Sr., who was a traveling preacher, and Eliza Eldridge Thomas. When Thomas was four, his parents started taking him on various “speaking engagements” of the revival circuit, where they would play one-reel silent movies in between his father’s sermons. When he was fourteen, Thomas took a job at a photography studio, the Deluxe Studio in Hot Springs (Garland County). There, …

Turner Bell, Debbye

aka: Debrah Lynn Turner
Debrah Lynn (Debbye) Turner Bell, who grew up in Jonesboro (Craighead County), was crowned Miss America 1990. After her reign as Miss America, she became a veterinarian, has appeared on national television, and is a motivational speaker on youth-related and Christian topics. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994. “Debbye” Turner was born on September 19, 1965, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Gussie Turner and Frederick Turner Jr., who was stationed there in the military. As a child, she set her goal to become a veterinarian but recognized the financial challenges ahead, especially after her parents’ divorce. Living in Jonesboro with her sister, Suzette, and her mother, who became an academic counselor at Arkansas State University …

Under Siege

The television movie Under Siege was first broadcast over two nights in February 1986. It was filmed in and around Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1985, with the Arkansas State Capitol standing in for the nation’s capitol building in Washington DC. Today, the movie is notable for its prescient storyline of a suicide terrorist attack by Arab nationals against the U.S. mainland, an idea considered improbable at the time. This movie should not be confused with a 1992 Steven Seagal martial-arts movie of the same title. The 136-minute film—which, with commercials, filled two ninety-minute showings on two evenings—was billed as a “Special Event Miniseries” on the NBC network. Under Siege was directed by Roger Young, who also directed the movies …

Underwood, Sheryl

Comedian and actress Sheryl P. Underwood has gained national recognition in comedy, television, politics, and philanthropy. She is a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. Sheryl Underwood was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) at St. Vincent Infirmary on October 28, 1963, to Cleo Underwood and Joyce Evelyn Underwood. She and her twin sister were premature and placed in an incubator shortly after birth; her twin died soon afterward. Underwood experienced domestic violence between her parents and spoke about it during her first episode as one of the hosts of The Talk, a CBS talk show, in 2011, revealing that she carries her twin’s birth certificate with her. Underwood has two other siblings: her brother Michael and her …

Van Dyke, Jerry

Jerry Van Dyke was a famous comedian and actor who lived in Arkansas; he was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 1998. He was perhaps most noted for his Emmy-nominated performance as Luther Van Dam on the television show Coach. Van Dyke and his wife, Shirley Jones, owned a ranch in Hot Spring County, and, in the late 1990s, they purchased and renovated a city block in Benton (Saline County), including the Royal Theatre and a soda shop that bears his name. Jerry Van Dyke was born in Danville, Illinois, on July 27, 1931, to Loren and Hazel Van Dyke. Loren Van Dyke was a traveling salesman for the Sunshine Biscuit Company. Both their sons had successful …

Vick, Volmer “Cactus”

Volmer “Cactus” Vick was one of Arkansas’s first radio and television personalities in the post–World War II era. As a showman, Vick was a combination of magician, ventriloquist, comedian, preacher, and cowboy. Vick’s three-decade-long career began on a local radio station in the late 1940s. He made thousands of appearances, in character, while working as spokesperson for the Finkbeiner Meat Packing Company and for the Continental Baking Company in Little Rock (Pulaski County), makers of Arkansas Maid Wieners and Wonder Bread, respectively. Volmer Voss Vick was born on a plantation at Varner (Lincoln County) on November 2, 1911. His father, K. P. Vick, had a general store there before he died, leaving Vick—the oldest of three children—to help his mother, …

Webber, Harold L. “Brother Hal”

Harold L. “Brother Hal” Webber was a popular morning announcer on the Little Rock (Pulaski County) radio station KLRA. A large part of central Arkansas woke up to his broadcast for over three decades. His morning show was always filled with homespun humor, storytelling, and advertisements that were more like recommendations from a friend—all interspersed with a mix of gospel and country music. Harold L. Webber was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on February 19, 1926. His grandparents were farmers in Poinsett County, Arkansas, and he spent time there in his younger days soaking up the rural culture and stories. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy Seabees. After the war, he returned to Memphis, where he married …

Whitworth, Donna Axum

Donna Axum Whitworth was the first Miss Arkansas to win the title of Miss America. She retained the distinction of being the only Miss Arkansas crowned Miss America from 1964 until 1982, when Elizabeth Ward was crowned. Donna Axum was born in 1942 in El Dorado (Union County) to Idelle and Hurley B. Axum. Her father was a banker. She said she began entering beauty pageants because, as a young person, she had an inferiority complex about being too thin and not having “a figure.” She was determined to work at improving herself and enhancing her feeling of self-worth. She won her first title, Miss Union County, in 1958 as a high school senior in El Dorado when she was …

Williams, Harold Gene

Harold Gene Williams was a promoter of country music, a radio and television personality, and a businessman, becoming the host of the most widely syndicated country music television show outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Gene Williams was born on January 3, 1938, in Tyronza (Poinsett County) to Abe Rubel Williams and Myrtis Elease Williams, both Mississippi natives. He was one of three children. His father was a farmer and carpenter. As a boy, Williams helped his family in the cotton fields. Williams and his family moved to Dyess (Mississippi County), where they had purchased land, in 1943. Williams attended high school in Dyess, where he began his lifelong obsession with music. He also excelled as a basketball player and wrote for …

WOK

WOK was the first radio station in Arkansas, started in 1922 by Harvey C. Couch Sr., founder of Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L). Meant to service the Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) area, it was one of the early leaders in the field of mass media. In 1921, Couch visited Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the radio station KDKA, which is generally considered the creator of the modern form of broadcasting (and is also famous for announcing the results of the 1920 presidential election). On this trip, he met Lee de Forest, who invented the “radio-telephone”; Couch bought equipment and decided to set up a radio station in his home state, “to advertise Arkansas and, incidentally, [AP&L].” He believed this new means of …