REX NELSON: Keep the radio local
Jay Bunyard’s eyes light up when I ask him to talk about the story of KDQN-AM 1390 in De Queen. Bunyard now owns 17 radio stations across the state and broadcasts programs statewide, but that’s where he cut his teeth on radio.
He tells me that KDQN went on the air in 1956. Bunyard, who had worked at the station for six years, bought it in 1983 from Haskell Jones, a legendary Arkansas broadcaster. It was Jones who gave a high school student named Mike Huckabee his KXAR-AM radio debut in Hope.
âMy bill was $ 200 a month, and Haskell didn’t require a down payment,â Bunyard says as we sit in the De Queen building that now serves as Bunyard Broadcasting’s head office. âIn 1994, I was at a Rotary Club meeting where the local school principal spoke. He spoke about the number of Hispanic students in our schools. The light bulb went out in my head, and we became the first station in the state to go to an all-Spanish format. “
The Spanish-language format is still a hit on the AM dial in an area of ââthe state where poultry factories have attracted thousands of Hispanic workers.
Out of its many English-language stations, most of which are on the FM dial, Bunyard still offers listeners old-school community radio. The focus on regional news and sports is becoming increasingly scarce in the age of corporate ownership and satellite signals.
âThere are dozens of outlets where you can get music,â Bunyard says. “But I see it as a brick building with no mortar between the bricks. The mortar on the local radio tells people what’s going on. Our stations are showing the games of 14 high school football teams. We read the obituaries at on air, have 12 local TV news every day and give you the prices of livestock and grain. We make time twice an hour. There is the exchange store so people can call to buy and sell things. “
Its stations tend to have live morning broadcasts. Bunyard quotes Bob Knight, a friend who has owned radio stations at Mountain Home and has been hosting a morning show there for over 40 years. “Bob always said that it was enough to dominate the mornings and that the rest of the day would take care of itself.”
On one of the FM stations from Bunyard to De Queen, a team of three hosts a show from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. five mornings a week.
âWe’re embracing the technology,â Bunyard says. “All of our stations broadcast over the Internet. Yet it’s what we do locally that will make us successful. As long as we focus on local news and sports, we’ll be fine.”
Like Bunyard, Wynne’s Bobby Caldwell owns radio stations statewide. And like Bunyard, he focuses on the community.
KWYN-AM 1400 at Wynne was released in September 1956 at 250 watts. The station was created by Bud and Hannah Raley, who came from Paragould. Bud Raley coined “City With a Smile” as Wynne’s slogan. When he was killed in a car crash in 1966, Hannah continued to operate the station.
KWYN’s morning show is known as “Yawn Patrol” and is among the oldest radio programs in the country that have retained the same name. In May 1969, KWYN-FM 92.7 was released. It would later change frequencies to 92.5 FM and expand to 50,000 watts, covering eastern Arkansas as well as parts of western Tennessee and northern Mississippi.
Up the street in Jonesboro, KBTM-FM 101.9 became Arkansas’ premier FM radio station. It was released in 1947, 17 years after the signing of KBTM-AM 1230.
KBTM-FM would become a 100,000 watt station covering parts of five states. This signal was then killed so that what was then known as Clear Channel Communications could put a station on the air at the same frequency in Memphis.
“Various circumstances have led to the creation of radio stations,” wrote Ray Poindexter in his book “Arkansas Airways”. Https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/oct/16/keeping-radio-local/ A young man’s efforts to earn a Boy Scout badge of merit on radio were the origin of the first Paragould station. In 1924 Jay Palmer Beard was searching magazines recreation, looking for a circuit diagram of a radio receiving station when he found a drawing of a low power radio transmitter.
âHis father, WJ Beard, had established the Beard Music Hall in Paragould in 1903. In 1924 he was considering adding radio to the musical product line. Jay built the little transmitter and tested it in the back room of their house. Some of the friends came from a few blocks away and said, “We hear you clearly like a bell.” His parents were delighted with his success. “
A family friend named Allan Grace had built a shortwave station near Jonesboro. He was hired to build a more powerful transmitter. An application for a station license was filed with the Federal Radio Commission in 1928. A building permit was granted in November 1929, a month after the stock market crashed.
KBTM was the acronym for Beard’s Temple of Music. Call letters were issued in December 1929 and the station aired in Paragould in March 1930. It then moved to Jonesboro.
Additional radio stations were established throughout the state throughout the rest of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. When KVRC-AM first aired in Arkadelphia in 1947, my mother was the business owner. She had just graduated from the current Baptist University of Ouachita. My father was a year older, but he had served for two years in World War II and he still had a year in college.
I was delighted to find my mother’s name years ago in Poindexter’s book as it listed the original KVRC staff. I would keep the family tradition alive when I went to work at KVRC as a high school student.
Editor-in-chief Rex Nelson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He is also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.