A Decade of Country Music: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

In 1979, KSSN 95.7 hired Bob Robbins (aka Robert Spears) away from KAAY and began broadcasting country music. Throughout the 1980s, KSSN grew to become the top country music station in Arkansas and by the early 1990s, was winning awards for being the top country music station in the country. Robbins would be the #1 DJ in the Little Rock market for 20 straight years.

Faulkner County residents became part of the growing fan base for some of the top country artists of the 1980s like George Strait, Reba McEntire, and Randy Travis. They became big fans of duos like Brooks and Dunn and The Judds as well as groups like Alabama, the Oak Ridge Boys and Restless Heart.

Country line dancing also became a wildly popular activity among these country music lovers. In 1981, Bob Robbins opened up B.J.’s Star-Studded Honky-Tonk out on I-30. The night club sported a large dance floor with the DJ booth housed in a semi-truck front. Here, Faulkner County residents and many others learned to line dance, “boot scoot” and do the “Texas 2-Step.”

Another popular place in Little Rock to line dance and 2-step was Wrangler’s, a small club located on Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock. Faulkner County people flocked there on Thursday and Saturday nights to dance around a tree on a wooden dance floor. Wrangler’s also offered dance lessons so patrons could come early and learn to “slap leather” or do the “reggae.” This is where many met their future spouses.

My group of friends also attended some early concerts of up-and-coming Country artists in the 1980s. One Saturday afternoon, my cousin, Carol, and I took lawn chairs and listened to The Judds perform at Lester Flatt Memorial Park outside Vilonia. On another Sunday, a carload of us traveled over to Beebe to hear an up-and-coming artist by the name of Randy Travis. We all sat on the Beebe High School gym floor to hear him sing “The Chair” and many other songs that became hits.

KSSN and Bob Robbins were responsible for bringing many top country music artists to Arkansas during the 1980s and Little Rock became a big venue for Faulkner County country music fans to attend some great concerts. In 1987 and 1988, my friends and I attended multiple concerts at Barton Coliseum.

In October, 1987 we saw George Strait in concert. The next month, we saw Alabama, Restless Heart and Michael Johnson perform. In April, 1988, Alabama, The Judds, George Strait and Randy Travis performed as part of the Marlboro Country Music Tour. A month later we saw Reba McEntire.

Country music concerts continued to come to Little Rock in the 1990s as Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks became top artists. In 1991, hundreds of country music fans camped out at ticket venues to get tickets for Garth Brooks’ November 5 concert at Barton Coliseum. There was no Ticketmaster at this time so you actually had to go to places like Sears to get colored, card stock tickets. Brooks ended up adding another tour date because the first show sold out so quickly.

Wrangler’s eventually closed after problems arose with underage drinking. Bob Robbins sold his interest in B.J.’s Star-Studded Honky-Tonk in the early 1990s. B.J.’s became the Electric Cowboy in 2000. In 2013, Bob Robbins, the iconic voice of KSSN’s “Bob Robbins in the Morning,” moved to sister station, KMJX 105.1—The Wolf where he now spins classic country music for the die-hard fans. Some still “boot scoot” and “slap leather” to those great hits of the 1980s.

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