I Heard It On the Radio, Part II: “Looking Back”

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

When I was growing up in Faulkner County, the two main Conway radio stations were KCON and KVEE. Even though television provided us with visual entertainment, we still turned to our radio stations for local news, coverage of local elections, live local sports coverage and our favorite tunes.

Bill Johnson, who had been a KCON announcer while in college, became the general manager of KCON in 1962 less than a year after James Clayton, the founder, passed away. Johnson purchased interest in the radio station in 1965 and served as general manager until 1977 when he became President of Security Savings and Loan, a new bank that opened in Conway in 1960. He continued as a play-by-play announcer for football and basketball broadcasts.

In 1977, Johnson and Mrs. Clayton sold the radio station to a group of investors who ran the station until 1980 when they had to file for bankruptcy. The station was transferred to Mrs. Clayton, the Johnsons, Adair Howell and Paul Logan in August, 1980.

Logan, a native of Heber Springs and a graduate of Hendrix College, became manager of the station when the local group acquired the station. He also did play-by-play broadcasts of sporting events in addition to managerial duties. Mrs. Howell joined KCON in 1974 following graduation from the University of Central Arkansas. She became Sales Manager and worked until her resignation in April, 1984.

The station was strongly committed to local news coverage. Under News Director Monty Rowell, also a graduate of UCA, KCON won a number of awards from United Press International (UPI), a worldwide newsgathering organization. It received state and regional awards in 1980 and 1982 for the best spot news coverage, awards in 1981 and 1982 for the best radio newscast, and a UPI award in 1983 for the best sports coverage.

While a student at ASTC in the 1950s, Tom Bonner ran the “Tommy Bonner Show,” a popular late-afternoon Top 40 program on KCON. Bonner later became well known as the weather anchor and Dialing-for-Dollars host for KARK-TV Channel 4 in Little Rock. He became a top executive with KARK and is now a media executive for Arkansas Children’s Hospital. He was named a UCA Distinguished Alumni in 2010 and has donated his papers to the UCA Archives.

One of my most vivid memories of KCON coverage was the 1979 Conway High School graduation. In the 1970s and 1980s, graduation was held at the high school football stadium. Since it was held in May, the odds were great that there would be rain. Often the bleachers were wet because of a recent rain but in 1979, the administration deemed it impossible to have graduation outside because of the weather.

Thus the Conway High School Class of 1979 was doomed to celebrate graduation in the high school gym. The gym could not contain all the family and friends that usually attended such events so only immediate family was invited. All others were welcome to listen to graduation over KCON. Some may even remember the stumbles and blunders that were made in calling out the names of the graduates.

KVEE, the other radio station in town, was originally owned by J.C. Willis, Hugh C. Jones, Harold J. Nichols and William E. Cooper. They sold the station to Robin Brown of Brown Broadcast, Inc. in 1965. Robin Brown was the son of Paul Brown, legendary coach of the Cleveland Browns and coach/owner of the Cincinnati Bengals. The studio was located on Washington Avenue and the station played mostly country music.

Several notable personalities worked there over the years. From1966-1971 Orville B. Jenkins was a radio announcer and producer. James “Uncle Mac” MacKrell, an Arkansas radio personality who unsuccessfully ran for Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas in 1950 and Governor of Arkansas in 1970, began hosting a radio show called Party Line on KVEE in Conway after the 1970 election.
Robin Brown sold the radio station to Lloyd Stone of Conway and Rick Osbourne of Fayetteville in 1972. They sold the station in 1979. Many local country music listeners then became fans of Bob Robbins and KSSN 96, a Little Rock station which went on the air in 1979.

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