This passage is from my Ph.D. dissertation on "Beaker Street." It gives a very brief background on radio in Arkansas, and focuses on KAAY in particular. A more complete account (up until 1974) can be obtained from the work "Arkansas Airwaves," by Ray Poindexter. It is a more comprehensive history of radio broadcasting in Arkansas from the very beginnings until 1974, the year the book was published. This selection is from Chapter Two, the Literature Review of the project.
Arkansas Radio and KAAY
(Copyright 2009 by Richard Cyril Robinson)
In 1962, Arkansas was still in the aftermath of the 1957 integration crisis in Little Rock. Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart in1962 by opening his first store in the chain, named the Walton Family Center in Rogers, Arkansas (Dougan, 1993). One of the first radio stations in Arkansas was in Conway, located 30 miles northwest of the capital city of Little Rock. The United States Department of Commerce issued a license for radio station KFKQ on October 2, 1923. The station call sign stood for Known for Knowledge Quest (Dolan, Kelso & Robinson, 1986). In the radio business in Arkansas, numerous changes were taking place. Several radio stations, including KFPW in Fort Smith, KELD in El Dorado, KAAB in Hot Springs and KWYN in Wynne were beginning to attract audiences. The story of KAAY begins in 1924 in the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The owners were granted a license to operate a Class B broadcast radio station, under the call letters of KTHS (an acronym for “Come to Hot Springs”). The station was located in the Arlington Hotel. The hotel actually owned the new enterprise, and included space and facilities for the station in its building (Poindexter, 1974).
Initially the station had 500 watts of power, which was increased to 5,000 watts in 1928, then to 10,000 watts later that same year, while jumping its frequency from 800 kilocycles to 1040 kilocycles on the AM band. The frequency was again moved to 1060 in 1934, and then to its current frequency position of AM 1090 on March 29, 1941. KTHS was granted authority to move to West Memphis, Arkansas on March 29, 1941, along with permission to increase the power to 50,000 watts. However, after numerous protests, including one from a former governor, the Federal Communications Commission rescinded that approval (Reeves, 1985).
KTHS moved from Hot Springs to Little Rock, the capital city of Arkansas, on Tuesday, March 24, 1953, and began broadcasting with a maximum authorized power of 50,000 watts. The studios were located at 313 South Main, in downtown Little Rock, with the transmitter and towers located just south of Little Rock in Wrightsville. The KTHS call sign was maintained until July 1962, when the station was purchased by the LIN Broadcasting Corporation, and began operating under the call sign KAAY. The studios were moved to 1425 West 7th Street in 1965. In the beginning, the station began referring to itself in promotional announcements as “The Big K.” In the years to come, KAAY would promote itself as “The Friendly Giant, ” “The Mighty Ten-Ninety” and “The Nighttime Voice of Arkansas.” The station was eventually sold to Multimedia Inc. in 1975, and the studios were moved to a new building located just off the Arkansas River, at 2400 Cottondale Road, in November of 1977 (Lindsay, Walsh, 2004).
In 1985, Multimedia sold the station to Sudbrink Inc., a Christian broadcasting concern. On April 4, 1985, KAAY became a 24-hour Christian radio station, with a music format of Southern Gospel (Green, 1985). In June of 1987, Sudbrink sold the station to Beasley Broadcasting of Naples, Florida. In August of 1998, it was announced that Citadel Communications would purchase KAAY from Beasley Broadcasting for five million dollars. The transfer was accomplished in November 1998, and the studios were moved to a temporary headquarters at 4021 West 8th Street, which is where Citadel’s news and talk station, KARN, AM 920 was located. KAAY, along with KARN, The Arkansas Radio Network, and Citadel’s other stations moved to a new building at 700 Wellington Hills Road in February of 2000. The station remains to this day a 24-hour Christian format, but the music format was changed to “inspirational” religious programming in September of 2000 (Lindsay, personal communication, April 19, 2004 & Walsh, personal communication, March 16, 2004).
Today, KAAY continues to operate as Arkansas’ third oldest continuously licensed broadcast radio station, with a maximum authorized power of 50,000 watts on the AM band, directional at night, on a licensed frequency of 1090 kilocycles. The station currently airs religious-based programming, 24-hours a day, seven days a week (Walsh, 2004).
From that date in 1962 until the mid-1980s, this 50,000-watt, Class 1C radio station, broadcasting on 1090 kilohertz, was the acclaimed king of the airwaves in Arkansas, in terms of signal strength, innovative promotion, station marketing and audience ratings (Koch, 2004). The signal of this clear channel station could be heard during the nighttime hours from Canada to both Central and South America. During this period, many personalities were developed and maintained on this station (Lindsay, 2004). The radio station entity owned the legal rights to the names of the air personalities (Walsh, 1994). One air personality, named Howard Watson, known on the air as Ken Knight, left KAAY and moved to another Little Rock, Arkansas radio station, and began to use that name. The station sued and won, forcing Watson to change his name, which he did via a radio contest, with the listeners ultimately deciding upon his becoming Len Day (Hill, 2003). This was a bit of a slam against his old employer, the LIN Broadcasting Corporation (Walsh, 2004).
At KAAY, there was a large focus on news, including farm reporting. Sports broadcasts were a mainstay on the station, particularly the airing of games of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville football team, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Later, Arkansas State University at Jonesboro football games was also aired to the station's listeners. Religious programming also had a place during the broadcast day (Walsh, 2004). Innovations were common, both in programming and promotions (Walsh, 2004). One contest featured participants throwing dried cow manure, dubbed a cow-chip-throwing competition. Another featured an annual Skunk Festival (Graham, 2004).