Thursday, January 7, 2010

Herbie Byrd and Pat Walsh

I remember Herbie Byrd well.  His professionalism as a broadcast radio journalist was legendary in Arkansas.   In one of my interviews with Pat Walsh (actually, it was a telephone conversation in the car, headed for a luncheon with media types in Little Rock), he spoke of Byrd.  Pat said that while the KAAY news team - which had several reporters and at one point two farm reporters - was great, they could rarely get the scoop on a story before Herbie Byrd.  Walsh was highly complimentary, and a great admirer of the reporter.  In fact, he indicated that he approached Byrd on more than one occasion about going to work the the mighty 1090, but Byrd was loyal to KLRA and never moved to KAAY.  

This is an interesting point, because Walsh did not think highly of employees who jumped to another station in Little Rock from KAAY.  In fact, he had a hard and fast rule that if a staff member, especially a disc jockey, went to another station in the Little Rock market, he would never rehire that person back at KAAY.  You may wonder why, given the fact that KAAY was the dominant station in the market, that anyone would want to do that.  But some of them did.  Probably the most historic case was Howard Watson, who was one of the "Ken Knights" on KAAY.  Howard left KAAY for KMYO ("Cameo") in LIttle Rock and tried to take the moniker Ken Knight with him.  KAAY sued him and won.  As a result, KMYO held a contest to give him a new name.  The listeners dubbed him "Len Day."  This was ironic, because KAAY was owned at that time by the LIN (Louisville-Indianapolis-Nashville) Broadcasting Corporation, and some thought that this was a jab at them.  Both Howard and the station denied it, of course.

It was obvious in my conversation with Walsh that he had the greatest respect for Herbie Byrd, both as a broadcast journalist and as a person.  The two remained close friends through the years, even after Walsh retired from radio.  Herbie Byrd was the consummate professional in Arkansas radio news, and Pat Walsh knew it.

Richard Robinson

1 comment:

  1. I have great recollections of both Howard Watson and Herbie Byrd. First of all Herbie: Yes, a very true professional newsman. I came to know this even better after I left KAAY to go to KTHV (Television). I worked for a while as a news reporter on TV and would run into Herbie and the other reporters (Newspaper) regularly. This was mostly a time when Winthrop Rockefeller was Governor of Arkansas. I remember many times when the reporters would grill the Governor at press conferences. Herbie took no back seat to any of the old newspaper guys who could get W.R. in a sweat on a regular basis. Herbie was good. As a side note: I thought many times that the Governor should get up and walk out on them. I even considered, at one time when he gave me an exclusive interview, telling him...."Why don't you tell them until you guys start treating me with the respect that this job can demand, I'll just go back in my office" W.R. was just too nice to them. He would sit there with sweat pouring off his face, smoking one Picaune(?) after another, and allow them to whip him entirely too long. Herbie though, was always good to me. If I was in total confusion (as a young D.J. turned reporter) to what had just happened, he would take time to explain to me if I asked. He was a seasoned reporter and I was a kid who wanter to be on TV. We both got our wish, I suppose.

    My take on the Howard Watson story is a little different too. As I remember it, Howard knew he could not take the Ken Knight name across town. He did it for the publicity. He knew KAAY would sue, but there would be lots of coverage on it too, and his audience would know of the change and follow him to KMYO if they wanted. Also on the name change....."Len" was the first name of the KAAY General Manager (Len Carl) and Knight is the opposite of Day. I believe it was all done in a fun sort of way. I doubt if anyone at either station was really upset over it. I worked, up until a short while back with Howard's son Jeff (doing TV production) and was able to keep up with his dad a little. I gave him some old Silver Doller Surveys to frame for his dad. Howard, still Len Day, was on the radio everyday in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas until some health matters arose. I understand he now lives in North Little Rock. I hope that he will be able to return to the radio some day, and I hope we can hear from him sometime in the future on this blog. Great voice.

    One more detail on the KLRA/KAAY newsroom guys: Walt Sadler worked with Mr. Byrd at KLRA before coming to the KAAY newsteam as Ron Owens. Walt, who died a few years back, in my opinion, had the best pure radio voice of anyone who ever worked there.

    Tom Perryman doesn't count. He wasn't an employee. Although you know, when God was handing out voices, Perryman broke in line and got to be number one.

    Jerry Sims Sonny Martin KAAY a while back