Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hollis Duncan Recounts KLRA, Little Rock, AR History

If I remember correctly, A. J. had mentioned Little Rock station KLRA, numerous times on his blog; here, Hollis also recounts some interesting history:

"Here's some information on KLRA. I have derived most of this information either from memory or from a thorough review of a suitcase full of engineering documents that I rescued from the rat-dropping-covered floor of the old KLRA transmitter building.

In the late 1960s, KLRA-1010 was operating from its transmitter site at Galloway. KLRA operated with 10,000 watts nondirectional days and 5,000 watts at night into a 4-tower parallelogram array. The towers were too short to operate properly on 1010 and therein lies a story.

Before 1942, KLRA operated with 5 kw days and 1 kw at night from a 2-tower array slightly NE of the 15th Street Exit on I-30 in North Little Rock, later the site of KDXE/KEWP-1380. During WWII, new radio station construction was placed on hold with very few exceptions (like KCTA-1030 in Corpus Christi). However, KLRA was owned by the Arkansas Gazette and they had enough political pull to obtain a Construction Permit to increase KLRA's power. The Gazette obtained a Construction Permit for Galloway and started construction. But it was wartime, KLRA could not buy a new transmitter, so it obtained a 10,000 watt RCA transmitter, which was an older unit and was at least one generation older than the KAAY transmitter. Because 10,000 watts is an fairly odd power level, the transmitter may have been even older than that. I have a vague memory that the transmitter was in a warehouse in South America. The phasor, open-wire transmission lines and the antenna tuning units were scrounged and filled with scrounged components, making everything rather unstable and it provided an odd and very poor match to the transmitter. The war also meant that KLRA couldn't obtain enough steel for proper-size towers or enough copper to install a proper ground system.

The KLRA nighttime array generated a big lobe of radiation toward Memphis and another big lobe pointed toward Dallas, with a broad SE null and a huge null covering the entire north side of the array. Because 1010 is Canadian Clear Channel, KLRA was required to protect the entire Canadian Border at night. In my experience, KLRA's nighttime coverage extended almost to the northern Pulaski County Line, but you could hear KLRA at night in Dallas and Memphis. It later appeared that the original proof of performance may have been fudged or maybe even faked (the so-called Hotel Room Proof of Performance).

Ancient transmitter, short towers, poor ground system, flaky phasor, faked antenna proof. All of these problems would haunt KLRA throughout its doomed existence.

By the middle 1960s, KLRA was owned by the legendary Mr. Leonard Coe. Mr. Coe made a fortune building the Texas Quality Network (later TSN - The Texas State Network) and (I think) as Sales Manager of WBAP-Fort Worth. He moved to Little Rock and either started or bought KVLC-1050, The Voice of Leonard Coe. KVLC's transmitter site was east of Little Rock. When the City wanted to expand Adams Field, Mr. Coe made the City build him a very nice antenna site at the foot of Big Rock in North Little Rock. Mr. Coe later sold KVLC, which became KMYO, KSOH, and so on, and bought KLRA.

As an aside, Mr. Coe owned a lot of vacant land on Hayes Street and stock in a little gas company. As I heard the story from the KLRA crew, Mr. Coe fell under the influence of some New York investors who convinced him to sell his land on Hayes Street (now University Avenue) and his stock in Arkla Gas. I met Mr. Coe when we were testing KLAZ one afternoon and Mr. Coe heard it on his radio and stopped by for a tour.

When I became aware of radio in the mid-60s, KLRA was "Ten Thousand Watts at 1010 on your dial, KLRA. First in Little Rock." KLRA advertised on taxicabs and (along with KARK and maybe KAAY) published its schedule in the newspapers. KLRA had CBS, the Cardinals, the Razorbacks, and Herbie Byrd. The air staff was Blande Perry (Chief Engineer) at sign-on. Brother Hal, Dick Alford, Jerry Hendrix (the Jerry-Go-Round), Marv Heffington, and Paul DeMaree. Elmer Overton "Alan"" Hurst was the long-time production director and copywriter at KLRA and may have done traffic.

KLRA was a strong local presence in the 60s. KLRA flipped from standards to country music around 1970 and started trying to compete with KXLR and KDXE without much success. However, the Brother Hal show was a real money-maker and Mr. Coe added to his profits by requiring that all advertising on Brother Hal must be placed through the Arkansas Advertising Agency, which was owned by his Son-in-Law, Gary Carroll.

During the 60s and 70s, Little Rock started to grow westward and northward into KLRA's nighttime nulls. At night, the NW starting point of KLRA's nighttime pattern null to Canada fell right across the Heights section of Little Rock, producing fading along Cantrell Road. Because KLRA was a secondary occupant of 1010, a new station in the St. Louis area (KXEN-Festus) was allowed to begin operation with a 6-tower antenna array that is pointed straight toward North Arkansas. This station caused severe interference to KLRA in the early morning and late-evening hours even in Little Rock. KLRA also knew that its daytime coverage wasn't nearly as good as KAAY, KARK, or even KBHS and set out to fix this, only to encounter a set of built-in problems.

First, KLRA took the logical step of upgrading its ground system. For reasons of confusion and poor documentation, KLRA ended up installing two ground systems over several years. KLRA also discovered that it was radiating too much power toward Canada at night and spent a year with an on-site Consulting Engineer to try to correct this problem. KLRA operated with antenna parameters at variance for many years. Unfortunately, this effort was directed toward returning KLRA to its 1942 antenna settings and it turned out that these settings were wrong. As far as I know, KLRA never did achieve proper operation of its nighttime directional antenna system.

Next, KLRA tried to increase the height of its towers. Up to a point, more height = more radiation at AM frequencies. But by then, Adams Field had become the Little Rock airport and KLRA was right in the runway flight path, so the FAA would not permit KLRA to increase its tower height. Of course, any change in the antennas would have required a full nighttime antenna proof of performance with requirements that KLRA might not ever be able to meet.

Finally, KLRA decided to add top-loading to the towers to increase their effective radiation. But by then, other stations had begun operation on 1010 and KLRA found that it was limited by a station in the Houston area. As far as I know, that was the last time that KLRA tried to improve its operation.

KLRA repeatedly tried to find a different site, but the requirements of suitable land and maintaining good City coverage made it difficult to find a good site. I would have moved it slightly to the north and far enough to the east to be able to build taller towers, but they didn't ask me.

To make matters worse, KLRA just never sounded right. I believe that the combination of the very old transmitter, which may not have even been designed with enough bandwidth to broadcast music, and a deficient antenna system that wasn't matched properly at the sidebands. KLRA replaced the RCA with a Collins 10,000 watt transmitter but as far as I know, the antenna phasing and coupling system was never upgraded. KLRA even went stereo in 1982 or so but it never sounded right.

The KLRA transmitter site now looks like the aftermath of a nuclear (in Texas, nucular) explosion. As I understand it, KLRA was bought and closed by a station on 1010 in New York. At night, many licensed radio stations have a "night limit," which is the coverage contour that the station is limited to at night because of interference from other stations on the channel. Each station likewise contributes to the night limit of every other station, depending on the distance between them and the radiation to or from that particular direction. It appears that KLRA, probably because of its Memphis radiation lobe, was limiting the New York station and they improved their coverage somewhat by eliminating KLRA from the dial. But by that time, KLRA had apparently started to drift and was no longer a factor in the Little Rock market.

Now, if they had asked me, I might have recommended that the New York station could solve its problem by buying KLRA a new antenna system. I would have eliminated the Memphis lobe and moved KLRA far enough from the airport to be able to erect tall towers and increase my coverage of Little Rock.

But, bottom-line, KLRA is a missed opportunity. Like KTHS/KAAY and KARK, KLRA should have upgraded its facilities during the 1950s and by the time that it came to its senses, it was too late. And KLRA is a rapidly-fading memory in the minds of increasingly-senile engineers.

Best regards,

Hollis W. Duncan
Edmonds WA"

Thank you again, Hollis!  You mentioned some "large" names  of whom many of us are familiar.  Keep 'em coming!
 
Bud S. (staceys4@hotmail.com)

15 comments:

  1. My Dad, Bill Summers, worked evenings and news for KLRA 1010 in the 70-80's. I vaguely recall a story that KVLC was named for Vicky Lynn Coe, Mr. Leonard Coe's daughter. Is there any truth in that? Thanks for bringing back some memories from those times. I remember drinking cocoa from the KLRA drink manchine, sleeping on the couch when I was allowed to go in with Dad to work. You always had to use the bathroom before you got to the station. It was so flithy that Dad wouldn't let me in there. Being an announcer's kid had it's perks including seats at the Travs games.

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  2. KVLC was named after The Coe's 4th (and last) child: Virginia Lynn Coe

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  3. Bill Summers was one of the nicest fellows that I ever met. I first Bill him when he was doing news at KAAY after moving from KXLR. He later went to KLRA as a DJ and I spent time with him in the control room. Bill had a First Class Radiotelephone License, which was required to operate KLRA at night.

    As I recall, Bill had a small child when he was at KAAY (maybe you?) and Jonnie King used to babysit in the control room while Bill was doing the news.

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  4. I worked at KLRA during 1983 and 1984. It was during that timeframe that stereo was added to the AM station. Legends in LR radio, Brother Hal (Weber) and Jerry Hendrix were still regular voices at that time. Typical of any radio job I ever held, there were a lot of interesting events and characters associated with the station. We even had a mascot - a cat named 'Garfield'. Garfield didn't below to anyone but was cared for by the entire crew.

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  5. IF I REMEMBER RIGHT ENGINEER BLAND PERRY WAS THE MAN THAT TURNED THE SWITCH TO THE ARKANSAS ELECTRIC CHAIR ON WHEN AN EXECUTION HAD TO BE PERFORMED.

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    1. That's true about Blande Perry, he got paid $100 for each time he flipped the switch of Ol' Sparky. He also was responsible for keeping it in proper working order.

      I worked at KLRA for 11 years as Paul Miller, starting in 1971. I followed Bill and worked Midnight to 5 am, when Blande Perry came on for an hour, then turned it over to Brother Hal.

      It was a great time to be in radio and I enjoyed it very much. One night I went to station and noticed they had put a satellite dish in the front yard of the station. I joked that they were going to let us watch TV during our down times. I shortly found out that the station was going automated and all air personnel were being let go. I learned I was being fired an hour before my final show, but was asked not to mention it by the new owners. I honored their request until the final five minutes. I couldn't leave without at least saying goodbye...

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    2. I've climbed all 4 of those old towers many times during the late 80's and early 90's. They were unique in that they were 4 sided towers. 4 anchor points for each structure. I thoroughly enjoyed being at the site and listening to the engineer explain how more efficient the open line feed system was compared the coaxial equivalent. With the adjacent horse farm and the rural setting of the surrounding area, going out to that old station made you feel like you were visiting a relative out in the country. I am privileged to have been a part of it when it still mattered. Bland Perry is one of the coolest cats to ever make sparks in the broadcast world. Kevin Purifoy

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  6. Does anybody know what station broadcast from the now abandoned site at the corner of US-70 and Ark. 161 in North Little Rock? 3 towers still stand and I believe a 4th tower has collapsed. It is easily visible at the intersection. It appears to have been a 4 tower in a row combination. Also, a single tower still stands just off North Hills Blvd. behind an industrial park. The 2 tower KARN site is visible from this point.

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    1. The three remaining towers near US-70 & Ark. 161 was the site of KXLR 1150AM.

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  7. I have a picture of my Dad Bill Summers (Stracner) in a control room. I would like help identifying the Radio Station and a time range it was taken. I have no idea how to attach a picture. Help appreciated. Thanks Lesley

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  8. I have a Black and White Photo of my Dad Bill Summers (Stracner) at work. Can you help me identify the control room and about what year range it would be? There are these choices (that I know of): KBBA, KXLR, KAAY or KLRA. I need instructions on how to post the picture for starters. Thanks!!!

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  9. Paul Miller,

    If you are seeing this, I would love to talk with you. According to your post above, you worked with my Dad Bill Summers at KLRA (Bill Edwards at KAAY) actually, Bill Stracner. If you can help me out, please contact Bud Stacey, he will let me know. Thanks!!! Lesley

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  10. My father, Claude P Garner, The Harmonica Wizard, and his nephew, Marty Garner, had a show called The Garner Brothers on KLRA in the early 1940s. Dave Goodman was the announcer

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  11. KAAY came to LR in the early 50s as KTHS (From Hot Springs). Seems like there were five stations at that time. KARK (920), KLRA (1010), KVLC (1050), KXLR (1150), and KGHI SOMEWHERE around 1250. Surprised that I remember that much.

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  12. Tom Cardin
    I am married to Charlene Dial Cardin. Her Father Charles Edward Dial better known as "The Talking Blues Boy" was featured on KLRA radio in the 40's and 50's with his wife Alma Crosby known as Little Shoe. I am desperately looking for any of their music. If anyone can point me in the right direction it would be greatly appreciated.

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