Monday, September 24, 2012

Barry Mac: A Few Words About The KAAY 50th Birthday Party

I started out writing a little bit more formally about this event that transpired at The Oyster Bar party room on Friday, September 14th, but ended up scrapping that draft and going with something a little more informal. After all, it’s radio!

My immediate concern that evening was that there had been a couple of torrential downpours of rain, and I thought this might keep a few people away. And indeed, there were at least half a dozen no-shows that stood out. But my main concern was Sonny Martin and his wife driving in from Searcy, which is about an hour northeast of Little Rock. Fortunately, they drove in a bit earlier in the afternoon, and were already at our venue by the time I showed up at 6:00. And then there were more – Charlie Scarbrough, Jay (Elliott) Brentlinger, Bob Robbins, Stuart McRae, Mark Wallace, Tom Wood, and Mr. Beaker Street himself, Clyde Clifford. All of them long time radio professionals, and with the exception of Tom Wood (for over 30 years a Little Rock broadcaster himself), all of them with a very direct connection to KAAY.

Rex Nelson was our guest speaker, and was, in fact, the reason that I moved this event from September 7th to September 14th. Rex is a great speaker and is so exceptionally enthusiastic about all things historical in Arkansas, and I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to give an opening introduction. I especially loved his story about listening to KAAY Farm Director Marvin Vines back in the ‘70s, as Marvin would talk of “barrels and gilds” and such, and even though Rex had no idea what the hell that was, he’d keep on listening anyway! And the reason? Well, it was AM 1090, KAAY, and that was reason enough.

Our other speakers, excluding yours truly as a kind of host for the night, were Bob Robbins, Sonny Martin, and Clyde Clifford. As much as I wanted a number of other former KAAY broadcasters to be in attendance, this was probably the hat trick, the trifecta, the three most significant, in terms of longevity and lasting impact on the glory years of KAAY. I introduced Bob after Rex finished his opening remarks, but within probably five minutes, Bob brought Sonny Martin up, and together they talked about those glory years, the late ‘60s to the late ‘70s, from George Jennings’ hiring of Sonny to lawnmower racing contests to the various personnel they worked with to their late General Manager Pat Walsh. The stories flowed together seamlessly. And through it all, as Bob put it, the reason it worked wasn’t just because it was a 50,000 watt blowtorch. It was because of the sense of family at the station, the true closeness and affection that everyone felt for each other.

And then came Clyde Clifford. Clyde, like Bob and Sonny before him, talked of the camaraderie amongst his co-workers, and how it all started with him in the middle of a pasture in a transmitter building several miles south of Little Rock, and within a year, it was a cultural phenomenon, with communications coming in from Canada to Florida. And to top off the night, after acknowledging the passing of several former KAAY jocks, I ran a couple of three minute montages of commercials from years past – five to fifteen second snippets from various announcers, including our three primary speakers for the night. Oh yeah, and I had to throw in a national ad that featured June Carter Cash for Snowdrift shortening. It was just too good to pass up.

And with that, we closed out the evening with a little more food, a little more drink, and a number of thank yous and goodbyes. And I’d like to give my thanks to the approximately 30 people who were there. I really wish it could’ve been more, but it was quite a treat for the 30 who did show up. And if you’re reading this, I wish you could’ve been there, too. A wish that I’d be fairly certain you share with me.

Maybe next time…

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