Donald Paul “Frog” Perryman, age 58, of Bauxite, passed away Saturday, June...
HISTORY OF BENTON RADIO
BY: PRESTON BRIDGES
It all started about 1950 when Richard Tuck and Lavelle Langley then working at KVMA in Magnolia, Arkansas met with Roy Fish and Jim Branch of Springhill, Louisiana which is about 30 miles south of Magnolia. Fish and Branch supplied the money and Tuck and Langley supplied the Radio experience to apply for a station in Benton, Arkansas. In 1952 a construction permit was granted by the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. The new Radio station permit was for 250 watts A-M at 690 kilohertz (back then it was referred to as kilocycles). The site for the station was east of Benton about a mile on landleased from Coy Davenport. A 280′ tower was built on this site along with a studio and office building. Landers Ford currently occupies the site. The Tower and Studios were moved in,……call letters for the station was KBBA ‘Keep Building Benton Arkansas’. Richard Tuck and Lavelle Langley moved to Benton in the spring of 1953. They hired Preston Bridges as Chief Engineer. He came from a station in Dallas, Texas. royce White and Eddie Zoch were also hired as engineer-announcers. The engineers were all rated as First Class Radio and Telephone Licenses. Federal rules required a first class operator on duty, any time the station was on the air. Rules later were removed.
The studio and control room was built from discarded parts and switches from the trash bin at KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. Tuck had earlier worked at KWKH as announcer on the Louisiana Hayride. The Transmitter was a 1930 model Western Eklectric that had also been retired from service. After construction, KBBa went on the air in April of 1953. The programing was referred to as Block Style with a block of country, a block of pop, usually one hour each with some gospel. Early advertisers included Cliff Packer Used Cars, Red Crawford Buick, Sparks Department Store, Harris Shoe Store and Benton State Bank.
A popular singing trio appeared several times on KBBA,…the Brown’s,…Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie out of Pine Bluff. The would wind up with some big country hits and some cross over to popular tunes. They later became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Local performers included Cletus Jones, then Charlie Rich who later became famous for his recording of ‘Behind Closed Doors’. Charlie was married to Margaret Ann Hockersmith of Benton before later hitting the Nashville scene and moving to Memphis. KBBA prospered. Richard Tuck sold his 25% interest to Lavelle Langley in 1955 and built a station in Waxahachie, Texas. Preston Bridges left to work for the people who owned West Department Stores. He built Radio Stations for them in Louisiana and Oklahoma. In 1956 James Branch and Roy Fish sold their 50% interest in KBBA to Preston Bridges. In 1959 Bridges sold his 50% to Lavelle Langley. Langley later defaulted on a loan and KBBA was purchased from the Bank by Joe and Hank Caldwell and Jimmy Turnage which in turn sold to Winston Riddle, David McDonald and Melvin Spann of Stuttgart. Winston Riddle later became sole owner of KEWI and he later moved the tower to the south part of Benton with studios on Military Street. Riddle succumbed to a heart attack in the 70′s and his son Johnny operated the station which later fell into bankruptcy and went dark. Bernie Bottenberg and his son Charlie out of Kansas applied and was granted license to KBBA and changed the call letters to KEWI which was a station the elder Bottenberg had worked for in the State of Kansas which went dark and turned their license back to the FCC. The station continues to operate under the KEWI call letters as Jim, Steve and Lance Landers was approved purchase of the station by the FCC and assumed operation of the station in February of 1995 with the license granted in August of ’96. Jim later bought Steve and Lance stock in the operation with he and wife Doris (Deegy) sole owners.
In another corner of Saline Radio world,…Radio Station KGKO A-M came into being in 1963 when Bridges Broadcasting was granted a permit for 1000 watts at 850 kilohertz. In 1978 a permit was granted to Bridges Broadcasting for an FM station 3,000 watts on 107.1 megahertz, call letters KAKI. In 1992 it relocated to Little Rock with 50,000 watts power on 106.7 FM when sold to Jerry Atchley who owned KSSN a country radio station in Little Rock. Atchley later sold out prior to passing away in 2010. 106.7 is still owned by signal media of Little Rock. KGKO 850 A-M broadcast for the final time November 30, 1993 at 5 p.m. One of the locals of note assisting with play by play football on KGKO-KAKI/FM was Nelson Rainey who’s colorful descriptions mixed with some off-colored superlatives kept the pot stirred. Rainey was also the announcer for the mythical Hiney Winery at Salem and the Mythical Wrestling match between Larry White (then manager of the local Goodyear Store) and an alligator that lived in Depot Creek. Larry White later founded a chain of Restaurants including Larry’s Pizza at Bryant.
On October 18th, 2011, KEWI was sold by Landers Broadcasting to Saline River Media, a partnership consisting of longtime Arkansas sportscaster Grant Merrill, State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson, and Little Rock businessman Curtis Arnold. The group has applied to add a FM signal to rebroadcast 690 KEWI at 103.3 FM and expects the facility to be built in Summer 2013.