An audio goldmine of 1960s-'70s news clips, commercials and disc jockeys cutting up at Little Rock radio station KAAY will be part of a tribute to the influential broadcast outlet on Friday at the Central Arkansas Library System's Ron Robinson Theater.
The Celebration of The Mighty 1090 KAAY, presented by Butler Center for Arkansas Studies' Arkansas Sounds project, will feature a panel discussion with original on-air personalities Bob Robbins, Sonny Martin, Clyde Clifford, Bob Steele, David B. Treadway and Barry Mac. Tom Wood will serve as moderator.
Celebration of the Mighty 1090 KAAY
7 p.m. Friday, Central Arkansas Library System’s Ron Robinson Theater, 100 River Market Ave., Little Rock
"We're celebrating not only the radio station itself," says Arkansas Sounds coordinator John Miller, "but also the donation of a collection of KAAY-related materials to the Butler Center."
Former KAAY program director and DJ Barry McCorkindale has given the center a stash of reel-to-reel tapes from the station that contain newscasts, commercials and shows.
McCorkindale learned in the mid-'90s of a "few" reel-to-reel tapes being stored at the station's transmitter site in Wrightsville from longtime KAAY engineer Felix McDonald.
McCorkindale and McDonald finally went to the building in June 2003 to investigate and discovered there were more than just a few tapes.
"When he said a 'few,' I had in my head that he was talking about 30, 40 or 50 tapes," McCorkindale says. "He lets me in the lower level of the transmitter building and I went, 'Felix, you said there were a few tapes. There are a few hundred here.'"
And that wasn't all.
Behind a wall, the engineer pointed out, were more shelves filled with more tapes.
"That's where it started," says McCorkindale, who hosts the online radio shows Tin Can Alley and Flashback Tracks. Over the next 15 years, he converted over 700 reel-to-reels to digital files and burned them onto compact discs.
Digging through the reels, which cover the span from early '60s to the mid-70s, was like entering a time machine.
Then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan shows up during the station's coverage of the 1969 Republican Governor's conference in Hot Springs. The keynote speaker was Vice President Spiro Agnew.
"The KAAY public affairs program was Focus on the Newsmakers," says McCorkindale, "Some are tedious, some are interesting. I found programs with [governors] Orval Faubus and Winthrop Rockefeller. I even have then-Gov. George Wallace of Alabama speaking to the Arkansas Legislature in 1973 thanking Arkansas for its support in the 1968 presidential election."
KAAY went on the air Sept. 3, 1962, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Its origins can be traced to KTHS, the state's first 50,000-watt AM station, which went on the air in 1924 and moved from Hot Springs to Little Rock in 1953.
In 1966, KAAY began airing Beaker Street. Hosted by Clifford, the late-night show broke from the station's Top 40 format and featured an eclectic mix of blues, hard rock and more adventurous music.
The station is currently owned by Cumulus, and its format is talk radio and contemporary Christian music.
"KAAY has a unique history," Miller says. "A 50,000-watt AM station at night, they could reach into Canada and all the way down past Cuba. That's why Beaker Street was such a monumental hit. It had a major influence not only on Arkansans but the region and the country. [Clifford] would get fan letters from Newfoundland, Canada and Cuba."
Because of the station's powerful signal, in 1962, the U.S. government used KAAY to broadcast Voice of America programming to Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to the history and culture encyclopedia.
Digging through an old ratings book from July 1971, McCorkindale says,"They had a lock on about 30 percent of the market. That's impressive. According to this, KAAY had 73 percent of the market of teenagers."
Miller says that before the tribute begins Friday at 7, he will play some of the highlights from the KAAY vaults.
"They will hear old ads for car dealerships that don't exist anymore, cars that don't exist anymore. We've got tapes of the moon landing, all kinds of stuff."
The show will feature a panel discussion, a Q&A session and more clips from the station's history, Miller says, as well as singer Barbara Raney performing "Cindy's Crying," which was first aired on Beaker Street.
Weekend on 06/28/2018
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