RIP Cartoonist Mort Walker of Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois

Mort Walker (

I was sad to hear cartoonist Mort Walker, who brought the world “Beetle Bailey,” which at one time ran in 1,800 newspapers worldwide,  died Saturday, January 27, at the age of 94. I interviewed him a few times in the early 2000s while working as a Miami-based reporter for CBS News Radio and the program America in the Morning, hosted by Jim Bohannon.

It was a difficult period for Walker as the International Museum of Cartoon Art, which he founded in 1974, was struggling to survive. By then it was located in Boca Raton, Florida, but failed to attract enough donations, while a couple of corporate sponsors had gone bankrupt. A plan to affiliate with Florida Atlantic University also fell through.

The museum had an extensive collection of items, most of which had been donated by other cartoonists. In 2002 he spoke with me about a last ditch effort to raise money to pay the building’s mortgage by auctioning off the museum’s most prized possession, the original hand-drawn pencil sketches for a silent film called Plane Crazy.

Hear my report for Westwood One’s America in the Morning on the planned auction in 2002 of Plane Crazy.

“It’s what we call our Mona Lisa. It’s Walt Disney’s very first drawings of Mickey Mouse back in 1928 right after Lindbergh made his flight and this was sort of spoofing his flight in a way,” Walker told me. The 36 sketches on six panels had been appraised at more than $3 million, but when bids came in well below that at an auction on May 19, 2002, it was taken off the market.

It was eventually announced that the museum would be closing its doors, and there were a lot of fingers being pointed about who was to blame in the failed venture. I called Walker, but when I reached him he didn’t want to record an interview. I pressed him a little, arguing that I had given the museum positive coverage over the years by reporting on exhibits, and he relented, giving me some very honest comments. I always respected him for that.

Hear my 2002 report for America in the Morning on the museum then closing its doors.

“Oh, it’s terrible, I feel like crying because we love this building. I helped design it, and we just thought we were going to be the mecca for cartoons all over the world. And we didn’t get the financial or emotional support in the city that we needed,” Walker said.

At that point there was discussion about what would become of the collection. A key goal, he told me, was that it remain open and available to the public. One idea was to move the museum to the New York City area, which he noted was more of a tourist destination than Boca Raton, but an effort to house it in the Empire State Building didn’t work out. In 2008, Wikipedia reports, Walker accepted an offer to merge his collection with that of Ohio State University.

In my interview six years earlier in 2002, Walker told me, “We’re very, very sad to leave Boca, and it’s a dream that I’ve been working on for 27 years and it just didn’t seem to work out here.”

On AETN’s Arkansas Week: Revenue Up, Reduction in Medicaid Rolls, Medical Marijuana

Gov. Asa Hutchinson called it a good week for Arkansas, with an announcement of a big reduction in the number of people on the state’s Medicaid rolls and revenue coming in above forecast. The positive economic indicators could help him see passage of priorities during the fiscal session of the state legislature which begins next month. Also, an announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the enforcement of federal marijuana laws has some scratching their heads as Arkansas works to implement a voter-approved medical marijuana amendment. I was a panelist on this episode of Arkansas Week, alongside political science professor Hal Bass of Ouachita Baptist University and reporter Lance Turner with Arkansas Business. The program airs on AETN, which is the local PBS outlet.

UPDATE: Sorry if the video is no longer showing up. Sometimes these are temporary issues, so I’ll leave the You Tube embedded video up for the time being, which was posted by AETN.

Hosting the 30th Anniversary Edition of Not Necessarily Nashville

Michael Hibblen with Flap Jones during a pledge drive at KUAR on Sept. 15, 2017.

Occasionally I get to fill in for Flap Jones hosting KUAR’s Not Necessarily Nashville. It’s a great treat because it’s a return to what I started out doing in radio: playing and talking about my favorite music. But sitting in on Oct. 21, 2017 was extra special because it was the 30th anniversary of Not Necessarily Nashville going on the air.

The show began on Little Rock community radio station KABF-FM 88.3, where then-Program Director Doug Clifford wanted to find someone who could host a show playing country music that wasn’t getting played on commercial radio stations. Carol Dee Bland, a friend of Flap’s at KABF, told her about the search, so she submitted a tape with the kind of music she was interested in playing and Doug put her on the air. Doug also came up with the name Not Necessarily Nashville.

Doug Clifford in 2010 in Gainesville, Florida, where he lives today.

Flap told me recently that after that first show, she didn’t think she would be brought back the following week, much less still be hosting it 30 years later. In 2009, shortly after I moved back to Arkansas and began working at KUAR, she contacted me and asked if my station might be interested in running the show. KUAR, which is the typical NPR station mainly focused on news and jazz programming, had never featured a country music program. Station Manager Ben Fry and Program Director Ron Breeding decided to give it a try and it proved to be a hit to our audience.

I’ve known Flap since we were both at KABF in the 1980s and even filled in hosting Not Necessarily Nashville once in 1990. Since moving her program over to KUAR, I’ve been her regular fill in whenever she needs to be off. We have pretty similar tastes in country music and often go to live concerts together.

Hear the first hour of KUAR’s Not Necessarily Nashville, Oct. 21, 2017, hosted by Michael Hibblen.
Hear hour 2 of KUAR’s Not Necessarily Nashville, Oct. 21, 2017, hosted by Michael Hibblen.

As I was hosting the 30th anniversary episode of Not Necessarily Nashville on the radio, she was at a celebration of the program at the White Water Tavern in Little Rock featuring live performances by the Creek Rocks and Brad Williams. She was also giving away CDs, as well as buttons that said, “Country radio doesn’t have to suck.” During the radio program I called Flap at the venue to find out how the show was going and to talk a little about the history of the program. You can hear the interview above during hour one about 46:30 into the program.

Update On Effort To Preserve Former Rock Island Depot At Perry

The former Rock Island depot in Perry, Arkansas on August 8, 2017.

Earlier this year a deadline was set by the Little Rock & Western Railway for preservationists to move the former Rock Island passenger station at Perry, Arkansas by the end of 2017 or it would be torn down.The property it sits on is today headquarters for the shortline railroad, which operates a 79 mile stretch of former Rock Island trackage west of Little Rock. With the year coming to a close, I checked back this week with those involved and while nothing is happening just yet, the situation sounds promising. We should know something definite soon.

As I wrote in September, the dilapidated century-old structure is no longer of use to the railroad and company officials want it gone. They are willing to donate the building, but the cost of moving it would have to be covered by someone else. The railroad has been giving a coalition of preservationists and historians time to consider their options. Behind the depot is a locomotive servicing shed built in the 1980s, while the office building for the Little Rock & Western is across the tracks. The shortline was created in 1980 after the Rock Island was shut down.

Buford Suffridge with the Perry County Historical and Genealogical Society told me there has been strong interest in preserving the depot and that several people have stepped forward offering to make donations for the project. He says its members voted a few month ago to allocate up to $3,500 to cover the cost of moving it. If it’s not moved far, that should be enough based on estimates he’s heard.

The key question has been where to move the depot. The statewide nonprofit Preserve Arkansas, whose mission is to help communities save and rehabilitate such structures, has been consulting with Suffridge. Executive Director Rachel Patton would like to nominate the Perry depot to the National Register of Historic Places. For it to be eligible, she says it would need to retain its original character and remain along railroad tracks.

Patton and Suffridge say an ideal spot is on the opposite side of the tracks, about a half-block down at the corner of Arkansas highways 9 and 10. That is still property owned by the Little Rock & Western, but the empty lot is only used for parking company trucks. Moving the depot there would get it out of the way of the direct operations of the railroad, as managers have said they want more space for equipment around the locomotive servicing shed.

The preservationists are asking if the company would be willing to donate that piece of land, and the request seems to be getting serious consideration. Little Rock & Western General Manager Ryan Richardson says he has forwarded the request to the corporate parent company of the railroad, the Genesee & Wyoming, which operates 120 shortline railroads around the world. A key concern, he told me, is making sure the railroad would still have an adequate right-of-way for its tracks if the depot were moved to that corner.

Consideration by the corporation’s real estate people was delayed by Hurricane Irma damaging its offices in Jacksonville, Florida in September, so more time beyond the original deadline is being granted. Richardson hopes to know something in the coming weeks. He also reiterated to me that the railroad just wants the depot out of the way soon because it’s of no use to them.

If the request for the land is granted, Bufford said he expects the depot can be moved that short distance for about $2,500. He says he has also spoken with people interested in helping with the renovation. In particular, one local business leader has offered to help repair the roof. If the depot gets listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that would open up more possibilities for money that could go toward a renovation. The goal is for the depot to eventually become a museum that tells the story of Perry County. In August the railroad allowed me inside the depot to take photos, which you can see and read more about the preservation effort on this page. As someone who loves Arkansas railroad history, especially given how much of the Rock Island has been lost, I’m hopeful this project will come to fruition.

On AETN’s Arkansas Week: Prison Violence, Healthcare & The ‘War On Coal’

Topping the discussion on the latest Arkansas Week was violence in state prisons with recent incidents sending inmates and guards to the hospital. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has called for a plan to address the problem and I discussed testimony that week by the director of the Department of Correction to a legislative committee. Also on the panel was political scientist Heather Yates with the University of Central Arkansas as we talked about the status of healthcare, an executive order on environmental regulations, and President Trump’s level of support from the right.