October 1990 – October 1991
KDXY-FM 104.9 was the epitome of what a small town radio station should be. Even though it was only a 3,000-watt station in a town of about 20,000 people, it was in most ways run as professionally as any radio operation I’ve worked for since. While the call letters spelled out K-Dixie, the station hadn’t been known as that in years, but the call letters stuck. Through a few ownership changes over the years it had evolved into an adult contemporary station then known as K-105.
The studios and transmitter were located on a picturesque hill, alongside U.S. 49 just outside of Paragould. I liked the building which had housed the station since hitting the air as KHIG in October 1971. The large control room was in the center of the building, with windows looking into surrounding rooms and one toward the highway. K-105 had surprisingly professional equipment and, when I started, a live air staff 24 hours a day. It was also very active in the community, manning booths or finding ways to be involved in every festival or event in Paragould. I was also impressed with how carefully researched and programmed the music was, with this being the first station to give me a computer generated log listing what songs to play. KDXY used a TM Century music library on CDs.
Co-owner and morning show host Trey Stafford had an extremely outgoing personality that seemed to extend from the radio station into the town. I think that was a key part of the station’s success. He was the public face of K-105, getting out when major events occurred. Trey also treated the staff with a great deal of respect, which is evident in this formal letter he sent me, asking that I, as the most recently hired staffer, work on the air while the company Christmas party was being held. He said it was a tradition to have the newest employee man the station, but that food from the party would be brought to me that night.
I was hired in October of 1990, shortly after starting college in nearby Jonesboro at Arkansas State University. At that point I had two years worth of experience in radio and initially did the Saturday morning overnight shift, but within a couple of months worked my way into doing weekend evenings. Sunday nights were especially enjoyable because K-105 did what they called Super Gold Sunday every weekend, playing nothing but oldies. This was nice because the music was a little more fun than the strict AC format, which was heavy on people like Lionel Richie, Celine Dion and Barry Manalow.
By the summer of 1991 I was offered a full-time position as evening DJ, which also included me doing a little bit more commercial production. My promotion was part of a big change up at the station, which GM Trey Stafford detailed in this staff memo.
K-105 was the first station I worked for that made regular airchecks of my shifts. Program Director Ron Roe would at random times once every few months record an hour of each DJ from home, then use a standard form to assess several points, compare how we were following the program and commercial logs and write suggestions for how we could better implement the format. The management worked hard to make sure the staff presented a consistent image to listeners.
AUDIO: On the air at K-105, July 30, 1991, 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.. This also includes sweepers, promos and parts of some commercials to get a better overall feel for the sound of the station. I’ve also scanned the music log I was following.
To the right are three aircheck critiques by Ron Roe, which you can download as PDF files if you’re interested in reading them. In the first, you’ll notice that he caught me not completely following the music log, skipping a song that I couldn’t stand, a duet between Anne Murray and Dave Loggins. Oops. Ron wrote that I sounded “good, warm, friendly and happy,” but noted that I needed to work on sounding more natural, saying I still had some “Johnny Jock” inside me. It’s something I have always had to work on, especially when I was a DJ.
I enjoyed the position, but unfortunately it didn’t last. About that time the FCC had approved a power upgrade for the station, which would allow it to become part of the nearby Jonesboro radio market and greatly expand its listener and advertising potential. Because of the expense of making the upgrade, which necessitated building a new broadcast tower, the station decided to use satellite automation from 8 PM to 5 AM to save money. That meant my six-hour shift was suddenly cut back to a two-hour shift, after which I would have to record an automation reel with all the local breaks that would run during the night. They also completely canned overnight jock Cal Nilsson.
I quickly grew to hate recording the nightly automation reel because I would spend about two hours hearing every one of the commercials over and over and putting in my own local weather forecasts. I also went from being full-time back to part-time, which I resented. I started looking around for other work and got a quick response from a powerful CHR station in Jonesboro called Power 102. I expressed much of my frustrations in my resignation letter to the station.
I felt bad leaving K-105 because the staff really was in many ways like a family and had, for the most part, been very good to me. One of the last things I did for the station was participate in events marking the 20th anniversary of it going on the air. I felt kind of funny doing all these public appearances and talking so lovingly about the station after having already put in my two weeks notice.
Eventually KDXY made the upgrade and became a regional powerhouse, dominating the radio ratings in Jonesboro. While the call letters stayed the same, the station changed its name to The Fox, 104.9, the format to country and overtook rival country station KFIN, which had once seemed invincible. As of this writing, Trey Stafford still runs the station which is now part of a cluster called the Jonesboro Radio Group and still does the morning show. I’m sure the key to its success is his personality, leadership and long-established ties to the community.
In October 2012 I ran into Trey for the first time since leaving KDXY 21 years earlier. I’d friended him on Facebook a few years before that and we had bounced a few messages, but it was great to actually see and talk with him. It was while I was working on a feature story for NPR about the restoration of Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in the east Arkansas town of Dyess. I went up to Jonesboro to cover the second annual Johnny Cash Music Festival, which was raising money for the project, and saw Trey at the press conference before the show, but didn’t get a chance to come over and speak with him. The following morning I ran into him and got to talk a few minutes when I went to the restored Cash house to interview Cash’s brother and sister.
More than anything, after seeing the devastation that deregulation and corporate ownership has done to so many once great stations, I was glad to see KDXY hadn’t left Trey’s hands. His company grew bigger and acquired additional stations, but it’s still locally owned. Also, they hired Christie Mathews, who I had worked with in 1992 at KJBR. I’m glad to see the station is doing well and that a few of people I worked with are still there.