June 1995 – August 1996
I started with KUAR-FM 89.1 by hosting a weekly half-hour interview program as part of an independent study class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I eventually started working part-time for the NPR station, while continuing to anchor weekends and report for commercial news station KARN. In April of 2009, I returned to KUAR to work as a reporter and anchor, eventually working my way up to news director.
Doing the weekly interview show called Newsroom was quite a challenge. For that summer semester in 1995 I would find topics for each week’s program and line up guests, with most interviews being conducted at KUAR. It was my first taste of doing any kind of long-form interview program and I really enjoyed it. Having that kind of time to delve deep into subjects that interested me was amazing. Before this I had only done short reports in the 40 second range. I sound pretty goofy in these early shows and clearly hadn’t gotten very comfortable hosting an interview program.
AUDIO: KUAR’S interview program Newsroom from June 15, 1995, talking with leaders of an Arkansas Vietnam veterans group about issues like finding missing soldiers and treating vets suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
AUDIO: Newsroom from July 20, 1995, discussing a proposal to develop Little Rock’s riverfront area, which was then mostly abandoned warehouses. Today it’s a thriving entertainment district known as the River Market.
I was eventually hired at the station and spent a year or so running NPR jazz programs in the evening on KUAR, while also hosting a classical program on sister station KLRE-FM 90.5. Never being much of a classical music fan and not even being sure how to say the names of the composers, I was a pretty terrible classical music host. I’m sure listeners could tell I had no idea what I was talking about. Also, I was pretty much just randomly grabbing CDs out of our library, not having any kind of structure for what I was playing. Fortunately the station has long since begun only having people on the air who are knowledgable about classical music.
In August 1996, I put together a special half-hour program on a pending execution in Arkansas. I had covered many executions over the years for KARN, but this was the only time I met the inmate in the weeks before the death sentence was carried out. I first learned about Si-Fu Frankie Parker through an upstairs neighbor of mine who was involved with a Buddhist group that Parker had become a member of while in prison. You can read more about his case in an article I wrote for the Little Rock Free Press. Parker had been sentenced to die for killing his ex-wife’s parents. He also shot and injured a police officer during a stand off at a police station. I got to known many of his friends in the Buddhist group and they encouraged him to agree to the interview. I spoke with him at Tucker Prison, where the Arkansas Death Row is housed, two weeks before the execution. I also spoke at length with Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who had denied Parker clemency and made scheduling the execution his first official act after taking office. It was rather unusual for a governor to talk at length, justifying why an execution was being carried out. The program aired on the morning of August 8, 1996, the day of the execution.
A special program I produced that aired on August 8, 1996, the day of Si-Fu Frankie Parker’s execution. It includes parts of my interview with Parker and Governor Mike Huckabee.
The program would win a first place award from the Arkansas Associated Press for Best Enterprise/ Investigative Reporting. I also covered Parker’s execution that evening at Cummins Prison. Needless to say it was a different kind of experience reporting on an execution after having spent a brief time with the person.
At that time, KUAR was located on the top floor of Stabler Hall, alongside the radio, TV and film classrooms at UALR. It was a rather odd and uncomfortable building in a lot of respects, with long ramps and bathrooms only on alternating floors. I had heard the university ran out of money during its construction, so it wasn’t completely finished as intended. I had to laugh when, years later, I was watching C-SPAN, which was following former Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas as he was promoting his memoir. One stop was at KUAR, where he grumbled while walking up a ramp, saying “this has always been the strangest thing that the elevator didn’t come to the last floor.”
KUAR has since moved over to a shopping center on the edge of campus, which is much easier to get in and out of. I posted about 10 minutes of that broadcast on You Tube just because it shows what the old studios were like. Also, Bumpers is being interviewed by Ron Breeding, my old news director at KARN, who later went over to KUAR and who I would again work for when I moved back to Little Rock in April 2009 to take a job for a second time at KUAR.