A lot has changed in Northwest Arkansas over the course of the last 30 years or so.
The region has seen a boon of growth, both in terms of population as well as in businesses and development to serve all those people, in the last three decades. Enrollment at the University of Arkansas has more than doubled since 1985. Cultural institutions like the Walton Arts Center, the AMP, and Crystal Bridges have been established, enjoyed, and expanded. The changes are too numerous to list, but anyone who has lived around the region can see the vast differences.
At least one thing, however, has been constant through all of those changes; the voice of Kyle Kellams on the radio at KUAF.
A young Kyle Kellams in the KUAF studio
Kyle Kellams got his start in radio in high school, where he began learning the business and equipment at local station KTLO. He worked at the station for two years his junior and senior year and was immediately bitten by the broadcast bug.
“I loved it,” he said. “I never wanted to be in television. I never wanted to work for a newspaper. I’ve never done anything else.”
After high school, Kellams entered into the broadcast journalism program at the UA, and took a job at KUAF. Aside from a brief period in New Orleans after college, two years back home, and a year working as news director at KIX 104 in Fayetteville, he’s pretty much been at KUAF ever since. Kellams officially accepted a full-time position with the station back in August of 1989.
At the time, Kellams made the fourth full-time employee at the station. A fifth was hired shortly after, qualifying KUAF to be an official corporation for a public broadcasting station. Back then, the station was located in a small white house on Duncan Street in Fayetteville and was operating at just 10 watts. It wasn’t a 24-hour operation at the time, either. They signed off around midnight and were back on the air at around 5 a.m.
“It was really, a lot like this region. It was smaller (back then),” he said. “The UA was smaller. The region was smaller. And we thought we were growing then, but it was very calm (compared to the way things are now.)”
Programming on the station was quite a bit different when Kellams began at the station, too. There was Morning Edition from 5 a.m. until 9 a.m., followed by several hours of classical music, with All Things Considered from 4-6 p.m., Fresh Air from 6-7 p.m., and classical music, folk, and jazz in the evenings until around midnight.
The station increased their power to 100,000 watts the same year Kellams was hired full time, and it was around that time that he took over a weekly program called Ozarks at Large. As Kyle tells it, Dave Edmark and James Russell, two local journalists that alternated producing the thirty-minute interview-based show each week, were ready to move on to other things, and station manager Rick Stockdell offered the show to him to see what he could do with it.
That turned out to be an important moment for Kellams, for the show, and for the station itself. Kellams immediately set out to try and make the show into something he could manage.
“I was 26, and I didn’t have the confidence to do a 28-minute interview with someone,” he said. “I said, if I’m going to do it, I want to do two or three things.”
For about six months, the show remained a half-hour program, before expanding to a full hour later that year.