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KARK Has Come a Long Way in 60 Years

Station's history stretches even further back to its beginnings in radio.
A billboard in Little Rock announces KARK's television debut.
A billboard in Little Rock announces KARK's television debut.
LITTLE ROCK, AR - A lot has changed for the broadcasting business since KARK first went on the air at 6 p.m. on April 15, 1954.

Sixty years later the station has been through many transitions.

KARK first came into Arkansas living rooms in black and white. Color telecasting began on Sept. 28, 1955 when KARK broadcast the opening game of the World Series. At that time only about 15 color televisions had been sold in central Arkansas, but distributors reported getting more orders than they could fill. KARK invited viewers to watch the color telecast at Robinson Auditorium in downtown Little Rock where color sets had been installed courtesy of RCA. 

The 2009 switch from analog to digital would pave the way for the HD transition that followed on April 18, 2011.

In its six decades of reporting news, weather and sports for Arkansas, KARK has seen a long list of personalities come and go. Some of the better known names from its early years include Bill Cassaday, Don Corbet, Tom Longfellow, Bob Buice, Les Bolton, Bud Campbell, Betty Fowler, Lonnie Gibbons, Beth Ward and Tom Bonner. Bonner, Ward, and Gibbons* teamed up for Dialing for Dollars, which continues today during noon programming.

The newsteam of Roy Mitchell, Tom Bonner and Dave Woodman enjoyed high ratings. In 1979, they were joined by Carolyn Long, and the team's success continued into the 90's. Dave Woodman remained with the station doing other anchoring duties and also spearheaded the Community Service Awards until his 2012 retirement. 

KARK has also seen its location change over the years. The station began in a building that once housed the Louis-Welling car dealership at 10th & Spring, on the fringes of downtown Little Rock. Its first move would take the station deeper into downtown and double its size to 100,000 square feet with the purchase of office space from First National Bank at 3rd & Louisiana. KARK now occupies a large portion of the Victory Building's second floor at 1401 W. Capitol, just steps away from the State Capitol, where it moved in 2004.

History of KARK and KARK-TV, Little Rock* (1950s-era station article, author unknown)
In 1928, Little Rock's second radio station went on the air. Its call letters were KGJF and it operated at 890 kilocycles with only 100 watts power. The station was owned and operated by the Nazarene Church of Little Rock. Its studios were in the church, its crude wooden tower atop the church building. Operating only about 10 hours a week, the station broadcast religious programs only for the first year or so after it went on the air.

Later, when the studios were moved to 7th and Main, the broadcast schedule was expanded to include three hours during the day and four at night of music, news and a few commercial programs. With no radio news services such as the wire services used by stations today, stations in this era more frequently than not got their news from local newspapers which they simply purchased, then read on the air.

In 1932, the station was sold to a private owner and in 1933 was sold again, this time to Colonel T. H. Barton, wealthy El Dorado oilman, who, with his son, still owns it today. Under Colonel Barton's ownership, extensive improvements in KARK's facilities and program schedule were made. The Nazarene Church, refusing to release clear title to the station, retained the right to broadcast on the station for a specified number of hours each week for 99 years. The hours and years were later reduced but the church today still holds the right to air approximately six hours of programming on the station each week.

In keeping with Colonel Barton's far-reaching program of improved radio service, KARK in 1937 became an affiliate of the National Broadcasting Company, in the same year started building a modern, fireproof transmitter in North Little Rock, in 1939 was granted a permit to operate on 5,000 watts, in 1940 changed its frequency to 920, and in 1941 purchased and moved into the three-story building at 114 East Capitol in the heart of downtown Little Rock.

In 1950, Colonel Barton's son, Thomas K., became manager of KARK. Soon afterward, application was made for television channel 4. Another group, the present owners of channel 11, had also applied for 4. In order to speed grant of the channel, the two groups made an agreement. The channel 11 group would withdraw their application for channel 4 and apply for another. The Bartons, being granted channel 4, agreed to build a TV tower and to permit channel 11's antenna to be stacked on top of channel 4's at no cost.

In 1954, the grant was made for Channel 4. In order to house the larger operation, KARK sold the building on East Capitol and purchased its present location at 10th and Spring Streets. The building, a former automobile agency, was completely gutted, then remodeled with the latest office furniture and radio and television equipment at a total cost of around three-quarters of a million dollars. At 6:00 on April 15, 1954, KARK-TV Channel 4 went on the air with its first television program.

At this time, KARK-TV was operating from a temporary tower located on Cantrell Road in Little Rock. In October 1955 ground was broken for KARK-TV's new tower. The location was at the top of Shinall Mountain, highest peak in Pulaski County. Here today stands one of the tallest television towers in the country, rising 1693 ft. above average terrain and 1175 ft. above the ground. Atop the tower are both Channel 4 and Channel 11 antennas. Not far from the main tower is a 300 ft. auxiliary tower, used in case of trouble on the main tower.

KARK-TV, also an affiliate of the National Broadcasting Company, operates on the maximum power granted low-band channels by the F.C.C. - 100,000 watts video and 50,000 watts audio. The station, according to surveys, reaches more Arkansas TV homes than does any other.

Both the radio and television stations employ a total of 80 people, with 43 devoting full time to TV, 12 devoting full time to radio and 25 who double in duty in both radio and TV.
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