By John R. Schirmer
In May 1959, R.G. Mc-Keever of De Queen put radio station KBHC in Nashville on the air for the first time. Since then, local radio has seen two changes of ownership, different program formats, more stations and countless announcers, but one thing remained the same.
The stations were housed in the original building at 1513 S. Fourth St.
That is, until last Friday, July 24. That’s when KNAS, 105.5 FM; and KMTB, 99.5 FM, began broadcasting from their new studios that are actually located next door to the original facility.
Friday’s move was a bit bittersweet for general manager Brent Pinkerton and operations manager Scott Dunson, both of whom began their broadcasting careers in the old building.
“It’s kind of sad,” Dunson said Friday morning after completing his first shift in the new studio for KNAS. “Obviously we needed to get into a better facility,” but he also looked back on his days next door, where he started working in 1982.
“I hated to leave the old building,” he said.
Dunson began doing some part-time work in March that year, and his first full day was planned for the Monday after he graduated from Nashville High School in May.
The start was less than auspicious – “I overslept that morning,” he said.
“The old building was fun. We were actually playing records on turntables. The only computer was an old automation machine. Now you can get the same thing off your phone,” Dunson said.
“I really enjoyed just playing old 45s in the control room. Everything was so simple. It was just you, sitting there playing records,” according to Dunson. “The old automation system was my first experience with computers.”
KBHC signed off each day at local sunset, which ranged from 5:15 p.m. in winter to 7:30 p.m. in summer. After sign off, “There was nothing to do until
11 p.m. but change the reel-to-reel tapes on the automation.”
Despite his nostalgia for the old studios, “This building is what Nashville radio needs now. That building was what we needed in the 1980s,” Dunson said. “Times have changed. Radio has changed. What we did on air in the early and mid ‘80s is not what’s on the air now. People get information a lot quicker now.”
Dunson noted that programs early in his career included the hospital news, when an employee from Howard Memorial would tell who had been admitted and discharged the past 24 hours. Listeners kept up with the “hospital list” and called if it happened to miss a day. Today’s HIPAA regulations act doesn’t allow for such programs.
“Times are different,” Dunson said. “The radio station expanded. In the 1980s we had a small-town FM station and a little AM station. Now, we’ve added 99.5. More guests come here. In the old days, we weren’t configured to have guests.”
KBHC is no longer on the air. Its broadcasting tower collapsed a few years ago, and the station did not resume broadcasting.
Dunson did notice one immediate change at the new location Friday morning. “At the old building, I couldn’t really see the early morning sun. I was there five days a week and never saw it. Now, I can look out the front window here and see the early morning sun. It’s extremely nice.”
By the time Dunson and Pinkerton began working at the radio stations, they had undergone a change of ownership. Pete and Ann Gathright of Nashville bought them from McKeever in the 1970s. Ann had managed KBHC during part of McKeever’s ownership. Her son Rick started working at the station while he was in high school. Pete was best known for “the Old Man’s radio show” when he would stay on anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.
Pinkerton has worked at the Nashville stations for 33 years. He spent 14 years there with Pete, Ann and Rick, then left for “a little over a year” before returning and has been there for 19 years.
“I spent over half of my life in that building,” he said, pointing to the old facility.
Like Dunson, Pinkerton said that “times have changed. The needs of radio to serve a local community are different now than they were from the 1950s to the 1990s. Technology changed. We started with records then went to CDs. From there we went to the digital era.”
Pinkerton remembered that Rick “used to take a black marker when we got new records and write the intro time and tempo on the label. There were some musical restrictions then.”
Pinkerton started in 1985, the year he graduated from Nashville High School. He had been in the school’s first computer classes taught by Relda Aylett and Ocie Jones.
“I got involved in that. The teachers had just had a little bit of training that summer before school started. We all learned as we went along,” he said.
From that experience, Pinkerton decided he wanted to enter a computer-related field and went to college at Henderson State. “The bottom line is that I took a radio course second semester at HSU. It was hands-on, and I really enjoyed it.”
At that point, “I had every intention of going back to Henderson for my second year.”
He wanted to work in radio during the summer and became “very persistent in hounding Pete and Ann for a part-time job. My first experience was six hours on a Saturday evening.”
From there, “I decided I liked radio a lot better than I liked college. I moved back to Henderson in the fall but opted out on the last day possible. I told Pete and Ann I’d rather work in radio than go back,” Pinkerton said.
He started working full time and stayed until 2000 when he “decided I needed a break. The hours were not uniform. It wasn’t 8-5. I went to work for Sam Westbrook,” appropriately with computers.
Things changed in May 2001 when Rick died of a heart attack. Pinkerton returned to the station, first to help with program logs.
“That summer, I got a phone call from Jay Bunyard at De Queen. He had talked to Pete and Ann and was planning to buy the stations. He wanted to meet with me to talk about managing them. I thought it over and took him up on his offer,” Pinkerton said.
He became involved in all areas of the stations’ operation, including news.
Dunson’s career also began with part-time work. “I was approached one day and told that they had a position open at the radio station. They had been given my name. I went and recorded something” as an audition.
“I didn’t hear anything. I drove by one day and saw Pete on the lawnmower. I stopped and talked to him. ‘You sound pretty good,’ he said. They contacted me to work. I remember walking into the KNAS room and looking at the board. ‘There’s no way I’ll learn all those buttons and dials,’” he remembers thinking.
Like Pinkerton, he was hooked from there on. The first night he was left at the station alone to watch the automation “was April 1982, the night of the killer tornado.”
After going to work full time, he rotated shifts, recorded commercials and took on other duties.
Dunson left in December 1984 and went to KMLA FM in Ashdown, where he met Terry Snead, who later operated the community TV stations in Nashville.
Dunson worked construction for a while after that and eventually went to station KJKK in Murfreesboro for a year as program director.
His career path led back to Nashville in 1997 when Pete asked him to fill in at the local stations. “I came back for the rest of that week and worked from then on.”
In recent years, Dunson’s duties began to include more sports coverage. He helps with football broadcasts and provides sideline reports. He also takes pictures of all Scrapper sports, an aspect of his job which he lists among his favorites.
Both Dunson and Pinkerton understand the role of radio in a small town. “People feel like they have ownership in radio. It’s their radio station,” Pinkerton said.
For example, when “Drivetime Sports” became popular, “People asked if we can get it,” Pinkerton said of the statewide call-in show. “We’ve had it ever since. People don’t mind telling you if they like or don’t like something.”
Jim Pinson, who works sales and news along with hosting “The Morning Drive with JP,” has been at the station for two years. He wasn’t there for the events that shaped Dunson and Pinkerton’s time in radio, but he says his time so far “has been a lot of fun.”
Pinson is “excited about the move. We provide quality programming and have a quality building and equipment. I’m looking forward to it,” he said of the future in the new location.
Like Dunson, “being able to tell about the sun coming up” is already an early highlight for Pinson.
When Pinson joined the Nashville staff after serving at other stations owned by Bunyard, “I didn’t know we were getting a new building. Then I wanted to be a part of it” when he heard of the plans.
Dunson’s move to the new building comes as he is set for another change. His last day on the air will be this Friday, July 31. On Monday, he’s flying to Puerto Rico to join his wife Carmen, who teaches Spanish Language Studies.