Early TV in Bentonville

By Larry Horton

This subject will be totally foreign to some of you, but the old timers will remember.

Back in the early days of television, few had sets, especially in a small town like Bentonville. We certainly weren’t big enough or important enough for our own station. With a TV set you had to have an aerial or antenna on your roof or some high point so as to be able to receive the line of sight broadcasts. No cable in those days, no thousand channels to look through. We only got three at my house: KODE channel 12 out of Joplin, KOAM channel 7 out of Pittsburg, Kansas, and KTUL channel 8 out of Tulsa. That’s all folks. We couldn’t even get channel 5 from Fort Smith because the Boston Mountains blocked out signals. If you were lucky enough to have an electric rotor, you had a little sticker on the control with the station number on it and you just turned the rotor to where that station came in best and stuck it on. The rest of you had to go out and turn the antenna by hand. 

This article could go on for many pages so I’m going to try to limit it as much as I can, but it is so much a part or Northwest Arkansas childhood, it’s hard to resist. 

KTUL from Tulsa started broadcasting in 1954. The folks you remember from when you were young started with the station from day one. The two standouts are Bob Hower, the news anchor, and Don Woods, the weatherman. 

Bob Hower

Bob Hower

Don Woods

Don Woods

 I always thought Hower was reliable and doesn’t he just look like a news anchor? He had started his career in 1949 at Tulsa’s other station KOTV – which we couldn’t get for some reason – and worked in the industry for 37 years. 

The thing we all remember most, though, is Don Woods and Gusty. Gusty was a character that Woods drew every single broadcast that reflected how the weather would be that day. He was a pretty darn good artist, especially to be drawing a character on live TV in less than 30 seconds! 

Next we have KODE channel 12, Joplin. They also started in 1954. The people I remember most are Jim Lobby, the news anchor, and Lee George, weatherman. George was a little sour-looking but I’m told a nice man. Lobby was not only the anchor but also hosted “Teen Hop”, which was the four state area’s answer to Dick Clark and American Bandstand. Several of you probably watched or even went up and danced. I think my brother did. Being on TV in the 60’s was quite an event for us country people. It was an honor! Thinking back now, I would LOVE to be able to watch video of some of our local kids, now in their 60’s, grooving to the beat at Teen Hop!

Lastly, one of my favorites, was KOAM out of Pittsburg Kansas. They started operations in 1953 with Lou Martin and Bob Capps as the news anchors. 

Martin played a big part at the station, from anchor to director. He’s the guy on the left, and from when I was five years old, I never could figure out for the life of me why his forehead was so big! When giving the news, it looked like it was a foot of forehead, holding in some massive brain. TV does that sometimes, or at least in the old days. He was actually a Benton County native, born in Sulphur Springs. 

My favorite of all was old Earl Ludlum, the weatherman. Ludlum was actually a professor at the college in Pittsburg and so he was really the first real expert weatherman that we had seen. He had a big map of the US in front of him and, in the days before green screens and overlays, he would hand-draw the cold fronts, the storms, etc… on plexiglass that covered the map. 

TV Teen Hop.jpg

Earl wasn’t a TV personality, he was a teacher. That’s what he reminded me of too, no happy patter, no Gusty, just plain old weather given straightforward and dispassionately. What a card! Both KTUL and KOAM used some of the first radar weather devices on-air, which consisted of a radar unit taken from a B-29 Bomber, anchored in the studio with a dedicated camera focused on the tiny screen. 

KOAM had several programs that will ring a bell with our readers, including Virgil and Connie, the Circle 7 Jamboree, and especially the kid’s show Fun Club.

Fun Club!  Finally, the best for last. 

Early photo of Slim, Encylopedia of Arkansas

Early photo of Slim, Encylopedia of Arkansas

The Fun Club was KOAM’s kid’s show and it was hosted by Gravette native Lloyd Andrews, but he was forever known as “Slim” Andrews. Slim was a film actor, known earlier as Arkansas Slim Andrews. He appeared in 23 films, mostly as comic relief. He was also a one man band, as many of you younger folks might recall, as he used to ride in the Benton County fair parade and play several instruments at a time. 

For many of us, this is what we remember.

For many of us, this is what we remember.

Slim loved children. He played this role for his entire life, all the way to the end. Like I said before, he was always in the parade, always making the children smile with his own brand of comedy. 

I could go on and on, but there’s just not enough time in the day. People that weren’t on the news but were a part of how we were influenced grown up. Remember “Homer helps hearing. And I’m Homer”? How about Uncle Zeb on channel 8? Harold Ensley and “Gone Fishin’”?

Please comment on anything that was special to you or that you remember that I didn’t. Part of the Bentonville History Museum’s mission is to remember, reminisce, and share those memories both good and bad with our community. I hope to hear some good stuff!