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On the Air: The History of Broadcast in Fort Smith, Ark.

On the Air: The History of Broadcast in Fort Smith, Ark.

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On the Air Exhibit Shows the History of Broadcast in Fort Smith, Ark.

On April 27, longtime Fort Smith media figure Carl Riggins will see a dream come true when the permanent exhibit “On the Air 1922-1972” opens at the Fort Smith Museum of History.

Visitors will walk into a replica of the exterior of Fort Smith’s Radio Center building that once stood at 421 Garrison Avenue. Inside, they can see and hear the history of local radio and television through a display of authentic equipment, photographs and information.

Riggins has spent a lifetime collecting and preserving artifacts of local radio and TV. He originally bought many items on display and also persuaded other owners of memorabilia to donate it to this exhibit.

In 2012, Riggins mounted a temporary exhibit that incorporated related material already held by the museum. He said he enjoyed contacting retired broadcasters – many of them friends – to loan things to the exhibit.

Riggins spent his entire career in local broadcasting. He was a boy when radio was the only broadcast medium and a teen during television’s debut. He started in radio as a disc jockey at radio stations KWHN, KFSA and KTCS, and later worked at television stations KLMN-TV (later KPOM TV Channel 24) and KFSA TV, now KFSM Channel 5. He retired after 30 years as director of media ministries for First Baptist Church, which aired the ACTS network, later known as Inspirational Network, when it was on television Channel 2.

The popularity of the first “On the Air” exhibit further inspired Riggins and the museum to create this permanent installation. Riggins helped to solicit $25,000 in underwriting. The second-floor Radio Center replica exterior, with its Art Deco doors and glass-block accents, was built by talented craftsmen Monte Smith and Easy Barber near other replica exteriors such as the Boston Store and Goldman Hotel exhibits.

Riggins’ contemporary Jim Roughley, who also worked on-air for local stations, has helped with the search for artifacts and making the radio control room operable, Riggins said. Many other broadcast pros have contributed and all the items are meticulously credited.

LeRoy Billy, owner of KPRV in Poteau, Okla., gave the radio transmitter. Bill and Karen Pharis, owners of Fort Smith Radio Group have been very supportive; Dale Williams contributed a rare Electronic Transmission turntable he rescued from a dumpster, Riggins said. Families of other local broadcasters have given photographs, signs and memorabilia, as well.

The 2012 exhibit opening was an area media reunion. The museum staff invites all employees of any local stations, or their families, to reunite once more at the public opening reception, 6 p.m. April 27, which will both launch the exhibit and honor Riggins. The permanent exhibit will likely grow with more preserved audio, film and video from local radio and TV.

These familiar voices and faces, the news they reported and read daily, the entertainment they created and the technology that broadcast engineers mastered are all a part of local history that might have left only memories but for Riggins’ dedication.

By Lynn Wasson

6 p.m. April 27 Opening Reception. Admission $7 adults, $5 veterans and military, $2 children, under 6 free. Fort Smith Museum of History, 320 Rogers Avenue, Fort Smith, Ark. 479-783-7841 fortsmithmuseum.org

This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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