Do you remember when, Arkansas? In the 1980s, the creators of KABF radio asked donors to buy them watts

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Does anyone recognize what’s going on in this photo from the Democrat-Gazette archives?

Hint: The year was 1984.

Forty years ago, Arkansans still owned radio stations, but many had rigid music formats with playlists chosen by distant marketing consultants. Fans of jazz, blues, folk, gospel, reggae or alternative rock criss-cross the sound deserts of Arkansas in cars strewn with cassettes.

With few exceptions (such as KARN-AM), in the 1980s Central Arkansas radio gave only the least legally required attention to public affairs. An educational station, KLRE-FM, precursor to the current public power KLRE/KUAR-FM, was heard only in and near the capital.

Meanwhile, volunteers from ACORN (Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now) were trying to create KABF-FM, 88.3, ​​a station that would broadcast a variety of local genres and artists while providing a platform for community groups. The A, B, and F stood for Arkansas Broadcasting Foundation, which owned the license for a 100,000 watt signal.

With grants from ACORN, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, the federal government, and individual donations, KABF acquired a used transmitter that needed work.

The Wanna Buy a Watt? the fundraiser suggested that every dollar donated would buy one watt for the transmitter. Donors who donated $25 or more received a poster and certificate.

When Arkansas Democrat’s Alex Brandon took this photo in January 1984, the foundation had just erected KABF’s 200-foot broadcast tower and transmitter atop Crystal Mountain, next to Shinall’s antenna farm. Mountain. Bespectacled station manager Scott Holladay predicted they could air by February.

Jim Youngdahl, a lawyer, had donated about 100 records, including jazz and blues on old 78 rpm records (called “78s”).

But they still needed a broadcasting studio and a few turntables, a console, tape recorders. It wasn’t until August 1984, with a federal deadline looming, that KABF aired its first program, at 10,000 watts.

Three years later, it jumped to 100,000 watts. But setbacks awaited us. Read what happened next at arkansasonline.com/0117kabf/.

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