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Friday, March 5, 2021

History of Bates County: On The Air

Bill Thornton, Co-Founder of
KMAM/KMOE
In 1922, Butler's original radio station was built and operated by Clair C. Rhodes, better known as "Doc" Rhodes, who owned and operated the drugstore on the north side of the square. The station was possibly the first radio station in Missouri and the seventh in the nation to be licensed by the government.

The radio station was called "WNAR", which stood for "We Never Are Ready" , because the station was operated simply as a hobby and was on the air after school  hours with the local high school students at the controls. There were no rules to follow since, at this time, the government  did not take this new thing seriously.  And so the kids aired whatever came to mind. The station was disbanded around 1924, and it was another 38 years before Bates County had this form of public communication again.

At the age of 18, a young man from Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, gave up a track scholarship to enlist in the Navy when the Korean conflict arose. He went into electronics in the service and obtained a Broadcast Engineering License, which led to employment at a radio station in his home town when he left the service. Little did he realize that this would eventually lead him to Butler eight years later.

While majoring in journalism at Arkansas State, Bill Thornton worked his way through college as a disc jockey at KRLW in Walnut Ridge, which resulted in his applying to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to establish a radio station in Butler. KMAM-AM went on the air in May of 1962, with his brother, the late Jerry Thornton, as the morning announcer. A contest was held not long after going on the air to decide what the call letters should stand for, and a lady from Rich Hill came up with "Keeping Mid America Moving".

In the beginning, the radio station could only air programs during daylight hours. However, KMOE-FM aired in January, 1975, allowing broadcasting at all hours, which included programming for early morning risers and sports programs at night.

And today, KMAM/KMOE is still located at 800 E. Nursery Street  and may be the only station in the nation that still operates under original family members and ownership.

When the station began broadcasting, vinyl albums were still were still a relatively new item and turntables were a staple; taping was reel-to-reel. All remotes came down telephone wires, and news and weather forecasts arrived via teletype. Now, the announcer has no turntables; they look at a computer screen for constant access to the weather map, and is in touch with the world through the internet, FAX and email. 

While computers allow for simplified automation, KMAM/KMOE still provides a live morning show which includes some long time favorites such as the 9 am newscast, farm reports and Swap Shop.

-Courtesy Butler Chamber of Commerce magazine