Written by Ronnie Deese, OFN ContributorHow many big radio names credit their start to The Future Farmers of America?
How many big radio names credit their start to The Future Farmers of America?
“I credit that organization with changing my whole perspective, my whole life,” Kermit Womack, Arkansas radio pioneer, said. “We didn’t own a car. We didn’t have indoor plumbing. I remember when electricity came to the house, I was in the 10th grade. We always plowed with mules and horses.”
But winning the state FFA public speaking contest in 1952 earned Kermit a one-year college scholarship to Arkansas Tech University, where President J.W. Hull promised to help Kermit find a way to stay in school beyond that first year.
“I explained to Mr. Hull that I was afraid that I was going to have to decline (the scholarship) because I would go a year and then I would have to drop out because my folks did not have the resources,” Kermit said. “He said, ‘Don’t ask me how, but just come on faith and it’ll work out.’”
Thanks to Hull, within a month Kermit had that first radio job as a news reporter at KARV on the Arkansas Tech campus. In addition to working at the radio station, Kermit joined the National Guard and ROTC to help pay for college. Kermit would spend 35 years in the military reserves, which later led to his on-air title, “The Colonel.”
When Kermit took that first job with Russellville, Ark., radio station KARV in 1952, the farm boy from rural Yell County had found his calling. Later on, while working in various roles in the radio business at stations in Arkansas and Missouri, “The Colonel,” began to dream of having his own radio station. Not one to let opportunity pass him by, today Kermit lives out that dream as he and his wife Diane together now own five radio stations, including KARV, where Kermit got his start, as well as Rogers-based KURM, which was molded into the image of its namesake from its beginning in 1979.
“Since my name is Kermit, I wanted to have the station K-E-R-M,” Womack said. “But when we searched the frequency… those call letters were not available. So K-U-R-M was available, and that’s still pronounced the same.”
Womack saw the potential in starting a new station in Northwest Arkansas, and KURM became Womack’s first venture into radio station ownership. KURM went on the air as a 500-watt daytime station broadcasting from five acres of rented farm land, and six months later was upgraded to 5,000 watts.
“I bought some acreage out here which is now our tower site,” Kermit said. “We applied for an increase in power to 5,000 watts and added night time. And that was the key to making this a real regional-type broadcast facility.”
The increased power allows KURM’s signal to be heard as far away as Harrison, Ark., Fort Smith, Ark., Tulsa, Okla., and Springfield, Mo. KURM and its owner have become a fixture in the area, as Kermit has immersed himself in every aspect of his flagship station. In addition to managing all of his radio stations, The Colonel can be heard on KURM at all hours of the day, from his morning news and talk shows to endorsing local advertisers to a weekly broadcast from the local livestock auction barn, to broadcasting high school sporting events in the evenings and on weekends.
“I don’t think there is any broadcaster in America that spends more time at his station doing work than I do here,” Kermit said.
Five of the Womacks’ seven children have also served in the military, including their son Steve, who had been the heir apparent to take control of KURM radio until he was elected as the mayor of Rogers ten years ago.
KURM carries a wide variety of live events, including county and state fairs, rodeos, church services, and sporting events from junior high to major league baseball. But agriculture has always been an integral part of Womack’s radio business. In fact, the land where Kermit’s radio equipment stands doubles as pasture for his 200-plus head of cattle, which graze under the shadow of his towers near Danville, Ark., on Crow Mountain near Russellville, Ark., and on the edge of the rapidly growing Bentonville-Rogers metropolis. Kermit has broadcasted from several different sale barns over the years and currently has a weekly half-hour live broadcast from inside the Washington County Livestock Auction.
“We are the radio station that the farmers recognize as the farm station,” Kermit said. “I started out broadcasting from the Bentonville Sale Barn 20 years ago. The farmers in the area really like this because they can tune in and kind of get a sense of what the market trend is.”
At times, Kermit and Diane find themselves working at the station seven days a week, as local businesses often insist on having “The Colonel” broadcasting their live remotes. But after 56 years in the radio business, Kermit admits he’s beginning to think about stepping away from the microphone.
“I’d always thought my son would take over, but… he’s got too good a future in government,” Kermit said. “I think that this thing will be winding down one of these days and somebody else will be changing the formats and everything here.”
The station Kermit founded will inevitably change, but KURM and “The Colonel’s” impact over the past 30 years have made a lasting impression.
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