My first job after college – working in the features department at the Arkansas Gazette – actually was a continuation of an internship that spanned three summers and even Christmas holidays. Other than the four-figure starting pay (yes, four figures), it was the greatest job ever. I spent two days a week writing feature articles and three days as a copy editor – laying out pages, writing headlines, editing articles.
I worked with fun, creative people and got to do some amazing stuff. At age 19, I was dispatched to Dallas for the press preview of “Up in Smoke,” Cheech and Chong’s second feature film. I got to interview the pseudo-stoners, review the film and enjoy movie studio-funded first-class airline seats, a luxe room at the Fairmont and countless Jack and Cokes (had to love that 18 drinking age!), pretty heady stuff for a budding journalist.
Once I became a full-timer, there were all those concerts! The pattern, repeated dozens of times over the years, usually included interviewing a band member by telephone for a preview article that would appear in the days leading up to the show – and then a concert review written that night and published the next day. Levon Helm, Jon Bon Jovi, Huey Lewis, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Rick Wills (you mean you didn’t know Rick was Foreigner’s bass player?) … chatting with those folks was fun stuff.
But I never had more fun than I did on Friday afternoons in the mid-1980s, when I’d drive up the hill to the tiny concrete block bunker that was the Magic 105 studio in Mayflower to spend an hour on the air with Tom Wood, my friend then and now. I’d bring albums and cassette tapes from artists who were playing around Little Rock that weekend. I’d talk about them, and Tom would play them. Based on the constant comments I got from listeners, I can vouch for just how popular Magic 105 was, even at 1 p.m. on a workday.
I remember thinking when the station debuted in 1980: here’s one more outfit trying to make a go of it playing current rock in the Little Rock market. Many predecessors had failed at that, ironic now that those same songs live on as “classic rock” on stations like the Point 94.1, a force in the FM market here for more than 25 years.
The mid-1980s was a glorious time for local music in Little Rock. The S.O.B. on East Second Street featured two bars with live music, often on the same night, and it was easy to bounce back and forth between the two. Juanita’s opened in 1986, and big-time touring bands would stop in regularly. Being at the confluence of Interstates 30 and 40 meant Little Rock was (and remains) on the travel routes for so many artists headed west to east or vice versa.
So, Tom and I had some great stuff to play on Magic 105 on the Friday afternoons we spent together – often introducing listeners to new bands, and hopefully getting more people out to local clubs.
At age 27, I accepted a promotion and became assistant features editor at the Gazette, later moving to assistant sports editor, then sports columnist, then sports editor and then, as of Oct. 18, 1991, unemployed journalist when the Arkansas Democrat purchased the Gazette and 700 of us were looking for work. I was 32, having started at the Gazette as a copy boy at age 16, half my life before.
The search for a paycheck took me to the News-Leader in Springfield, Mo., where I served as sports editor and then assistant managing editor, and about three and a half years later I moved back to Little Rock and got a job as lifestyle editor at the Arkansas Times. It was summer 1995, about eight years since I’d reported and opined about the local music scene. But I was back, baby!
A couple of years passed, and I made the phone call I had been considering since I’d returned – ringing up my good friend Tom Wood at his office at Magic 105, which long since had moved off the Mayflower mountain and into more civilized digs in Little Rock.
My first words to Tom were in the vein of the cliched, “Let’s get the band back together!,” except in my case it was “Let’s get the show back together!” Tom let me down easy, explaining that much had changed in the radio business since he and I were last on the air together.
The owners who founded Magic 105 – and had sent Tom to Arkansas in 1979 to literally build out the station – had recently sold it to U.S. Radio (it became part of the Clear Channel empire in 1999). Even though he was still program director, Tom no longer had carte blanche to play what he wanted to. And he certainly couldn’t play music from bands few listeners had heard of just because they’d be in town that weekend.
That was my personal introduction to the changing face of corporate radio, though it wouldn’t be my last. Tom Wood carried on – cheerfully and stoically – for a couple more decades before the corporate ax fell on him, one of the nicest guys ever to grace the airwaves.
Tom Wood was the one radio veteran who surely was immune from corporate downsizing. Apparently, he wasn’t.
But now he’s back, baby … on Arkansas Rocks!
— Kelley Bass