Kyle Kellams / Photo: Dustin Bartholomew, Flyer Staff
A lot has changed in Northwest Arkansas over the course of the last 30 years or so.
The region has seen a boon of growth, both in terms of population as well as in businesses and development to serve all those people, in the last three decades. Enrollment at the University of Arkansas has more than doubled since 1985. Cultural institutions like the Walton Arts Center, the AMP, and Crystal Bridges have been established, enjoyed, and expanded. The changes are too numerous to list, but anyone who has lived around the region can see the vast differences.
At least one thing, however, has been constant though all of those changes; the voice of Kyle Kellams on the radio at KUAF.
Kellams got his start in radio in high school, where he began learning the business and equipment at local station, KTLO. He worked at the station for his junior and senior year, and was immediately bitten by the broadcast bug.
“I loved it,” he said. “I never wanted to be in television. I never wanted to work for a newspaper. I’ve never done anything else.”
After high school, Kellams entered into the broadcast journalism program at the UA, and took a job at KUAF. Aside from a brief period in New Orleans after college, two years back home, and a year working as news director at KIX 104 in Fayetteville, he’s pretty much been at KUAF ever since. Kellams officially accepted a full-time position with the station in August of 1989.
At the time, Kellams was the fourth full-time employee at the station. A fifth was hired shortly after, qualifying KUAF to be an official corporation for public broadcasting station. Back then, the station was located in a small white house on Duncan Avenue in Fayetteville, and was operating at just 10 watts. It wasn’t a 24-hour operation at the time, either. The station signed off around midnight, and was back on the air at 5 a.m.
“It was smaller (back then),” he said. “The UA was smaller. The region was smaller. And we thought we were growing then, but it was very calm (compared to the way things are now.)”
Programming was also different when Kellams began at the station. There was Morning Edition from 5 a.m. until 9 a.m., followed by several hours of classical music, with All Things Considered from 4-6 p.m., Fresh Air from 6-7 p.m., and classical music, folk, and jazz in the evenings until around midnight.
The station increased its power to 100,000 watts the same year Kellams was hired full time, and it was around then that he took over a weekly program called Ozarks at Large. As Kyle tells it, Dave Edmark and James Russell, two local journalists who alternated producing the 30-minute interview-based show each week, were ready to move on to other things, and station manager Rick Stockdell offered the show to him to see what he could do with it.
That turned out to be an important moment for Kellams, for the show, and for the station itself. Kellams immediately set out to try and make the show into something he could manage.
“I was 26, and I didn’t have the confidence to do a 28-minute interview with someone,” he said. “I said, if I’m going to do it, I want to do two or three things.”
For about six months, the show remained a half-hour program, before expanding to a full hour later that year.
As the region grew, so did Ozarks at Large, with more interesting people, events, and things for Kyle to shine a light on with his coverage. It expanded to twice a week, and then three times a week, before becoming a daily one-hour program in August of 2010.
The additional air-time has allowed the program to expand its coverage tremendously, with five journalists now producing stories from all over the region across the station’s coverage area – from Fort Smith into Southern Missouri and Oklahoma.
It was intimidating at first, but Kellams said that finding interesting stores in NWA has been the easy part.
“My biggest fear was that there wouldn’t be enough material to fill five new shows – plus a half-new show on Sunday every week,” he said. “But that has not been a problem.”
Ozarks at Large does have some regular features – musicians every Friday, local journalists who come in and preview the weekend, and others – that help to fill the weekly programming schedule.
The bigger struggle, he said, is being OK with what you can’t get to.
“There are five of us here who work on the show, but only four of us go out and get stories,” he said. “That’s less than one person per hour-long show. You always wish you could do more, but it’s crazy what we’re doing, though.”
In addition to collecting and recording stories for Ozarks at Large, Kellams is also a regular emcee at non-profit events, galas, and other social occasions throughout the region. On average, he is the master of ceremonies at about three events per month throughout the year. Through the years, he has also been the voice of the Razorback women’s basketball teams and the UA soccer team.
Even with the long hours at the station, the extra-curricular activities, and with nearly 30 years of experience on the job, Kellams’ enthusiasm for his work doesn’t appear to be waining.
His passion is particularly evident when he talks about the live radio shows he has produced in recent years with the Fayetteville Roots Festival and other events.
“It is so fun,” he said. “I get this adrenaline rush going.”
He has conducted some pretty epic interviews with actors, musicians, heads of state, and other interesting folks who end up finding their way to Northwest Arkansas for one reason or another. Conversations with Bruce Dern and with Martin Short came to mind when asked about some of his favorites.
His enthusiasm for the region he covers – the arts, the culture, the people, the growth, the businesses – is also kind of off the charts.
“It’s exploding,” he said. “It’s like, Fayetteville Roots Festival, every year there’s a new wrinkle. Now they’re doing this whole food thing. You turn around, and there’s Artist Laboratory Theatre doing a play on a bus. There’s TheatreSquared building this state-of-the-art theatre. There’s the library, pushing down walls so they can expand.
“And that’s just here in Fayetteville,” he said. “And it’s all over the place. It’s crazy. I am glad that I don’t live in a place that is stagnant.”
And we’re glad that – no matter what is next for Northwest Arkansas – we’ve got someone like Kyle Kellams in our neck of the woods to help bring it to life on the radio.