words & Images: Laurie Marshall
For many of us, the collection and preservation of the stories of our home state is important and appreciated, but for Kyle Kellams, it’s a passion. August marks the twenty-fifth year Kyle has been with KUAF 91.3, the local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate located in Fayetteville and serving Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley. His journey to his current position as the station’s News Director and lead producer for the daily show, Ozarks at Large, is dotted with fortunate circumstances, smart choices, and a self-proclaimed genetic tendency to be doing exactly what he’s doing.
Kyle’s family moved from Kansas to Arkansas when he was four years old. They settled in Mountain Home, a small town in North Arkansas situated almost exactly half-way between the eastern and the western state lines. Kyle’s mother was a teacher and his father a bartender, and they filled their home with stories. He remembers Paul Harvey on the radio, a subscription to Life Magazine, and the NBC Nightly News on television every night. “There was a lot of conversation in the household… but I do think it is part of my genetic code. I never thought of it as ‘telling stories’ until I started working on [Ozarks at Large], but it is just what I like to do.”
Growing up in a town with only one television channel, it’s easy to understand the connection a young boy would develop with his radio. For years, Kyle would fall asleep listening to old radio programs on a station out of San Antonio. His earliest memories are of The S & K Show, a fictional program based on The Tonight Show he co-hosted with his teddy bear, Smokey. When asked which of them was Johnny Carson, he laughs, “The bear had top billing! In my day dreams we were equals, despite the fact that [Smokey] was inanimate.” Not surprisingly, his first job at age sixteen was at the local station, KTLO.
The Big Leagues
As a student studying Broadcast Journalism at the University of Arkansas, Kyle was working at KUAF when the station switched over to NPR programming. He spent summers at KTLO, and after earning his degree, he spent a couple of years there covering local news in Mountain Home before returning to Northwest Arkansas to join KIX104 in Fayetteville as their news director. A year later, he went back to KUAF.
At KIX104, Kyle created around seventeen newscasts each day, with the average spot lasting only twenty seconds. He recognized the value in that work, but he wanted to tell, as Paul Harvey did: The rest of the story. “What I’ve been afforded to do [at KUAF], which is really unusual for public radio stations of our size, and really, of any size, is to have what is now a daily one-hour show.”
Recently, Kyle did some research to see exactly who is doing what they do with Ozarks at Large, and was surprised to find that the show is more unique than even he thought. “No one has anything like we do. Kansas City has a daily call-in show… Denver has a weekly show. It’s a rarity. I think it’s the future.”
Building the Foundation
He credits the vision of Rick Stockdell, KUAF General Manager, and the support of the community for the success of the program. The program was already on the air when Kyle joined KUAF, but only as a weekly half-hour show. When Rick offered him the chance to produce the show, the first change he made was to switch to a news magazine format. It was eventually given an hour on the schedule and they hired more staff. Another hour was added to allow the show to air two times each weekend… then another. Finally, when the station moved from the University of Arkansas campus to new offices on South School Avenue, Rick suggested a daily show. Kyle had been thinking the same thing. Four years ago this month, Ozarks at Large became a daily show.
As amazing as Arkansas is, it stands to reason that Kyle might worry that the day will come when there will be no more stories to tell. But according to him, timing was everything. The cultural and economic growth of the area has been a windfall. “That was our biggest fear… how are we going to fill all that time? There’s more to be done than we could ever do. That’s not a problem — at all.”
Spreading the Word and Keeping the Record
Kyle says he has dreams about taking Ozarks at Large to a larger audience by collaborating with other regional producers, but he’s also okay with keeping the show’s focus close to home. “We have twenty-three hours a day dedicated to the rest of the world… let’s have one or two just about this area.”
Spending twenty-five years in one place and at a job as focused on local stories as his is, Kyle can be called an unofficial “keeper of the record” for Ozarks at Large and the body of work that has been done on the program. With six producers now working to bring daily stories to their listeners, the show has hit a peak that no one could have predicted when Kyle took the helm, least of all, Kyle himself. He puts all the kudos on the shoulders of his team. “In my humble opinion the show has really jumped to another level over the last few months and it has nothing to do with me. You can’t be fifty-one and have a team for the first time in sports… [but now ] I have a team,” he says with a smile, “and it’s something else.”
When asked what’s next for him and Ozarks at Large, Kyle hesitates to make predictions. As a nonprofit organization, KUAF depends on funding to expand programming and add staff, but he admits that he would like to be able to do more remote shows from locations around the listening area. He says his staff has to rein him in on a regular basis. “Our only frustration we ever have is that we can’t do it all. [They’re] great about saying ‘Kyle, we’re full for the next week, it doesn’t make sense to try to fit it in.’”
He and his wife, Laura, enjoy a circle of friends that is indicative of their time spent living in the area. By his account, he has reached a level of satisfaction with his life that comes from knowing a place as well as he knows Northwest Arkansas, and he’s content to stay put. “There is value in a life when you go to other places and see other things, but there’s also value in having been here long enough… I don’t have wanderlust.”
It would seem to be a logical step to start putting all that history down on paper, but when asked if he plans to write a memoir about his life in radio, he’s flummoxed. “I don’t take notes! I don’t know how to write a book. Maybe when I’m ninety and they finally push me out of the office. I’m much more comfortable with other people’s stories.”
And we’re so glad that he’s telling them.