Editor’s note: Dave Horvath was a reporter and news director at KBTN for nine years. While he didn’t want to become part of the story, he is, because of the comments of one of the inductees, former KBTN owner Dave Winegardner.
Neosho was well represented during the Missouri Southern State University Regional Media Hall of Fame 2014 induction ceremonies Thursday night.
Dr. Alan Marble, interim MSSU president, Neosho, opened the evening.
“We’re honoring folks who need to be honored,” Marble said. “We know how hard so many work in this business.”
Jim Jackson, Newton County commissioner, Neosho, and 2011inductee for his many years as KSNF-TV news anchor in Joplin, served as emcee for the festivities. Jackson said, “It is truly an honor to be inducted, and I still treasure it today.”
David L. Winegardner, 2014 inductee, was presented by Ron Peterson, owner, KXML-FM and KDMO-AM radio in Carthage. A 2007 inductee himself, Peterson said Winegardner has been a part of almost every aspect of radio since getting into the business in 1969. Peterson opened his presentation of the former owner of KBTN radio in Neosho by saying that he told his wife upon entering the profession, “I don’t have a profession, I have a disease, and it’s incurable.”
As he took the podium, Winegardner solidified that point when he said that he initiated his new wife into the business by ordering his son (Matthew) to take Cheryl down to the basement, “And I’m going to the radio station.”
Winegardner said he was very honored and humbled, and chooses to look upon the honor not for himself personally, “But for what I and a considerably talented group of people over the years tried to accomplish for Neosho.”
Winegardner said he always wanted to own a radio station, but knew very little about running one when he came to KBTN as general manager in 1974.
“It was on the job training all the way.” He said, “The station was broken down, it was operating illegally, we found that out later, and didn’t have a very good reputation in town.”
Winegardner said he wanted KBTN to become, “Not so much the ‘voice of’ the community but ‘voice for’ the community.
“We wanted to be a radio station that people in the community would turn to and depend on to find out what was going on; to understand what life in Neosho was all about,” he said.
Winegardner said he viewed music as something that held everything else together, and it didn’t really matter what kind of music.
“We were trying to become what the community needed whenever a need arose; weather information, news, the elections, community issues, sports is very important to a small community; and we tried to be there and tried to do as much as we could.”
Winegardner said he was so fortunate over the years to have hired a number of people who shared that goal.
“They did their dead-level best, and they didn’t get paid very much either; but they tried hard and worked long hours,” he said.
Winegardner invited several of those former employees to share in his night, “Because they were an important part of what we were able to accomplish in Neosho from 1974 until 2004.”
He first introduced his wife Cheryl, who was not with him when he came to Neosho in 1974, but quickly learned the nature of the business on the aforementioned night that tornado warnings meant her husband was heading to work, not to safety.
“But Cheryl supported me and helped me and was somebody who would listen to my moaning and complaints; and we would not have been able to accomplish over the years what we did without Cheryl; she was such an important part of it,” he said.
Next he introduced Carl and Becky Cobb of Neosho. Winegardner said he brought Carl on from West Texas very early in his days at KBTN, who brought Becky with him.
“I knew when they came that Becky was also a sales person;” he said, “so it wasn’t long before both Carl and Becky were working for us. Both of them were some of the best sales people who ever worked for KBTN; Carl went on to become sales manager and an assistant manager.”
Winegardner said Carl Cobb later taught at MSSU and is now in real estate. He said, “They were great over the years, solid, solid support.”
Becky Cobb worked at Clark Funeral Homes in Neosho for 18 years before going to work with Red Carpet Real Estate in Neosho several years ago.
Steve Kenny, Red Carpet owner/broker, Neosho, was the next to be introduced by Winegardner.
“Steve started as a part-time weekend board operator,” he said, “who eventually worked his way into sales and became sales manager, assistant manager; and later on was the manager of a pair of stations that I operated over in Pittsburg, Kan., for a number of years.”
Winegardner said Kenny was one of the top salesmen for KSNF-TV for a number of years, and now owns the most successful real estate company in Neosho.
“Steve to this day is one of my absolute best friends,” said Winegardner, “and I thank him for everything he’s done over the years.”
Prefacing that news was such an important part of what KBTN did, Winegardner said the first full-time person he hired was the news director in 1974. Unable to attend Thursday’s banquet due to illness, Cathy Gorham was Winegardner’s next example of why he was being honored.
“Cathy was a freshly minted graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism;” and he said, “She established a tradition at KBTN that we proudly maintained up until and even past the days that I actually owned the property. We always had a full-time news director; and that’s all that person did, full-time news.” He said that was sort of rare in those days, and almost unheard of today; “But Cathy was the first; she did a great job and we had many, many others along the way.”
Gorham has moved on since to be the long-time chief of the Juvenile Office for the 40th Judicial Circuit Court, serving Newton and McDonald counties.
Winegardner continued, “The last one I was privileged to hire, I say this not because he’s here but because it’s the gospel truth, he’s probably the best; and that’s Dave Horvath.” He said, “Dave is the soul of what small market radio can be, should be, and at least while we were trying to run things, was the way we did it. Dave does it right and he gets the full story, and he gets it accurately; and one of the other honorees mentioned how important that is.”
Winegardner said he is so pleased that while radio has moved on and doesn’t focus on local news as much as it used to, “Dave is now a full-time staff reporter for the Neosho Daily News; so he’s still serving Neosho, still reporting the news.”
Winegardner credits others who couldn’t be on hand Thursday evening for his success at KBTN, and mentioned two other shining examples, who are now among the departed.
“One was a gentleman for whom the word ‘corny’ or ‘hillbilly’ was invented,” he said. “He was probably the only reason that KBTN stayed on the air in the early years.”
Winegardner said Joe Johnson played part-time roles as a disk jockey, pilot and preacher. “He was a character,” he continued; “He went by the air name Herkermer P. Pushbroom. For two hours every morning he talked directly to you.”
Winegardner said the day Herkermer P. Pushbroom retired, sometime in the ‘80s, “There were still people in Neosho who thought a simple recording of a rooster was a live bird inside the station.” He concluded, “He was our image in the morning, particularly through the early years.”
Winegardner credits the late Wilbur Blankenship for keeping KBTN on the air. He said Wilbur was a ham radio operator and electrical engineer who didn’t know a thing about radio stations and broadcast equipment. Shortly after coming to town and being fearful of a failing transmitter,
Winegardner said he couldn’t find anyone to work on the equipment and Blankenship reluctantly agreed to work on a part-time basis.
He said, “Well, don’t you know, a week later the transmitter went off the air.” Winegardner said Blankenship was unsure of his ability to repair the equipment when he was called in, “But he took off his shirt, and it was a hot afternoon, and he climbed in the back of a great big ole 500 watt Gates transmitter, and we were back on the air in about 30 minutes, and we didn’t go off the air again.
“He kept the radio station on the air; he devised the equipment we needed when we felt we wanted to do something new; he always had something in his junk box to make it work; and everybody loved him.”
Winegardner said, “There’s many more; but it’s the people who made one little radio station in one small Southwest Missouri town possible; and they all came together and all gave everything they possible could to make it happen; and I am so grateful to them for what they have allowed me to do over the years and for the memories I have for the great, great years that KBTN was the voice of Neosho.”
Also part of the 2014 induction class into the MSSU Regional Media Hall of Fame was Dr. Robert Clark, who began teaching media at MSSU in 1984, founding both the school television and radio stations. His presenter, Eric Schrader, said he took many classes under Dr. Clark and, “Respecting the craft was what he instilled in people.”
Nikki Patrick, writer, Pittsburg Morning Sun, was also inducted Thursday. Her presenter, Olive Sullivan, Chart advisor at MSSU, described Patrick as “a legend in Pittsburg, Kan.”