Radio, Music Trailblazer David B. Treadway Dies at 69

Radio, Music Trailblazer David B. Treadway Dies at 69
David B. Treadway (Ruggles-Wilcox Funeral Home)

David B. Treadway, who married  eclectic careers in music and broadcasting through  a half-century ride on stage and on Arkansas radio, died Feb. 7 at age 69.

The cause was complications of cancer, according to a family obituary by Ruggles-Wilcox Funeral Home.

An Arkadelphia native who grew up in Friendship (Hot Spring County), Treadway was a pioneer in student radio in the late 1960s at Henderson State University, where he “majored in English, speech communication and avoiding the Vietnam War,” as he put it.

The fact that he was also proud of being a Reserve Officers Training Corps sharpshooter speaks to the contradictions that fueled a career in rock ‘n’ roll and bluegrass, and made him a favorite voice on some of Arkansas’ most popular radio stations.

He was the last of seven different men who performed as “Doc Holliday” on KAAY-AM, “the Mighty 1090” as it was known. Then, under his own name, he performed on KLAZ, KLIT, KARN, KKYK and KSSN-FM, the country music stalwart.

He and several cousins started a rock ‘n’ roll band, the Slugs, while he was still in Ouachita High School. By age 18, David B., as he was always known, was making his name as one of the first students heard on KSWH, Henderson State’s new campus radio station. Clever and articulate, he was soon working professionally at KVRC in Arkadelphia, KXOW in Hot Springs and then KAAY in Little Rock.

Treadway’s musical journey took him to bluegrass, where his ability to play almost any stringed instrument was prized. He started a lifelong collaboration with communications professors Ed Ryland and Charlie Sandage, playing throughout the state for years as Sugar Hill, which was eventually joined by David Newbern and Aubrey Richardson. Treadway also performed with bluegrass acts like Posey Hill and the Edgar Allan Poe Boys.

Former KARN news director and “Arkansas Week” host Scott Charton, now owner and CEO of Charton Communications & Consulting of Columbia, Missouri, called Treadway the quickest wit and most composed radio announcer he ever encountered under pressure.

“He had an acute ear for audio perfection, encyclopedic musical knowledge, and his string skills as a bluegrass artist were beautiful,” Charton said in the funeral home’s obituary. “David B. put on no airs, was comfortable in his pink and purple socks, and was proud to hail from Friendship, Arkansas. He has St. Peter in stitches and is organizing a heavenly bluegrass band.”

The Arkansas Broadcasters Association, in an email to Arkansas Business from Executive Director Luke Story, called Treadway an "extraordinary generational talent" who connected powerfully with his audience and community. "As the radio industry celebrates 100 years this year, it’s legends like Treadway" to which professionals look to emulate. "Thanks for helping to pave the way, David," Story wrote. "Legions of future broadcasters will benefit from your legacy."

Treadway is survived by his wife of 47 years, Pat; a son, Matthew; and a sister, Debra Davis.

Several Arkansas radio listeners approaching their 70th birthdays recalled hearing Treadway’s voice on the radio as they were sweating out the Vietnam War draft, which in the late 1960s relied on a lottery to pick those who’d be conscripted to go to war.

Low lottery numbers were drafted first. So when the numbers for men born in 1951 were drawn and publicized in 1969, Treadway “read all 365 numbers” of Arkansans in that lottery. While men his age remember the drama as Treadway read off every number, he always admitted he'd planned to stop as soon as he came to his own name. It was 361; that near the end of the list, he decided it only made sense to read off the last four numbers.