Remembering Pat Lynch, Radio's Local Days

Remembering Pat Lynch, Radio's Local Days
Pat Lynch in 1994, when he was a KARN mentor to Michael Hibblen, who took this portrait. (Michael Hibblen)

Pat Lynch was built for radio, his old colleague Michael Hibblen says, perhaps because Lynch inhabited an audio world.

“Pat was legally blind; he couldn’t drive, and he had to be dropped off and picked up at the station by a cab,” said Hibblen, now news director at KUAR-FM but a starstruck newbie at KARN when he met Lynch in Little Rock in 1993.

“I think his other senses may have been heightened. He listened more closely, and he’d lean right into your face in an odd kind of way. He took in things on a deeper level, the way radio listeners do when they’re really attuned, not distracted by anything visual.”

Lynch, recalled by former boss Steve Jonsson as “an important figure in the history of radio in Arkansas,” died late last month at 70. “He had a very agile mind and was a little quirky, so he was fun,” said Jonsson, who stepped down as CEO of Signal Media in Little Rock in January. Lynch was doing a midday talk show on Signal’s KABZ-FM until it switched to a sports format in 2004.

He’d been a radio vagabond since his teens, when he sized up the prospect of college as “too demanding” and went directly into broadcasting after graduating from a Catholic high school in Mobile, Alabama. He occupied radio booths all across the country for nearly 15 years before landing in Little Rock in 1983. He wound up being one of the last Arkansas stars in the local radio era, before national chains dominated.

A progressive voice from 9 a.m. to noon on KARN for 17 years before he was fired in 2000, Lynch hooked thousands of Arkansans, admired and loathed for his trenchant commentary and well-informed interviews with state leaders.

Hibblen recalled Lynch’s doggedness in opposing what he saw as Kenneth Starr’s scorched-earth willingness to destroy lives as the Whitewater independent counsel in the 1990s. Susan McDougal, the savings-and-loan chief’s ex-wife who was jailed for refusing Starr’s calls to testify, often listened to Lynch from her cell and sometimes called KARN’s 1-800 number from prison to join him on the air, Hibblen said.

Lynch boasted that in decades on the radio he’d interviewed everyone from Timothy Leary to Tiny Tim, President Clinton to Captain Kangaroo.

He was also an avid crusader for the American Civil Liberties Union, serving on its national board for six years.

Neal Gladner, a longtime friend and colleague, called Lynch “one of the finest interviewers and writers” ever to broadcast in Arkansas. Gladner followed Lynch to KARN from the West Coast and now directs sales for the US Station Group in Hot Springs, where he hosts a morning show.

Gladner praised Lynch’s talent in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where Lynch wrote a weekly opinion column for the Voices page from 2000 to 2011. Fellow columnist Meredith Oakley recalled Lynch in a web post as “a gentle soul with a feisty spirit, a probing intellect and an incisive wit.”

Lynch said on the air that Democrat-Gazette editorial page editor Paul Greenberg, now long retired, had fired him via voicemail.

“Pat had an entertaining way on the air,” Hibblen said. “This was before corporate radio took over, when there was still a lot of local programming at individual stations.” Local station owners like KARN’s Ted Snider, Hibblen said, took pride in local news and had a reputation at stake in keeping listeners, neighbors and customers informed.

“The Telecommunications Act of 1996 lowered restrictions on owning stations and enabled chains to buy more outlets, with chains like Clear Channel gobbling up everything,” Hibblen said. “Talk Radio became all right wing after equal time went away, and corporate radio found it cheaper to use national programming instead of local shows.”

That was anathema to Lynch, who was so devoted to local content that he broadcast his wedding on Valentine’s Day 2002, saying vows with Marie Lynch from Signal Media's headquarters inside the former KAAY Building in Riverdale. As radio became more corporate, Lynch devoted himself to marriage and Anglican theology.

Hibblen said he was gratified to see Lynch remembered and saluted in death. “To some extent, I think Pat thought he’d been forgotten.”