After more than a half-century of sharing news, sports, and farm market reports over dozens of local stations across the state, the Arkansas Radio Network will be signing off next month.
Toby Howell, program director at flagship talk station KARN-FM, 102.9, wrote in an email to 18 affiliate managers dated Feb. 15 that the network will be ending its news and information programming on March 20. The subject line of the email, which was obtained by Arkansas Business, was “ARN 30-Day Notice.” Howell did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Based at KARN in Little Rock, the network is owned by Cumulus Media, the radio chain that owns the talk FM station and others in Arkansas including KAAY-AM, 1090, and KARN-AM, known as 920 The Sports Animal.
In a message beginning “Dear ARN Affiliate,” Howell thanks the local stations for their long participation. “For over 50 years the Arkansas Radio Network has delivered news and information throughout the Natural State, and we could not have done that without affiliates like you,” Howell wrote.
He went on to say that ARN would discontinue its broadcasts on March 20, without stating a reason. “We have appreciated the opportunity to serve your news and information needs, and we will continue to do so for the next 30 days so that you may transition to a new service.”
The email did not reveal the reasoning behind the network’s discontinuation, but several insiders and regular listeners said paid advertising has been sparse lately, with public service announcements prominent in ad spots.
Former ARN News Director Bob Steel, an Arkansas radio and TV mainstay now doing public relations work at Little Rock Air Force base, said the network had as many as 50 affiliates when he left two years ago. However, KARN has undergone rounds of layoffs since.
“I haven’t been there in a couple of years, but at that time I was affiliate relations director and it was going well,” said Steel, a former news director at KATV, Channel 7. “I couldn’t really say what the reason was.”
At the height of the COVID shutdowns in June 2020, Cumulus Media announced it was letting go about 100 workers, or 3% of its workforce, by August of that year. At the time, the company cited a loss of advertising associated with the pandemic.
Cumulus Media, based in Atlanta, has 406 owned and operated radio stations across 86 American markets, according to its website. It features sports programming from the NFL, NCAA, the Masters golf tournament and the Academy of Country Music.
The Arkansas Radio Network, also owned by Cumulus, had its start in 1967 as the Delta Farm Network, an early-morning program by popular KARK-FM Farm News Director Bob Buice, who also appeared on KARK-TV, Channel 4.
After Ted Snider bought the KARK AM and FM stations from Mullins Broadcasting, he founded ARN in the early 1970s, first using reports by KARK newscasters Don Corbett and Les Bolton, as well as fabled sportscaster Jim Elder.
In the 1980s, satellite distribution was born, and growth followed, and on stations across the state, ARN newscasts greeted listeners 55 minutes past each hour. Buice was succeeded as agriculture news director by John Philpot, who eventually gave way to Stewart Doan. By the end of the 1980s, ARN was heard on nearly 70 Arkansas radio stations.