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On-Air with KASU:
Local Talent, Regional Reach

by Audrey Hanes, photography by Kayla Broadway

When longtime KASU Station Manager Mike Doyle retired at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, Mark Smith took over the reins with the goal of continuing to inform, educate and entertain Arkansas State University, Jonesboro and beyond with the programming of the school’s 100-watt public broadcasting service.

Smith has decades of experience in radio, going back to working at a radio station in Kennett, Mo., during his senior year of high school. After graduation, he headed to A-State, where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in radio and television programming while still working at a local Kennett station on the weekends and as a student staff member of KASU during the week.

After working commercial radio for several years, Smith jumped at the opportunity to return to KASU, where he was the morning news announcer for more than 20 years. He then switched gears and took on the role of development director for seven years before ultimately becoming station manager upon Doyle’s retirement.

“I had a good understanding of the on-air part of the job, and then I was able to develop an understanding of the fundraising side; I feel like both of those positions were good preparation for managing the station,” said Smith. “I already had an understanding of two main areas of what was being done at the station. It helps with managing the team when you know what their jobs are and can relate to that. … I’m very lucky to have a lot of seasoned professionals on staff. They know their jobs, and they do them and they do them well.”

The station manager said that while the KASU staff is still doing what they have done for years – trying to inform, educate and hopefully entertain listeners – they are also working to make upgrades and add more programming.

“We carry a lot of NPR and other national sources that are excellent news programming and very popular, but one thing we found is that people really respond to local programs,” said Smith. “It’s a bit of a challenge because our staff is small. I’d like to increase that number in upcoming years. I’d also like to add more volunteers to help us do some of those things.

“A few years ago, we started Arkansas Roots, a music program that celebrates the musical heritage of Arkansas. It’s a mix of vintage recordings and new music being produced around the state.”

Recently, KASU debuted a new weekly program called A-State Connections, which stemmed from the idea that many in the Jonesboro community and even within the university should know more about impressive student and staff accomplishments.

“There are amazing things going on here – professors writing fascinating books, organizations doing great things in the community,” said Smith. “The program looks at how they’re impacting the community of Jonesboro and NEA and the whole region. The program includes features, stories and interviews to let people know about these things. We will still cover local news and news at A-State like we always do, but we wanted a program that really shared the accomplishments of those at A-State with the rest of the region.”

Smith says that KASU stands out in that it offers things locally that are unavailable from other media. In addition to unique music, ideas and stories, the station is continually looking to find new ways to reach its listeners. They hope to continue to expand their ways of reaching the audience, as well, such as with podcasts and other forms of social media.

“We are trying to expand our regional web content and social media,” said Smith. “It’s been difficult for some of us old radio (staffers) that it’s not just audio anymore; we have to also think about things like videos and still photos and things that are shared on social media that have a visual aspect to them now. We all have to think a little differently about our jobs in recent years, but it’s fun, because that’s one of the things we think our listeners appreciate. They tend to be people who value lifelong learning, and we as a staff have to be that way, too. We are excited about learning new things. Learning a new way to do our jobs is exciting.”

Also on Smith’s agenda is upgrading much of the station’s equipment.

“We have a lot of software and hardware that are getting pretty old,” he said. “We are in the middle of that process. We are a non-commercial radio station, which means we depend on our listeners. Twice a year, in the spring and fall, we ask our listeners to give to the station. Our needs are more pressing than ever right now with programming changes we want to do. Our listeners have always been very loyal and willing to help the station, we are just hoping to increase that listener base.”

The station manager’s ultimate goal is to make KASU a showpiece of the A-State campus, especially after studio upgrades that he hopes will be possible in the near future.

“I want it to be a place where when visitors come to campus, the administrators want to show them our public radio station, because we are pretty proud of it,” said Smith. “I want it to be a place people bring others to show off the campus. I want it to be a place people think of when they think of Arkansas State.”

KASU is also well-known for its support of several regional downtown revitalization efforts, music festivals and concert series. The station helps offer live music for two nights of the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival in Dyess, is involved with the Beatles at the Ridge Music Festival in Walnut Ridge and helps coordinate the Arkansas Roots Music Festival at Jonesboro’s City Water & Light Park. It has also been dedicated to providing the region with opportunities to see live music for more than 20 years.

“Music, news, arts and views – we try to provide all of those things,” said Smith. “A lot of stations provide music, but we try to air music you can’t hear anywhere else – blues on Saturday night, bluegrass Sunday afternoon, and everything from Celtic to folk to Americana – all these genres you don’t hear much on other stations. But, they have an audience, and so we try to serve the people who are looking for something a little different.

“I enjoy hearing from listeners about how much they enjoy what we do and how appreciative they are of what we provide.”

Tune into KASU, 91.9 FM, or visit kasu.org for more information.