Welcome to Hamilton, Texas, population: 3,000. It is the home of the Cowboy Calf Roping Association, rodeos, antique tractor shows and the traditional chili cook-off. It is also home to KCLW(AM), a traditional country station owned by Lasting Value Broadcasting Group.
But this operation is more than just Buck Owens and Johnny Cash records, according to CEO/President Meredith Beal, whose background includes stints as global Web master for Dell Computers and director of marketing for Motown Records in Los Angeles. Beal grew up there but he knows Texas; his father is a native of Marshall and Beal attended college in Houston.
“We have a show I find deeply significant, called ‘Shout Out from Iraq,’” he said. “Every Friday soldiers deployed over there call in to the station and give a ‘shout-out’ to their friends and relatives and talk about what’s going on. Obviously they don’t discuss anything militarily sensitive, but they give us human interest stories, their feelings and some perspectives you don’t hear anywhere else.”
KCLW is about 35 minutes from Fort Hood, the largest military base in the U.S.
The station also features “The Trading Post,” an on-air swap meet, heard weekdays at 11 a.m. and online. On a recent day, the live stream at www.kclw.com featured the following items up for sale: a Binelli pump shotgun with camouflage finish, one mule (slightly used), a mattress/box spring set for $50 and a roping saddle in like-new condition, “just ask for Butch.”
This station sounds like Texas.
All about the community
(click thumbnail)Meredith Beal, right, with Kyle Phillips
KCLW has other features not found on many small-market stations including 90 minutes of locally produced news and community events each weekday morning, as well as an evening newscast.
Kyle Phillips, general manager of the station, said, “We have a program on which I tell the audience what jobs are available in four different counties,” he said. “My ‘news woman on the street’ is an 88-year-old who listeners have dubbed ‘Ms. Sunshine.’”
But Phillips couldn’t run the station without support from the boss.
“There is not another Meredith Beal on this planet,” he said. “I simply call him and tell him what I want to do, and nine times out of 10 he tells me to go ahead. To have that kind of trust from an owner is very special.”
‘Giving a Voice’
(click thumbnail)Meredith Beal
In selecting Meredith Beal, one of its board members, as its Broadcaster of the Year, the Texas Association of Broadcasters described him an advocate for localism who believes that radio stations can and should be forces for good in their communities.
Beal purchased KCLW(AM) Hamilton, KTXJ (now KCOX) Jasper and KWYX (now KTXJ-FM) Jasper in 2000 and has since increased local programming, added local news and created public affairs programs.
He attended college at the University of Houston, majored in journalism and took a job as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Later he was editor of the Rhythm and Blues Report and other publications.
When Barry Gordy sold Motown Records, Beal consulted on the transition and later joined the company as director of marketing. Later, back in Texas, he was global Webmaster for Dell Computer until 2001. He used proceeds from the sale of Dell stock to form his radio company.
“As a Buddhist, Beal strives to be optimistic and calm, despite the fact that he usually has 68 irons in the fire,” the TAB stated. “On a daily basis, he is likely to be attending a TAB Board Meeting in Austin, producing a CD of harmonica instrumentals, teaching a Web development class at Huston-Tillotson University and heading to Hamilton to meet with community leaders.”
As a broadcaster his goals have been to build businesses and serve the community. TAB said he saw a need for “more service, less sensation and more localization in news.” Last year the “KCLW Fire Fest” raised $30,000 for area fire departments that were drained by winter wildfires. The station’s new public affairs program, “What Do You Think,” is one of the most popular and features in-depth interviews with candidates for local and statewide political office.
“He truly believes in giving a voice to local citizens, allowing them to use the airwaves to talk about issues pertinent to the community. Beal continues to travel the world, spreading his message of global citizenship and dialog as the best means to create a peaceful society,” the association wrote.Phillips understands that the station has an important mission.
“If a local organization is holding a fundraiser, we don’t just announce it,” he said. “We will have them come to the station and we’ll interview them for 10 to 15 minutes. Recently a teacher here in Hamilton needed help with her medical bills. The community held a bake sale and we auctioned off cakes on the air to raise over $1,000 in about an hour and a half.
“This is Meredith’s vision. He believes in the power of good deeds, as do I.”
The community of Hamilton also praises Beal.
“We are fortunate in a town this size to have a station like KCLW,” said Riney Jordan, a motivational speaker, former broadcaster and Hamilton’s Citizen of the Year.
“When Meredith first came into town, one of the first things he did was meet with community leaders and express his vision for the station and get everyone’s input. He formed an advisory committee and several of us serve on that. He wants to do everything he can for this community.” The local school district also has saluted him for exemplary reporting on the community’s public schools.
Riney said that people who have spent their entire lives in radio have a narrow view of the profession, and that is why Beal’s unusual “outsider” background is helpful.
“He has fresh ideas and those of us who are veterans can learn from him,” Jordan said.
A former colleague of Beal’s from Motown Records related an amazing story.
“Meredith survived a shotgun blast to the head and chest in his mid-20s,” said Bradie Speller. “He was helping out a family member in a store when some people came in to rob it. These people pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and blasted him, and he was left for dead.
“But Meredith got up, called his parents and 911. He walked out of the hospital on his own two feet one week later because of the power of prayer, and the power of the human spirit, both of which he has.”
Meredith Beal still has five shotgun pellets in his heart and four in his lungs from this incident.
Beal was named Broadcaster of the Year in July by the Texas Association of Broadcasters. Patti C. Smith is general manager of KVUE(TV) in the Texas state capital of Austin; she is also a former president of TAB and encouraged Beal to run for the seat on the board of directors that he now holds.
“Meredith has a quiet strength that has allowed him to persevere in some very challenging situations,” she said. “He has proven his commitment to his listeners by utilizing the airwaves to inform as well as entertain. Sit down with him and you will find that he is a man of principle who is interested in a wide array of creative work.”
It’s black and white
While KCLW is successful, Beal has not been as lucky with two stations his company owns in Jasper, Texas.
Contemporary Christian combo KTXJ(FM)/KCOX(AM) had problems that began about two years after he purchased them in 2000. A certain faction in that town discovered that Beal was African American. He was mortified when one of his sales executives, a white woman, told him that one advertiser said he would buy no more ads on the stations until someone white owned them.
This is the town where in 1998 a black man, James Byrd, was tied up, dragged behind a truck and decapitated. The three white defendants were found guilty. Two were sentenced to death, the third was sentenced life in prison.
“It’s a small element of the community and they are vocal,” Beal said. “Someone sabotaged the transmitter and other people went around and talked to a lot of the advertisers.
“There are pockets of racism everywhere and I’m not past these problems yet. I have had to stay away from Jasper so the stations wouldn’t tank.”
Beal loves the town and enjoys the scenery and world-class fishing there but says he is frustrated that he can’t run his radio stations without interference from a handful of people.
“Our job is to drive customers to the businesses we serve,” he said. “If you have a tire shop, why would you care who is bringing customers to your door? I am still losing money in Jasper.”
A documentary about racial problems in that town aired recently. Details are available at www.twotownsofjasper.com.