February 18, 2023, marks the 40th anniversary of Arkansas PBS’s flagship public affairs program “Arkansas Week.” To get a better understanding of what the show was like in its early days, Arkansas PBS interviewed Tom Grimes, the series' first host. Read on as Grimes gives some insight into what it was like to produce a weekly public affairs television program back in 1983.
How long were you the host of "Arkansas Week"?
Grimes: I was there for a year. I had just left KERA-TV in Dallas, the public TV station. I accepted a teaching and research position at UALR. It occurred to me after I organized a Little Rock cable TV news program that was produced from UALR that I might be able to do the same for what was then called AETN. I drove to Conway to see AETN’s administrator, Fred Schmutz. He bought the idea and the broadcast started. I also was freelancing for the Arkansas Radio Network at the time. I had a Sunday hour-long radio news program on the network.
What brought you to Arkansas PBS (then AETN)?
Grimes: I was what you might call a protégé of PBS’s founder, Dallas industrialist Ralph B. Rogers (founder of Texas Industries, the world’s largest cement manufacturing supplier). I met Rogers in New York City at a PBS conference when I was a master’s student at Columbia University. I had decided to do my master’s thesis on the origin of PBS, which Rogers created when, as he explained it to me, commercial television had no suitable children’s programming for his granddaughters. Too many sugary cereal commercials, he told me. So, he got National Educational Television affiliates together, convinced them to get rid of NET and join a new network, PBS (which he initially paid for), and then accept children’s and cultural programming at their local stations from PBS. After I graduated from Columbia, I went to my hometown of Dallas where Rogers was chairman of the board of the Dallas/Forth Worth PBS member station, KERA, as well as holding the chairman of the board position at PBS. Rogers set me up in Jim Lehrer’s news department where my TV news career began. Then Ronald Reagan became president about eight years later and cut CPB funding. The funding for our local news programs – "Newsday," "Voices," "Swank in the Arts," and our documentary unit – had their $1 million budgets cut to about $250,000. I quit and went to UALR.
What interesting topics did you cover?
Grimes: The topics were mostly political. First Frank White, then Bill Clinton were governor. The topics mostly revolved around them.
How long did an episode take to produce at that time?
Grimes: All episodes were done live-on-tape. I spent Monday through Thursday developing topics and then convincing guests to drive to Conway to appear. The production itself had no rehearsal. We simply did the program on tape and then it aired later that evening. Any production that I couldn’t do was done by my UALR students. One of your longtime announcers, Sharon Stanley, began her career at AETN when she was my UALR student.
What was the format of "Arkansas Week" at the time?
Grimes: The format was a simple Q&A with journalists. My students would help me set up stories by using UALR video equipment to shoot B-roll. I’d voice-over the B-roll and, then, intro journalists who would discuss various issues with me.
Did you ever think that "Arkansas Week" would span over decades like it has?
Grimes: Actually, I thought it might last. A statewide audience is too good a thing to give up. By that time, Amy Oliver, a commercial TV journalist in Little Rock, had gotten interested in the broadcast and she and her husband were interested in keeping the broadcast going. I quit after a year to go to Indiana University to get a PhD in communication research. After I graduated from Indiana, I went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison as a professor; then, I went to Kansas State University as the Ross Beach Professor of Communication [and] then here to Texas State when my wife accepted a department chair’s position.
"Arkansas Week" 40th Anniversary Episode
Friday, Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m.