History of the KBTM Building
Taken from an article written by Michael Hibblen
Jonesboro’s KBTM-FM 101.9 is considered to have been the first FM radio station in Arkansas. It went on the air in 1947, 17 years after KBTM-AM 1230 became an officially licensed station. Initially the AM was the primary station, serving a vital role in Jonesboro, while the FM was little more than a muzak-type easy listening service. But that changed as FM became dominant in the 1970s. So KBTM-FM 101.9 was upgraded and through various incarnations over the years, played rock and pop music. It eventually became a 100,000 watt powerhouse, broadcasting from an 1,100 foot tower with a signal reaching parts of five states.
The longtime home of KBTM and KJBR in 1992.
JAY BEARD CREATES KBTM
The story behind the birth of KBTM-AM in 1924 was well told in the 1974 book Arkansas Airwaves, written by Ray Poindexter, which features fascinating looks at the backgrounds of many of Arkansas’ early radio stations. Poindexter also wrote that the assigned call letters for the new station were KGKZ, but that a request was made that they become KBTM, which stood for Beard’s Temple of Music, the name of the family’s store. The new call letters were assigned December 14, 1929. An engineer from Little Rock was brought up to Paragould to help build a new transmitter and studios and Poindexter writes that the station made its first official broadcast March 16, 1930.
KBTM proved to be extremely popular and within a few years moved to the larger city of Jonesboro, where it built a staff of announcers and would broadcast live musical performances from throughout the area. The station also became vital in sharing information with the public, first during a massive flood that struck in 1937 and again during World War II, airing late breaking reports at all hours of the day and night via the Mutual Broadcasting System. In 1942, KBTM moved into what Poindexter describes as an “ultra modern new building” at 603 Madison in Jonesboro. It would remain the home for the station for the next half-century.
KBTM-FM BECOMES FIRST FM STATION IN ARKANSAS
FM broadcasting had been developed by Edwin Howard Armstrong as a way to broadcast without the interference that AM was susceptible to and with better fidelity. But there were years of legal battles between Armstrong and his former employer RCA, which saw it as a threat to the established radio industry. There were also countless copyright battles and struggles over establishing the standards for FM broadcasting. Jay Beard apparently saw the potential of FM and put what is credited as being the first FM radio station in Arkansas on the air in 1947. For the next four decades it was broadcast from the same tower used by KBTM-AM on Aggie Road, along U.S. 49 in Jonesboro.
For the first couple of decades, KBTM-FM broadcast at 8,000 watts. Guy Patteson, son of co-owner Alan Patteson, noted in a 2010 interview that “it was not customary to put an FM antenna on an AM tower because you had to do all this extravagant insulating stuff. It was like putting oil with water.” The FM signal would later be upgraded to 50,000 watts, then 100,000 watts in 1974, with 10 bays lining the side of the tower. It would eventually need to be moved to a much taller tower to maintain the station’s class C status because of a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission.
JAY BEARD SELLS KBTM-AM/FM
24 years after officially starting KBTM, Jay Beard decided to sell the stations in 1954 to Hal King, who only ended up keeping them for four years. In 1958, Brothers Alan and Carter Patteson bought KBTM-AM/FM.
KBTM-FM JUMPS TO 100,000 WATTS
With more people listening to FM radio, the decision was made to increase the power of KBTM-FM to the maximum possible. The first day on the air for the newly upgraded 100,000 watt station was Monday, December 16, 1974. The increase in power for KBTM-FM gave it a much bigger coverage area, making it more of a regional station.
Alan Patteson in front of the KBTM building in December 1974.
KBTM-FM BECOMES KJBR
KBTM was the AM station named for the founder, Jay Beard and Beard's Temple of Music. That was left for old time sentimental reasons and the FM station was eventually changed to KJBR. In 1993, KBTM and KJBR were sold to Larry Duke and the stations were moved over to the KFIN facilities. After being owned by M & G Properties, the building was purchased by Chris Jester in 1994 to house his law practice. It has gone through a series of changes and upgrades over the years.
Jester Law Firm and Marshall Law Firm in 2010
Attorneys at Law in 2014.
A grant from the Downtown Jonesboro Association in 2017 restored the building to its historical look and name.