FORT SMITH — An opening reception for an exhibit titled On the Air — Fifty Years of Broadcasting Exhibit in Fort Smith, 1922-1972 was more than just an exhibit at the Fort Smith Museum of History for the broadcasters who had spent decades reporting news to residents in Fort Smith and surrounding areas; it was more of a reunion and homecoming for some familiar faces and voices.
While working toward a master's degree in museum studies from the University of Oklahoma online, Diane White was required to create an exhibit as part of her coursework. In a conversation over lunch with a friend, Teena Riggins, they struck upon the idea to do a broadcasting exhibit at the Fort Smith Museum of History.
White said: “From the first of March until the present, they worked night and day getting the exhibit ready. Not only was she doing this for her class, but she wanted to do it for her friends." Local historians, collectors, artists and photographers were involved, some producing work just for the exhibit.
White’s biggest obstacle was meeting all the deadlines associated with planning the layouts, making contact with people who had items to contribute and collecting the objects from others.
“There was always something to do,” she said. The exhibit chronicles the progression of broadcast news starting with radios and then continuing to the era where finally everyone had a TV in their home.
Carl Riggins, one of the donors to the exhibit, knew he wanted to be a radio announcer at age 10. When looking through an Allied Radio Magazine he came upon a microphone for $3. He bought it and hooked it up to his radio and thus his passion for broadcasting was born. Riggins spent his entire career in broadcasting. He has 140 microphones with one-third of those items included in the exhibit.
Milt Earnhart, now 94, began his career as the first weatherman in Fort Smith. He was the first broadcaster to have a remote weather report. He was filmed from an upstairs window in the old Southwest Times Record building as he stood out in the snow with a mic on a long cable. He also used a chalkboard with the outline of Oklahoma and Arkansas as his visual aids.
The exhibit will be on display through the end of the year.