Thursday, August 21, 2008

For 50 years at the same station, Don Neagle has kept up the public-service traditions of rural radio

Radio news has been in decline for 20 years or more, but in some rural communities, dedicated owners, managers and announcers keep up the tradition of the locally owned radio station as a crucial source of local news and a public forum. We don't know a better example than Don Neagle of WRUS (610 AM) in Russellville, Ky., where on Labor Day, Sept. 1, he and Logan County will celebrate his 50 years at the station. (Photo by Tim Webb for Kentucky Living magazine)

"As the Internet continues to unsettle the economics of the news business, the long career of my old friend is a witness to the traditional values of rural and community journalism," Al Smith writes on "He still does it the old-fashioned way, getting up before dawn with the farmers and factory workers to tell them what the weather will be like, what happened in their county yesterday, and what might happen today. For many Logan countians, he is someone they began listening to as their parents got them out of bed to catch the school bus. ... But it is doubtful that any Kentucky-based radio host mixes the conversations – literary, down home, and politically savvy – that are so uniquely appealing in Neagle’s daily talk show, “Feedback.”

"Guests might be an author on the line from Louisville or New York about a new novel, or a Vanderbilt University Divinity School professor discussing Pentecostalism in South America, or, as on an especially memorable morning, one of Western Kentucky University’s aging Hilltoppers helping Don spin their music that went gold in the Fifties. ... An avid book reader, a longtime library trustee, and married to a former teacher, Don’s passion for reading compensated for whatever he missed as a college dropout. But his learning rests easily in the folksy, good-humored chatter of a man who can talk to anybody."

Smith, the co-founder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, concludes, "Don has managed to exploit new technology to keep his little media business profitable, but much of his success is still so very personal — the dependable service that long ago forged a bond between a rural American community and its self-taught but experienced news guy. He feels the pressures of his business interests compromise his time to do quality news. After he leaves, he is not sure what will happen, or who will care as much." (Read more)
UPDATE, Aug. 29: Columnists Tom Eblen of the Lexington Herald-Leader, here, and Byron Crawford of The Courier-Journal, here, commemorate Neagle's achievement.

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