Heroes Among Us Series
The “Heroes Among Us” story series will be released twice monthly, featuring local heroes and organizations that exemplify the Totally Texas, All American spirit that is the fabric of the Gainesville Community. Stories are contributed by the City of Gainesville, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Gainesville Economic Development Corporation, Gainesville Independent School District, and North Central Texas College. Keep an eye out for the stories and see who we celebrate next!
Release is coordinated by the City of Gainesville.
Heroes Among Us
hometown radio KGAF
Hometown…. Just the very word stirs up feelings of comfort, security, familiarity. Webster’s Dictionary defines hometown as: the city or town where one was born or grew up also: the place of one’s principal residence. Synonyms for the word are many. The ones that strike me are family, neighborhood, fireside, country, homestead. Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. said “Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
Gainesville’s KGAF Hometown Radio elicits all those “good feels” and more. The voices we hear that bring us our local news, entertainment they provide, the excitement and pride conveyed when broadcasting or interviewing student athletes…hometown.
Joe Leonard Jr. started KGAF Radio here in Gainesville in 1947. His family started the Gainesville Daily Register in the late 1800’s. Seems fitting that in his military career managing a radio communications unit and eavesdropping on enemy signals in WWII that his interest in broadcasting and communications would become a fascination and set his path into a career.
Back from the war, Leonard applied and received the required license needed and KGAF took to the airwaves in October 1947.
He had his own record label, Big L Records and helped to promote the “Rockabilly” sound that would rival Rock‘n’Roll. His efforts later earned him a spot in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Texas Radio Hall of Fame and a place in the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Mr. Leonard owned the radio station for 20 years before selling it. During his time there, the station interviewed local personalities and focused on news from Gainesville and surrounding areas in order to keep the station competitive with other stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Music was a big part of KGAF also and a very special interview with KGAF staff was with a young man named Elvis Presley. This was prior to his contract with RCA Records and well before “You Ain’t Nothing but A Hound Dog” had all the girls crying and screaming his name. Joe initiated a contract with Elvis and Elvis performed in Owl Park that same night.
Mr. Leonard’s service to the community was what he loved to do most of all. He knew that there was another way to bring the news of the town, state and the world, not just relying on newspapers to do so.
He was named Pioneer Broadcaster of the year in 2004 with no less enthusiasm nor light in his eyes than when he began his career. He passed away in February 2015 at the age of 95.
This brings us to 1967 and a young man, 12 years of age, while working on the family farm and riding a tractor all day, purchased a little transistor radio that kept him company and entertained. Steve Eberhart began thinking of his career then. Sounded like fun to him and way better than sitting on a tractor all day. Over the next few years he listened and studied the DJ’s sounds and show styles. While working at his brother’s gas station, a DJ from KGAF happened to stop in and offered Steve a tour of the radio station. During his visit at KGAF, he became much more aware of the inner workings of radio and while the station was not as new, technically speaking as others, Steve was able to visualize his career path and made him all the more determined. He inquired about a job and the DJ gave him information on how to get a license from the FCC which will allow him to operate the equipment and not long after, that’s just what he did. He began DJ’ing at KGAF while still a sophomore in high school, working until midnight and doing his homework while the tunes were spinning.
In 1976 Steve moved on to another radio station and over the next 30+ years established an impressive career in broadcasting as a DJ and as a national radio host. He started a consulting company helping other small market stations and when he decided to invest in one, KGAF was available. Eberhart Broadcasting has operated KGAF ever since.
Another Gainesville sophomore came upon KGAF shortly after Steve Eberhart. Dee Blanton made a public service announcement for the High School’s Band Boosters organization and when the program director at the time heard it, Dee was offered a job on the spot. Dee started as a weekend DJ and well, here we are! He and Steve enjoy a long friendship, in and out of the radio business. It was Steve who taught Dee to operate the broadcasting board and showed him the “behind the scenes” duties. He remained with the company who owned KGAF until 1982. Sports was and still is to some degree I suppose, a major part of his life and career. Broadcasting approximately 350 Gainesville High School football and as many basketball games during his career, he has witnessed some incredible games and moments from the gymnasium and the press box at Leeper Stadium.
He became program director and a morning show host in 1987 and although he did hold positions for a time outside of radio, the pull back was always tugging at him. In 2008 when Steve contacted him about coming back to KGAF, Dee jumped at the chance. He had been gone from KGAF for almost 17 years. It was the same studio but with all new equipment. Technology has made it easier, but the old ways have not been forgotten. At the station by 4:00 am every morning and on the air at 6:00 am, Dee is just like your first cup of coffee, your wake up. Folks tune in to hear local news, information, sports, Dee & Darin In the Morning, not to mention “Swap It to Me”, one of their most popular segments, listeners can call in and sell, swap or give away just about anything. Dee say “KGAF has had extensive listener support and the backing of the community’s leaders over the years”. The businesses who advertise on KGAF play an even bigger role in the stations support system. “Many people do not realize that we cannot have a quality local radio station without advertiser support. There are so many places for businesses to spend their advertising dollars and we are thankful many of them choose radio”. We are too.
It seems to be a pattern with this radio station to give a kid a break and with Darin Allred is was no different. He was a Gainesville High School student when station manager, Tom Carson, allowed him to help with some sports broadcasting. Watching sports and talking about it for a living seemed like great career to him and he never looked back. A graduate of Texas Tech University, he did morning sports reports for stations Z102 and Lubbock station KFYO. He also served as Sports Information Director at South Plains College in Levelland and as Media Relations Specialist at NCTC. Darin is on the air 4 times a day, keeping all of Gainesville up to date on hometown (there’s that word again) sports and events. You may hear him and the crew (Dee, Stephen, Jerry and Clay) doing live broadcasts, throwing out stats and giving an occasional update on professional and college teams as well.
Media involves much more these days than just television and radio. Social media is everywhere and not always for the better. When asked how social media has impacted KGAF and his Cooke County Sport Talk program Darin answered positively, saying “Social media has helped in many ways. The Cooke County SportsTalk brand has grown over the last three years due to our presence on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook”. Their social media outlets are a great way to quickly update fans on sports, scores and news.
Cooke County SportsTalk began in May 2016. And just this year, a new home out at Liberty Crossing for the program. This spacious studio allows Darin the room to bring in more guests for interviews. Since its inception, Cooke County SportsTalk has interviewed more than 1,200 guests, athletes and coaches from every school in Cooke County. No sport or activity has been left out. If you are a fan of the program, be sure and stop in during Market Days weekends and shop for your favorite CCST swag.
It is encouraging to me that the student athletes are the focal point of this program. When asked about his time spent interviewing them and covering their events, Darin said “We get to see another side of the students that a lot of people don’t get to see. The youth in Cooke County are smart, polite and well spoken. Many stereotypes are broken and its fun to see that side of them”.
Over the past few years here in Cooke County Cooke County SportsTalk has gotten to cover a state football championship. State titles in basketball, baseball, volleyball track and cross country have no doubt made covering these hard-working students enjoyable and rewarding.
There are many more individuals past and present who have made KGAF stand the test of time. And it’s been hard work, determination and lots of fine tuning to bring the station up to the standard it is today. Better equipment, stronger signal strength, an FM license. The details all sound complicated, but all those involved should be proud of their efforts. KGAF is still family, neighborhoods, homesteads…someplace their feet may have left but not their hearts…. hometown.
Story contributed by Kathleen Rand, Membership & Events Coordinator for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce