Bentonville’s KOBV Brings Community Radio to Walmart Country


(By Lainie Petersen) Bentonville, a town of just under 57,000 residents in Northwest Arkansas, is primarily known as Walmart’s hometown. Increasingly, however, it has also gained a reputation as a cultural hub: It is home to the acclaimed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Museum of Native American History, music venues, art galleries, and a booming food scene. One fairly recent addition to the town is 8th Street Market, a large, one-story building occupied primarily by small enterprises, such as Bike Rack Brewing Co. and Sweet Freedom Cheese. In the back of the market is another structure: A shipping container revamped to look like a mid-80s boom box. Inside the container is KOBV, Bentonville’s community radio station, broadcasting music 24/7 to the local community and streaming worldwide. I recently had a chance to talk with Todd Verrone, one of the station’s founders, about the station, its origins, and the challenges of running an all-volunteer radio station.

Getting Started

The station started in 2015 in a way that Verrone describes as “Very small, pretty random.” Co-founder Garrett Brewer had applied for and received an LPFM license from the FCC, along with two other applicants who dropped out of the project. “Garrett called me one day and said, ‘We have a radio station. Can you help me with this?’” The fledgling station’s directors raised money for the initiative by holding dance parties and eventually set up a studio at one of their venues, Bentonville’s Meteor Guitar Gallery. This arrangement worked for a while, but radio is a 24/7 project, and the team realized they needed 24/7 access to the station’s computers and equipment. “It started getting a little bit too complicated, so we [moved the studio] to Garrett’s garden potting shed for a few years.” Eventually, the station was able to “swing a deal” with the 8th Street Market to rent its current space for $1 per year. This allowed the station to put down roots and develop its operations.

“We Only Do Music”

I asked Verrone about the station’s programming, and he affirmed that the format is strictly music, providing what Verrone describes as a “space away” from politics: “We only do music, and that was our thing from the very beginning.” There’s nothing myopic about the station’s offerings, however: From ambient to jazz, blues to electronica, bluegrass to funk, there’s something for most musical tastes on KOBV. As is often the case with community stations, playlists are crafted by talented, knowledgeable, and passionate music lovers eager to share with their listeners.

The Power of Radio

Verrone himself is one of the station’s DJs, specializing in electronica. We discussed how powerful radio can be when helping people discover new music. As he put it: “With endless playlists and streaming, it just becomes infinite, and it’s really hard to find stuff that you connect to. I’m constantly going through and organizing music, and when I just want to listen to music, sometimes I think, ‘I don’t want to choose. I don’t want to pick a station.’ It’s nice not to even have the choice of fast-forwarding a song! A lot of our listeners have [the station] on in their cars, and whenever they’re bombing around Bentonville, they’re listening to KOBV. We have a blues show, and the [DJ] has been way into blues forever, so he just picks incredible music. I know nothing about blues, so if you have someone who picks out the coolest pieces, gets a show together, and then presents it: I love going on those little journeys! I also love jazz shows and the stuff I don’t usually listen to. It’s just a nice surprise, and it kind of refreshes my ears a little bit.”

Music as Motivator

Operating as an all-volunteer LPFM has its challenges. If there’s a technical problem, Todd or another leadership team member has to be on call to fix it, though the station does have an IT consultant who can help with more serious issues. There’s also the various indignities that come with being a low-power station: “We share a frequency with a station from Tulsa, and I’ve noticed, depending on the ionosphere, that sometimes their music will bleed over into ours. I’ll have the station on and think, ‘Why are we playing like classic rock?’ And then realize it’s [the other station] because a commercial will come on. Sometimes I think, ‘I really wish we weren’t low power. We’d love to turn it up a little bit more.'” For now, though, the station remains connected to its mission of bringing music to the community. For its part, the community of Bentonville supports the station by attending KOBV’s fundraising events, which continue to include dance parties. Community businesses underwrite the station and it has also received grants from the Walton Family Foundation. Money, though, isn’t a major motivator for the station’s leadership. As Verrone says: “None of us ever thought that we’d get into this and try to monetize it. We’re all just psyched to do it because we love music.” Lainie Petersen is the Print Editor of Radio Ink.


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