Ozarks History: Teenager the First to Have Licensed Radio Station in Fayetteville

Lawrence Stinson was a free spirit. As a youth, he rode a motorcycle and worked on steamships headed to exotic places. He was also the first in Fayetteville to operate a licensed radio station, sending signals as far as Alaska.

Stinson co-owned the station with Raymond Gilbrech, an eastern Arkansas resident, in Stinson’s home at Lafayette Avenue and West Street. It included a 100-foot wooden tower Stinson built in the yard, a real town curiosity!

After Stinson sustained a motorcycle injury and was recuperating at Fayetteville’s City Hospital, his radio equipment was installed in his room and a wire antenna placed atop the building – a first at the facility – so he could stay abreast of radio programming while there. He returned home and resumed broadcasting programs that would include music at local dances. Though there were many amateur radio operators in Fayetteville in 1923, Stinson was the first to be granted a commercial license for what became KFDV, the “Southern Gateway to the Ozarks.”

But Stinson yearned to see the world. A few months before his 20th birthday, Stinson and Gilbrech left for New Orleans to work as radio operators aboard a

steamship headed to South America. Stinson would repeatedly return to sea, sailing as near as Cuba and as far as Europe, taking breaks in Fayetteville to work in radio, including at a radio station the University of Arkansas was launching.

In 1928, after settling back in Fayetteville as a radio electrician for Guisinger Music House, fledgling Tulsa radio station KVOO hired Stinson, who now went by the name “Watt” Stinson. His engineering enabled Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys to be broadcast from Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom and famed commentator Paul Harvey to begin a successful radio career.

In the early 1920s, Lawrence Stinson operated licensed radio station KFDV from his home, shown here in March 2024, at the southeast corner of the intersection of Lafayette Avenue and West Street in Fayetteville. He built a 100-foot wooden tower that served as a radio transmitter that once towered over the neighborhood from the yard.

Then along came television. Stinson was an early adopter of this new technology as one of the first to own a TV set. Though regular broadcasts wouldn’t occur until after World War II, NBC televised the Republican National Convention at Philadelphia in June 1940. To the amazement of Stinson and his guests, his TV in Tulsa captured the signal, making national news for the distance received.

He went on to become an executive with Continental Electronics Corp. in Dallas in the 1950s. In 1959, Stinson, 55, died of a heart attack, leaving a wife and grown daughter. He is interred in Evergreen Cemetery in Fayetteville.

By Sandra Cox Birchfield, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History