(1908 – 2003)
Robert Neathery’s path to radio began in 1911 when his step-father traded a rice farm in Louisiana for a telephone company in West Plains. Working at the phone company gave him an opportunity to learn about electronics and an early appreciation of communications.
In the early 1920’s Mr. Neathery combined what he had learned at the phone company with information he gained from reading to build his first radio receiver. He worked with the simple spare parts he could find, even using a cake pan for the speaker.
After graduating from High School, he attended the University of Missouri on a work-study arrangement. One semester of study, followed by one semester of work. His work semester was with a radio manufacturer in New York; Stromberg-Carlson. However, with the onset of the Depression, Stromberg-Carlson could no longer afford to continue the arrangement. So, Mr. Neathery returned to West Plains and opened his own radio shop where he sold and repaired radios. Ultimately, he expanded his business to include washing machines and refrigerators.
This continued until the start of World War II, when shortages made it difficult to stock the store. So, after selling half interest in the shop, he took a job with Emerson Electric designing the electronic circuits for the gun turrets for B-24 bombers. Eventually, he was transferred to Pueblo, Colorado to help train the military in the operation and maintenance of the new gun turrets.
After the war, the radio and appliance business continued to suffer, so he went to work for a company that sold relays and switches. This is when he met the Chief Engineer of Gates Radio Company. When hearing about Mr. Neathery’s idea of starting a radio station, the man said that he would build it for him and then proceeded to give him a tutorial on the economics of it.
After thinking about it, Mr. Neathery decided to apply for the license. KWPM-AM went on the air July 15, 1947. Robert Neathery’s natural curiosity, studious nature, and high intelligence provided him with the tools he would need to not only succeed, but, ultimately be recognized by all as not only a radio pioneer, but, a true innovator and a great radio broadcaster. It was always his belief that his radio station should be more than just a radio station. It should be a unifying factor and focal point for the community.
Robert Neathery’s sense of community extended beyond West Plains. In February of 1948 he wrote a letter to several other pioneer radio operators and asked them to join him in Kansas City for the purposes of establishing an association to serve broadcasters in Missouri. As a result, on March 11, 1948 the Missouri Broadcasters Association was founded.
Mr. Neathery ultimately expanded to own stations in a number of Missouri communities. In addition to West Plains he had stations in Thayer, Willow Springs, Fredricktown, Jackson, Columbia, Bolivar, Mammoth Spring and Branson.
He passed away in September of 2003. But, in more ways than most people in broadcasting will ever know, he is still with us today.