Walter E. Hussman, Sr.
| Walter Edward Hussman, Sr.|
(Owner of a chain of radio and television stations)
|Born|| July 20, 1906 |
Bland, Gasconade County
|Died|| July 2, 1988 (aged 81) |
Camden, Ouachita County
|Spouse|| Betty Palmer Hussman (married 1931-1988, his death)|
Walter Edward Hussman, Sr. (July 20, 1906 – July 2, 1988), was a media magnate from the small city of Camden in Ouachita County, Arkansas, whose holdings included six daily newspapers, several radio and television stations, including the NBC outlet KTAL-TV in Texarkana, Texas, and seventeen cable television systems in four states.
Hussman was born in the community of Bland in Gasconade County in central Missouri. He dropped out of high school, but returned at the age of twenty-one to complete his secondary education. He then enrolled at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, historically considered one of the nation's premier journalism schools.
Hussman met his future wife, the former Betty Palmer (September 28, 1911 – January 1990), at the University of Missouri. The couple married on Christmas Eve 1931. She was the daughter from the second marriage of Clyde E. Palmer, who launched the Palmer newspaper chain beginning with the acquisition of The Texarkana Gazette in 1933. There were five Palmer papers. At the university, Hussman also established a lifelong friendship with his fraternity brother and college roommate, Donald W. "Don" Reynolds (1906-1993), who would assemble his own newspaper chain centered about the Fort Smith Southwest Times Record.
After Betty and Walter wed, he sold insurance for a while but then went to work for his father-in-law as the business manager of The Texarkana Gazette from 1936 to 1942, when he entered the military.
Walter and Betty Hussman moved to Hot Springs in Garland County, to rescue the ailing Sentinel Record, which had been foreclosed by creditors. To resolve the crisis, Hussman launched an annual "mail-it-away" edition by which subscribers and Hot Springs residents paid to have a copy of one issue of The Sentinel Record mailed to friends and acquaintances around the country. This activity served to publicize Hot Springs as a tourist destination and to move the newspaper toward solvency. In 1974, The Sentinel Record secured two national awards from the Canadian and National newspaper associations.
During World War II, Hussman, though he was past thirty-five, entered the United States Army. He and Don Reynolds coedited Yank Magazine for distribution to U.S. forces in Europe. Hussman also worked to procure newsprint for the military. He was in Paris when the French capital was liberated by the Third Army of General George S. Patton, Jr. He served from June 1942 to February 1945.
Palmer-Hussman mass media
On returning from the military, Hussman attempted to purchase The Midland Reporter-Telegram in Midland in west Texas. In 1949, Palmer offered to sell The Camden News to Hussman to keep his daughter in Arkansas. The Hussmans hence moved from Texarkana to Camden, which became the hub of the Palmer chain until the acquisition of The Arkansas Democrat, renamed The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, moved the headquarters to Little Rock.
In 1933, Palmer had placed the first radio station on the air in Texarkana. Nearly two decades later, a decision was made to invest in television. Palmer established the CBS outlet called KCMC. In 1961, however, Hussman, as Palmer's successor, presided over the switch in the station call letters to KTAL and the expansion of the coverage area to include Shreveport, Louisiana. The KTAL signal has since served the Texarkana and Shreveport markets, with the aerial near Vivian in northern Caddo Parish. In 2000, KTAL-TV was sold to Nexstar.
In 1957, Hussman became president and publisher of each of the Palmer newspapers in Camden, Texarkana, Hot Springs, Little Rock, El Dorado, Hope, and Magnolia. There were also weekly papers he owned in Stephens and Smackover in southern Arkansas. That year, Hussman launched a profit sharing/retirement plan for all employees.
He also operated the Marigayle Realty Company in Camden and was the vice president and treasurer of the Hotel Camden during the 1950s. He was a director of the [Jaycees. Later, he headed the Texarkana and the Arkansas chambers of commerce. He served on the Arkansas Judiciary Commission in 1963 and was once president of the housing authorities in Texarkana and Camden. He was a vice president and executive director of Arkansas Dailies, Inc., which represented sixty newspapers in four states. He was a president of the Texas Newspaper Publishers Association. He was a member of Rotary International, the Overseas Press Club, the American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Cable television markets
In the 1960s, Hussman began investing in cable television. Palmer had already invested some in this market. Hussman thought that one day newspapers might be delivered over cable television. Today, through high speed cable TV connections, the Internet can deliver the newspaper and much more. Hussman established Midwest Video Company, which secured franchises in such cities as Greenville, Mississippi, and Bryan and College Station, Texas. These communities had limited television reception because they were too far from major network outlets. Hussman hence obtained franchises for communities without cable systems, including in Arkansas, Hope, Camden, Prescott, Hot Springs, and in Texas, Kilgore and Longview, and Vicksburg in Warren County, Mississippi.
Cable systems became operational in Hope, Camden, and Prescott in the early 1970s. Hot Springs and Vicksburg were operational by 1973 and 1974, respectively. The combined cable companies still had fewer than ten thousand subscribers. Longview, the next challenge, was the greatest risk because that system could carry only a few channels.
Palmer used the most modern press equipment and latest technology in his newspaper chain. In 1930, he introduced high speed telegraph service so that readers could obtain more immediate news. In 1942, Palmer established the first automatic teletypesetter circuits to join together a group of newspapers. In the midst of World War II, there was a shortage of workers available for the newspaper business. Palmer designed the "Palmer Circuit" so that his six newspapers could share news without having to hire more staff. This innovation was the first of its kind in the United States and was copied by other newspaper groups and press associations since that time.
Hussman extended Palmer's technological achievements. In 1963, he launched the first terrestrial microwave high-speed, high-definition facsimile network to connect a group of newspapers. This allowed the company to purchase expensive cold type composition equipment, to handle all advertising production in one city and sharing those ads with the entire group of newspapers. Typesetting of news copy also was available from this shared facility. Hussman got the idea of microwave from having visited newspaper operations in Japan.
Hussman companies today
On Palmer's death in 1957, his wife Bettie and daughter Betty Hussman inherited most of the stock in the company. Through a reorganization in 1968, The Camden News, based in a small south Arkansas city, technically became the parent company of the other operations.
Before his own retirement, Hussman, Sr., had turned over key company operations to his son Walter E. Hussman, Jr., The junior Hussman worked to establish the Palmer newspapers (renamed WEHCO Media for Walter H. Hussman Company in 1973) as the dominant media force in Little Rock.
In 1974, WEHCO purchased in Little Rock The Arkansas Democrat, then an afternoon daily newspaper with 62,405 circulation. At the time, the rival Arkansas Gazette, a morning newspaper, had a daily circulation of 118,702, nearly twice that of the Democrat. Hussman, Jr., then twenty-seven, moved to Little Rock to become publisher of The Arkansas Democrat. In time, he would prevail in a major circulation and advertising war and create the combined Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The Hussman family
In addition to their son, Walter and Betty Hussman had two daughters, Gale Hussman Arnold of Texarkana and Marilyn Hussman Augur of Dallas, Texas. Gale Arnold is the divorced first wife of United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Judge Richard S. Arnold. Marilyn is the wife of James McCuen Augur. Hussman had a grandson and seven granddaughters.
Descended from a high-powered family of lawyers, Richard Arnold ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1966 but lost the companion special election and the primary to fellow Democrat David Hampton Pryor of Camden. The congressional opening occurred when U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson named Representative Oren Harris to a federal judgeship. Arnold and Pryor later became close friends. Arnold also lost a second primary race for Congress in 1972.
Hussman himself was close to U.S. Senator John McClellan, who once practiced law in Camden. Hussman supported McClellan in his hard-fought but successful 1972 primary against Pryor. After McClellan's death, Pryor would after an interim Senate appointment take that seat in 1978.
Hussman died after a long illness from Alzheimer's disease. Services for Walter and, later, Betty Hussman were held in the First Presbyterian Church of Camden, where he was a deacon and a trustee. The couple is entombed at Camden Memorial Park. Pallbearers for Mr. Hussman included son-in-law James Augur, former son-in-law Judge Richard Arnold, television station manager H. Lee Bryant of Shreveport, and longtime friend Don Reynolds of Fort Smith.
- The Palmer-Hussman families. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: carried in Southern Newspaper Publishers Association 100th anniversary edition (November 2004). Retrieved on October 24, 2019.
- "Walter Hussman, Sr., news pioneer, dies", Arkansas Gazette, July 3, 1988, p. 1.