A Radio Moment in History - 19,000 Episodes of King Biscuit Time

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Thomas Jacques

Asst. Director

Monday, August 14th 2023
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Arkansas Delta Blues King Biscuit Time Radio History

The Monday, Aug. 14, lunchtime episode of “King Biscuit Time” on Helena, Arkansas’s KFFA-Am 1360 will mark the 19,000th broadcast of the Peabody Award-winning blues radio show, the longest-running daily radio broadcast in America.

The 30-minute broadcast originates each weekday from historic downtown Helena at the Delta Cultural Center, a museum of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. Local visitors and travelers from around the world are welcome to attend the broadcasts. The DCC began hosting the show in the early 1990s to provide an easily accessible location for the curious – many who had been seeking out the show at KFFA’s remote office location by its broadcast towers in a semi-rural residential area. “King Biscuit Time,” led by master of ceremonies “Sunshine” Sonny Payne, quickly became one of the museum’s most consistently popular attractions. Payne, who had hosted the show on KFFA since the early 1950s, continued to host the broadcasts until his death in February 2018 at the age of 92. Today, the show is hosted by DCC Assistant Director Thomas Jacques.

The Monday broadcast is to include an appearance from Louisiana bluesman D.K. Harrell, popular Phillips County mandolinist Brad Moneymaker, the show’s popular weekly “All Things Soulful” segment with James Parks, and a visit from young local poet Molly Johnston. The broadcast begins at 12:15 p.m. from the Delta Sounds Callery at the DCC Visitors Center at 141 Cherry St. in Helena. Admission is free and the public is welcome.

“King Biscuit Time” began on KFFA on Nov. 21, 1941, shortly after the radio station began business. The blues program began as it does now, at 12:15 p.m., though it was 15 minutes at that time, featuring live performances from harmonica man Sonny Boy Williamson and guitarist Robert Lockwood Jr. An expanded cast of King Biscuit Time Entertainers would grow in the coming years. The program’s unique name was the result of its sponsor – King Biscuit Flour, the house brand of Helena’s Interstate Grocer Co.

As a result of the show’s popularity, the show was also soon pushing a second product – Sonny Boy Corn Meal, another Interstate Grocer brand which featured an illustration of Sonny Boy Williamson sitting on a giant ear of corn playing his harmonica. Because song request postcards were included in sacks of King Biscuit Flour, Sonny Boy and Robert were soon receiving a thousand pieces of mail from the show’s fans each week at the station. In addition to the possibility of their song request being performed on the air, those who wrote also received a picture postcard of Sonny Boy and Robert Junior in return.

Entertainers on the show would come and go, but also included James Cotton, Joe Willie Wilkins, Houston Stackhouse, Willie Love, Little Walter, Pinetop Perkins, Peck Curtis, and Dudlow Taylor. A teenage Levon Helm, later of The Band, was known to drive over from nearby Marvell to see the live broadcasts and was occasionally allowed to take over for a tune by drummer Peck Curtis, who Helm would often cite as one of his earliest influences.

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