Forty years ago today, Clyde Lear, Derry Brownfield, and a few financial backers incorporated Missouri Network, Inc. November 1, 1972. Two months and one day later, January 2, 1973, Derry went on the air with his first farm market and news reports broadcast on nine stations. They were broadcasting from an old house next to a lumber yard owned by one of the original stockholders. Clyde had signed up the first affiliates. He had built and wired the first studio that Derry used to broadcast his farm reports.
The broadcasts were distributed on telephone lines. When we started getting advertisers, the commercials were played on cart machines, devices that played plastic cartridges inside which tape was held on a single spool — kind of like the 8-track systems some cars still had.
Clyde and Derry had met at KLIK, a radio station that once operated in Jefferson City (it’s now part of a station group and is lumped in with several other stations in a building in Columbia). Derry had joined the station a few months before I went to work there as assistant news director and a few months later as news director. Clyde had come to work as the assistant news director a couple of years later. Clyde left to sell asphalt sealer because he could make a better living doing that than he could covering local news in his hometown of Jefferson City. But he and Derry stayed in touch. Both had a dream of a network. In fact, Clyde’s master’s degree project at the University of Missouri focused on forming a state network.
One thing led to another and the manager of KLIK fired Derry when he learned that Derry and Clyde were planning to start the farm network. They were planning to make KLIK the flagship of the network and use a side channel of the staiton’s FM antenna to distribute their programs. But the impetuous manager didn’t know that and took action that set this company on the course that has made it one of the country’s foremost broadcasting companies.
Two years after the Missouri Network, Inc., was incorporated, Clyde and Derry launched a news network. They called it The Missourinet and 38 years ago today, Clyde’s former boss from KLIK went to work for Clyde. Two months and one day later, January 2, 1975, the first Missourinet newscast went on the air with more than thirty affiliated stations that were confident of the product because of the integrity of Clyde and Derry’s farm network.
Clyde and Derry’s original Missouri Network outgrew Missouri, prompting a name change for the farm broadcasting part of the company. Derry by now had become such a well-known voice of agriculture that the network changed its name to the Brownfield Network. Today it is the nation’s largest farm broadcasting network. Today the Missourinet is one of five state news networks in a company that has become Learfield (Clyde LEAR and Derry BrownFIELD) Communications. We also have news networks in Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Carolina.
As we grew, telephone lines that carried our broadcasts outside Missouri became a major financial burden. Satellite technology was brand new. The Missourinet and the Brownfield Network became the first networks to be distributed entirely by satellite–even before the national networks.
In the late 1970s the company revolutionized the collegiate sports broadcasting industry when it signed a multiple-year, big bucks (then) contract with the University of Missouri. Today Learfield has multimedia rights (much more than broadcast) with more than 50 major universities coast to coast. It’s an unusual year when we don’t have an NCAA champion or several champions in the various sports we deal with–including hockey and women’s softball.
Derry died last year. Clyde has retired but still has an office in the basement of our building, just down the hall from the area where we produce dozens of football games each week at this time of year.
A lot of good people have worked for this company in these four decades, particularly in sports. And we have a lot of people on our staff who have been here for half or three-quarters of the company’s history. Anniversaries like this gives people like Clyde and me and Steve Mays, and Clarice Brown, and Joyce Steinman, and Charlie Peters and so many others a chance to reflect on what we’ve seen, what we’ve done, what we’ve been a part of. Some folks might think, “Forty years. Where has the time gone?” We know where it has gone. It’s gone into creating and sustaining a good company that has informed, educated, and entertained millions of Americans for a couple of generations or more.
What’s ahead? We’re communicators, not fortune tellers. The company doesn’t have a past. It has a legacy. And we have a lot of really sharp younger people looking forward, as Clyde and Derry did, to building something good.
Forty years ago all of this was only paperwork filed with the Secretary of State Corporations office. And a dream.
It’s come true.