20 Years ‘On The Air’

Richard S. Drake still trying to keep things interesting


By Richard Davis

TFW Staff Writer

(Photo: Andy Shupe) Richard S. Drake

July marks 20 years of “On the Air with Richard S. Drake” appearing on Fayetteville Public Access Television. Drake answered some questions about “On the Air” and some of his other experiences, including with alternative weeklies such as the Grapevine and his own Ozark Gazette.


TFW: Congrats on 20 years doing “On the Air.” How did the show come to be? Were you simply too good looking not to be on television?

RSD: During the 1980s there was a fascinating call-in show on Fayetteville Open Channel (the city’s first access provider) hosted by writer Peter Harkins in which he would take questions from any and all callers. The set consisted simply of Peter and his desk with a typewriter on top. This show first put the thought into my head that I might have a show just like his.

In 1991, while covering county government for the alternative weekly Grapevine, I asked Bill Ames, the FOC producer taping the Quorum Court meeting, “Why aren’t there any more live call-in shows on?”

He said, “You want to do one?” Two weeks later “On the Air with Richard S. Drake” was on the air as a live call-in, though I tired of that restricting format after several years.

EVERYBODY looks good on TV!


TFW: Recount some favorite moments for us of the past two decades. Best interview and why? Worst interview and why?

RSD: I try not to wade into the “best interview” waters for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being that so many of the folks who appear on public access television as guests have never appeared on television before. Even so, I think that, by and large, most guests have done pretty well for themselves.

There have been interviews that I am exceedingly proud of, interviews that we have had little time to prepare for. Bob Losure, former CNN anchor, is one of those in which I think I did a pretty fair job, and we were able to land Barbara Nimri Aziz, a national radio host and writer who came to town with very little advance notice.

I like political shows when they are very meaty. I had an interview with folks from the Constitution Party, which I am pleased with, and Secure Arkansas, which is not bad — though my irritation with their BS was a little too apparent, I think.

I need to mention Paul Harris from Eureka Springs, who wrote an excellent book about his experiences in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. He is the only guest in 20 years who managed to make me start to cry!

The worst?

No worst on-air guests perhaps, but potential guests. People who think they are too cool to appear on public access television and can’t be bothered to return phone calls or email.


TFW: What do you envision for the future with “On the Air”? Do you ever see a time when you won’t be doing the show?

RSD: My wife and I talk about someday moving to England (I was born in Liverpool), so obviously the show would shut down at that point. But for the future in Fayetteville?

I have a very low threshold of boredom, so I try to make sure that each upcoming show is radically different from the one we did the week before. I’d like to take my camera out and do a little bit of man-in-the-street type of questions pertaining to the topic of particular shows. We did that once before, when a young man asked members of the Ozark Poets and Writers Collective what they thought of Captain Kirk dying in “Star Trek: Generations.”

Just looking at two people talking can be boring. I like shows where we can edit a lot of stuff in.


TFW: Who and what can viewers expect to see on the show in the coming weeks? Basically, do you have any good story ideas I could steal?

RSD: We have an interview with Sarah Moore, who produced a documentary that ran on AETN about homelessness in Arkansas, and Nate Allen, one of the best sports writers in Arkansas.


TFW: You’re a liberal voice in a state that has voted increasingly conservative over the past several years. Any thoughts on Arkansas’ march to the right? Ever feel like you’re talking in a room full of people who aren’t listening?

RSD: I never actually feel that. I do know that there are entire sections of our population who have been neglected by the media and political parties. It’s sort of like in the Bible; we cast our bread upon the waters. We have to keep trying.

I know that some have written off whole sections of the community, but that is foolhardy, I think. One thing I have learned working through alternative media is that folks will respond to well-reasoned arguments, if it’s presented to them.

That is why I value public access television so much because we have the capacity to reach so many people and show many folks the richness and complexity of life. I’m not real big into “preachy” liberalism, but persuasive liberalism.


TFW: You’ve spent a lot of time outside the structure of corporate-owned media with “On the Air,” the Grapevine and the Ozark Gazette. Ever tempted to join one of the traditional players?

RSD: There was actually Little Rock Free Press as well, which offered a paycheck, as did Grapevine!

I’m pretty good at what I do, I think, but I’m not above working for money, as long as I was doing what I loved to do. I’ve done straight reporting, and while I enjoyed it, I think my real strengths, such as they are, are in the column writing/blogging and television interviewing. But take a version of my show to commercial TV?

Just send me a contract, baby.


TFW: You have “On the Air” and your “Street Jazz” blog hosted by the Arkansas Times, but do you ever miss the days of the Grapevine and the OG? Do you miss the smell and feel of paper and the travails of actually printing an edition?

RSD: I know that there is a tremendous push for reading online, but a lot of social and political activists seem to have lost sight of the fact that so many individuals still do not even own a computer, which is why print media and public access television are still so vital to the political process. Anyone who thinks that they can communicate just using handheld devices or even a computer is living in a fool’s paradise. It’s also a recipe for political failure.

If I miss the feel of paper, it is because I always knew that we were reaching segment of the population that others had written off.

Of course, that being said, there always was something special about opening that new issue every time that sent a certain thrill down into me. Not just the articles, but the photos, the crossword puzzle, art that went with the articles. It was all part of the total package, which everyone had worked so hard on.


TFW: Come clean. What does the “S” stand for? It’s “Socialism,” right? *Kidding*

RSD: Secretive.

Actually, it stands for Stanley. We have an unfortunate tendency in our culture — and probably around the world — to name our young after our parents or grandparents, which can lead to names that kids truly despise. I was named after my two grandfathers, but I have always been grateful that I am not Stanley R. Drake.

I started using the “S” in high school, initially because the two Ds run together, Richard Drake is awkward to say — sort of like Tad Driftwood (Editor’s Note: Or say, Richard Davis).

In my early 20s I was an ardent socialist, actually. I really can’t end all of this without mentioning that the reason the show has been such a joy to do is because I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most talented people in Northwest Arkansas as my crew over the years. Nobody in front of the camera is worth a damn without the hard work of the folks who make it all possible.

Categories: Features