June 7, 2006 --Posted at 2 p.m. CST
JONESBORO -- The KAIT family and Region 8 has lost a dear friend. Long-time weatherman, sports anchor, news anchor and local sales manager Al Blanks passed away early this morning at the age of 69.
Blanks was born in the Ballew's Chapel Community area. He was raised in Grubbs and was an Air Force veteran. Al was also a member of the New Haven Church of Christ and served as President of the Kiwanis Club.
Al spent 36 years of his life working at KAIT. "A.T." as he was known by many in his hometown, came to be a legend in Northeast Arkansas Broadcasting. Al hit the airwaves in radio first. He worked for radio station KNBY in Newport and KBIB in Monette. Then, Al got his job at KAIT. His first day on the job was his birthday in 1965.
Al told us in an interview three years ago that he revealed his inexperience at the time. "I told Bill I had never done television broadcasts," said Al. "And he said, "Oh, nobody's going to be watching us anyways. We're just trying to get started. And I said, well I believe I can handle that."
KAIT was just getting started. It went on the air in 1963. It was an independent station at first and all programming was local. Shows like Gene Williams Country Junction appeared, and Al first reminisced about those early days for our cameras 15 years ago.
"Everybody was combing their hair back slick on their heads. They put alot of Aqua Net hairspray in it and Gene [Williams] had alot of hairspray in his hair and Bill McCaughan who worked at the TV station at the time had found a snake out on the parking lot," said Al. "It was a dead snake and [he] walked in and during Gene's pitch he threw the dead snake on Gene and it kind of wrapped around the neck on Gene's guitar and Gene had a fit. It was a dancing, stomping fit and he jumped so hard, he knocked all the hairspray out of his hair."
Al's hair changed through the years too. He also wore many hats.
"Al saved the station two or three times by going out and selling a commercial," said Dick Clay, retired Sports Director. "Al did everything. He was Mr. Versatility and if I had to say who is Mr. KAIT, it would be Mr. Al Blanks and everybody that's old enough in this area knows that. That's for sure."
Al started out anchoring sports. Then, he sold advertising. He even anchored the news. But, many people will remember Al doing weather.
"Doing weather is fun," Al told us in 2003. "It really and truly is."
Unlike the K8 Weather Center of today, Al explained the weather using magic markers and later magnetic suns and clouds.
"He was one of the solid rocks that was always here through the years," said Ronnie Weston, KAIT Production Manager. "I know that he probably played a large role with making the station what it is today."
Those early days at KAIT would find Al selling commercials by day and working on air at night. With the installation of a 18-hundred foot tower in 1979, KAIT became a regional station and Al concentrated his efforts on selling, becoming Sales Manager. He handled the station's top accounts and in 2001, Al retired.
"I will tell you broadcasting during my era was great," said Al in 2003. "It was great. It really was."
Three years ago when the station celebrated its 40th anniversary, Al told us he was so glad he had went to work for that small TV station in sixties.
He spent most of his life here. Truth is, we're the one's who are glad... glad to have known this kind man with a heart of gold. Al never knew a stranger.
"We used to go out in Northeast Arkansas and alot of these little communities," said Howell Westbrook, Local Sales Manager. "It would just amaze me the people that would come up to him and say Al... How ya doin? and he knew everybody."
"It was fun," said Al about his days in TV. "I met alot of people in Northeast Arkansas and I will never forget them. Never."
Visitation for Al Blanks will be from 6 - 8 p.m. on Thursday at Roller-Farmers Union Funeral Home. Funeral services will be 10 a.m. at Roller-Farmers Union Chapel with John McPherson and Ronnie Blanks officiating.