LOVINGTON — It’s the end of an era for radio in Lea County.
After nearly 65 years on air, Lovington radio station KLEA broadcasted for the last time on Friday and closed its doors. Days later on Wednesday, the building located on Country Club Drive was quiet and locked to visitors. The radio staple spent decades airing top tunes and programs to listeners throughout eastern New Mexico and west Texas. Its closure comes at the heels of KLEA majority owners Iva Lea McKay Worley Barton and David Worley, Jr., deaths in recent years. Barton passed away in May 2016, while her son David followed in February.
KLEA’s roots trace back to Christmas Day 1952 on South Main Street and later moved to a new studio at its present day location in 1963. In 2017, the family decided not to keep the radio station open, while it’s general manager Susan Coe is “ready to retire.” Coe started working part-time at KLEA in the mid-1960s and later became general manager in 1990 after Betty Shelton retired. Shelton took over the reins when Coe’s father Hoyt Caldwell died in 1985.
“We started out with country on the AM. We started with AM (630), of course, in ‘52,” she said. “There’s a period in the mid-1960s, we had a high school kid who came out and did two hours of ‘Top 40.’ And ‘99, we went to Oldies 101.7 and then kind of merged into classic hits, oldies and classic hits.” For its last day on air, Coe said KLEA did some “reminiscing,” and when looking back, she expressed her favorite part of it all was serving the community. The station had a hand in helping with blood drives, broadcasting Lovington Wildcat sports, election returns and doing giveaways like giant stuffed rabbits for Easter.
“(We) gave away six-foot bunny rabbits in the early ‘60s, I think, for Easter. Over six-foot stuffed bunnies. We had every mother that won ‘em just mad as heck at us,” she laughed.
One longtime Lovington resident, City Commissioner Bernard Butcher, fondly looked back on KLEA’s coverage of his little league games as a child and called it a “shame” it had to go off the air. Butcher has lived in the community for 55 years.
“As a youngster, back in 1970, KLEA broadcast all of our district and state and nationals,” Butcher said. “I played on the only team in little league, at the 12-year-old division, to win district, go to state and go to nationals. They actually broadcast those games for the folks here in Lovington and the surrounding areas when we went to Denver that year.”
He said it was “pretty awesome” to have the community and radio station “follow you that far.”
“It was pretty amazing that your folks and the people back here could listen to you,” Butcher said. “Even in today’s society with our high school sports, we’ll no longer have that. No voice of Loving-ton. I’m sure our surrounding areas — Hobbs may carry it and they may not, but KLEA was surely a blessing for this part of the world. And we’re going to miss it. We really are.” KLEA also interviewed school coaches and children, and did a 15-minute live school program for years.
“We did it every day for many years,” Coe remembered. “Classes would go down to the administration building and we had a microphone set up there and they’d do a 15-minute program live. And you still have people that comment about ‘I was on the radio.’”
She stressed KLEA’s emphasis on community service and was unsure on the future of the building.
“We were proud to serve the fine people here for many, many years,” Coe said. “Very proud to serve our listening audience and our longtime advertisers. It was a privilege.”