Tom Earls -- 1935-2003 ---- Remembering Carroll County's radio pioneer

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Carroll County radio pioneer Tom Earls led a remarkable life, and leaves a legacy for local radio listeners in the form of KTHS radio, which he had owned and modernized with his son, Jim.

Mr. Earls died Friday, Feb. 28, at the age of 67.

Many who knew him described him as an astute businessman who took the historic station into the modern area of radio broadcasting.

KTHS News Director Linda Boyer, who worked with the Earls family at the station for more than 20 years, said, "With all honesty, I have never known anyone with his will to survive. He had incredible fortitude and perseverance."

Mr. Earls was diagnosed with emphysema, and his breathing problems became increasingly severe until his lung transplant in the mid-1990s.

In a 1999 interview with Mr. Earls, he told a reporter "If you can't breathe, nothing else matters."

After intensive surgery and rehabilitation at a St. Louis hospital, he returned to work at the Berryville station.

Boyer and others noted that even with his lung transplant, and long road to recovery in the Cardiac Rehab program at Carroll Regional Medical Center, Mr. Earls continued to come into the office every day as chief operating officer.

Boyer said Earls did not want to die in a hospital, and died at home, surrounded by his family in Berryville.

"He was a great boss," Boyer said, "always laid-back and non-demanding. He was an incredibly astute businessman. He always tried to be upbeat and positive and wanted his employees to be upbeat and positive also."

Boyer said Mr. Earls took great pride in the KTHS news operation, always upgrading the system and keeping the station technologically current in the changing world of radio broadcasting.

"The hometown aspect of a 24-hour operation was very important to him," Boyer said.

Of his medical battles, Boyer said, "He was a stubborn, willful guy. He would never give up, no matter what happened. We'll miss him terribly."

Longtime KTHS salesman Carroll Autrey, who knew Mr. Earls since he and son Jim Earls bought the station in 1982, said his boss was "absolutely fair and square. There were no mistakes made when he did something, and he was the most detailed man I've ever met in my life."

Autrey said Mr. Earls was a no-nonsense businessman who trained his son Jim and others to be the same way.

During his long medical battle, Autrey said, "We would count him out, and then he'd drive up and walk into the station. He was a fighter."

Salesman Jamie Hussey said Mr. Earls was "like a mentor to me. The big reason I'm here is because of Tom. I had great respect for him. He was someone to look up to, and he was very intelligent."

Morning on-air personality Doug Rhodes, who joined the station several years ago, said, "Tom was always one to give me fatherly advice. He was always concerned about my welfare, always trying to steer me right."

In the 1999 interview, Tom Earls said he received his donor lungs from a Texas man, and always pushed people to sign up to be organ donors.

At the time, he said, "The job at KTHS has been challenging and rewarding. No two days are alike."

He recalled stories as diverse as a bus hijacking in 1980, UFO sightings and unexplained mutilated cattle.

In the 1999 interview, he said he was trying to gradually phase out of the business, but still worked about two hours a day at the station.

"My son Jim does all the hard stuff, " he said at the time. "I do the fun stuff." His free time was usually spent playing golf and poker with his many friends.

Before entering radio, Tom Earls was previously an engineer with McDonnell-Douglas aerospace company, where he worked on the space program for 14 years. He was part of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs.

In 1978, he began managing KTHS and then bought the station with his son in 1982.

He is survived by his fiancee, Ann Engskov of Berryville; his son and daughter-in-law Jim and Karen Earls of Berryville; two daughters, Brenda Keubler of St. Louis, and Tina and her husband Kyle Stratton of Sour Lake,Texas. He is also survived by his brother, Charlie Earls of Branson; three sisters, Ann Earls of Berryville, Dorothy Crosno of Florida, and Mary Goebel of St. Louis; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His obituary can be found in the B-section of this newspaper.

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