Any successful business or public service has to stay innovative in order to stay relevant to the shifting needs and tastes of its customers. Seeing opportunity and staying updated on new technological trends can make all the difference between survival and oblivion in the business world. Clyde E. Palmer never stood still for long and spent a career looking for the next big thing. Because of his ambition, Palmer eventually built one of the most influential newspaper chains in Arkansas.
Clyde Eber Palmer was born in Spirit Lake, Iowa, in 1876. As a young man, he traveled extensively. He ended up working as a stenographer with the Texarkana Gazette and News in 1894. He soon went to Nebraska where he worked as an office manager and an accountant for a time while briefly attending a business college. In 1898, he enlisted in the army, serving in a Nebraska regiment in the Spanish-American War.
In 1909, Palmer was traveling with his new wife and returned to Texarkana almost by chance. He had developed a fondness for the city and almost immediately decided to buy a small local newspaper, the Texarkana Courier, for $900, roughly the price of a new Ford Model T at the time. He showed a talent for the newspaper business. He renamed the paper the Four States Press to emphasize Texarkana’s border city status and steadily built circulation. Within a few short years, his paper came to dominate the city and he bought out his old bosses at the Gazette and News. Looking to consolidate costs, he merged the two into the daily Texarkana Gazette.
The Great Depression pushed many newspapers to the brink of bankruptcy, but Palmer saw an opportunity. In 1929, he bought the struggling Camden Evening News from Curtis B. Hurley and rechristened it The Camden News. He also bought the Hope Star, the Magnolia Banner-News, and what was then called the El Dorado News and Times (the modern El Dorado News-Times).
He also bought two Hot Springs newspapers, the New Era and the Sentinel-Record. As he had in Texarkana to cut costs, he consolidated the New Era into the Sentinel-Record. As the paper still struggled, Palmer devised a way to promote both the paper and the city. He had subscribers designate a “mail-it-away” edition to send a copy of the paper to a friend or relative in a different part of the country. The impact was slow at first, but more tourists began trickling into Hot Springs and more subscribers began making the Sentinel-Record profitable again within a few years.
His daughter, Betty, married Walter Hussman, Sr., in 1931. Soon afterward, Hussman began working for Palmer. Hussman, as ambitious and innovative as his father-in-law, became a trusted part of the operation.
Through the years, Palmer had a great interest in technology and its impact on media. While telegraph systems had connected newspapers for decades, eventually forming the “wire services” that brought world news to local newspapers, teletype systems were available by the early twentieth century, with writers being able to remotely type stories to typewriters in other newsrooms. However, the wire services were often congested. Palmer brought in a new, high-speed telegraph service in 1930. Palmer took this a step further with his own system by 1942. His automatic teletypesetter system connected all six of his newspapers, greatly reducing the man-hours needed to produce stories for the next edition. The “Palmer Circuit,” as he called it, was one of the first to be set up in this way, and the innovation quickly spread. He went even further by experimenting with color pictures in some editions as early as 1946.
Palmer also expanded into broadcasting. He started radio station KCMC in Texarkana in 1933 (renamed KTFS in 2014) as an outlet for the newspaper. He eventually started other stations across Arkansas. In August 1953, he began his first television station, also KCMC of Texarkana (renamed KTAL in 1960). KCMC was the second television station to broadcast into Arkansas, following the first airing of WMC from Memphis in 1948.
Even as the years advanced and son-in-law Hussmann took over more of the management operations, Palmer still looked to innovate and expand. He bought the weekly Stephens Star and, in 1951, bought the Russellville Courier-Democrat (the modern Russellville Courier-News) with Sen. J. William Fulbright, though they sold it four years later.
Palmer died on July 4, 1957. His son-in-law became president of the Palmer chain, which expanded again and was renamed the Walter E. Hussman Co., or WEHCO, in 1973. Tens of thousands of Arkansans read papers from this newspaper chain today.