“Pass the Biscuits! It’s King Biscuit Time!”
Governor Mike Beebe has proclaimed Tuesday, May 13, 2014, “Sunshine” Sonny Payne Day in The Natural State in honor of the award-winning radio announcer’s 17,000th broadcast of “King Biscuit Time.”
“King Biscuit Time” is the longest-running daily blues radio show in the nation and possibly the world. The legendary show began in November 1941when Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lockwood Jr. approached Helena’s new radio station, KFFA, with the idea for a live blues program. After finding a sponsor for the program, King Biscuit Flour, the blues show took to the airwaves and became an instant hit.
John William “Sonny” Payne began working for KFFA Radio shortly after the station opened in November 1941. He started as a janitor mere days before the station began broadcasting. His first announcing opportunity came in July 1942 when Sam Anderson, station manager and “King Biscuit Time” announcer, stepped out of the control room for a few minutes too long and Sonny had to quickly read the live commercial. Although not a perfect delivery, he was given the chance soon after and delivered without a hitch. A radio career had been born. But it wouldn’t happen immediately.
Payne joined the military in late 1942, and was shipped overseas to assist in setting up communications at the battle lines. He left military service in 1948 and began touring as a bass player for the likes of Tex Ritter, Ted Williams, and Harry James among others. By 1951, Sonny was tired of being on the road and decided to return to Helena. He was welcomed back to KFFA Radio and began his new career as permanent host of “King Biscuit Time,” which he still broadcasts weekdays at 12:15 p.m. from the Delta Cultural Center in downtown historic Helena.
Musical legends such as B.B. King and Arkansas Delta native Levon Helm have named “Sunshine” Sonny Payne and “King Biscuit Time” as influences in their music careers. Music greats Robert Plant and Elvis Costello have made the trek to Helena to visit Sonny on the set of “King Biscuit Time.” He is a member of the Blues Hall of Fame, an inductee of the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association’s Pioneer Award. Payne and “King Biscuit Time” were awarded the George Foster Peabody Award, considered by many the “Pulitzer for Media,” in 1992.
The 17,000th broadcast of “King Biscuit Time” will take place today at the special studio built for the legendary show at the Delta Cultural Center Visitors Center, located at 141 Cherry St., in Helena-West Helena. The broadcast begins at 12:15 p.m. Scheduled special guests include Bobby Rush and Reba Russell.
For more information on the special King Biscuit Time broadcast, contact the Delta Cultural Center at 800-358-0972.