- Associated Press - Monday, May 15, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A storm of biblical proportions was raging outside, and Bob Robbins was wandering the workplace in “holy shoes.”

Nothing religious about them, though. “My grandson’s dog chewed the toe out of one, but I still love them,” Robbins said in his soothing DJ’s baritone, a voice that has charmed listeners for half a century.

At 9 a.m., Robbins was already deep in his workday, and he seemed to be mostly by himself at the vast iHeartMedia complex near Interstate 430 in Little Rock. He had just signed a contract to stay at iHeart’s classic country FM station, The Wolf 105.1, for another couple of years. At nearly 73, he airs every weekday at 5 a.m.

As the rain on the window let up, Robbins reflected on a lifetime of change in the radio business. He started spinning records on turntables and airing commercials on a noisy machine called a Gates 101. Now a control room requires only a few computers and a microphone. Ah, yes, and fewer disc jockeys.

“A lot of changes have been good for on-air talent,” Robbins says. “We can ‘track’ our shows by computer, line up ads, it’s amazing. That’s what lets us talk now while the show goes on. But you can’t feel great about every technology.” With automation came job cuts and a heavy toll on local broadcasting. “You can’t tell people a storm is rolling through if you’re not local. People want to know what’s happening in their world. It’s their kids waiting at the bus stop.”

That philosophy fueled Robbins’ remarkable quarter century as Little Rock’s most popular disc jockey, delivering country hits, the time and the weather on KSSN, his home for nearly 36 years. He was a Country Music Association DJ of the year, an inductee into the Country Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the victim of a brutal baseball bat attack ordered by a rival nightclub owner, Robert Troutt, the Arkansas Business (https://bit.ly/2q1iFjM ) reported. Troutt went to prison and eventually to the grave. Robbins spent months recovering and decades dreading the subject.

“It happened, and it was terrible,” he said, but it’s really just a tangent. Robbins’ story is a narrative of music, family, meeting Elvis and friendships with country superstars like Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan and George Strait. “When I met George, I told him I wished I’d taken him to dinner. He said, ‘Well, we really don’t have dinner; we just have lunch and supper.’ My kind of guy.”

“Traveling Arkansas” TV broadcaster Chuck Dovish visited Robbins’ home in Sheridan years ago and declared, “You really are country,” Robbins recalls, laughing at Dovish’s reaction to the cows, horses and dogs all around.

Robbins has made the 40-minute drive each way for 28 years, since his three children approached driving age. Now one son is in the timber business in Georgia and the other is a Little Rock city employee. His daughter works on substance abuse - “It rips her heart out sometimes.” He and his wife, Susan, have five grandchildren, and Robbins asks, “Can a grandparent love too much?” Maybe it’s impossible, he says.

Chad Heritage, iHeart’s operations manager, calls Robbins a legend, and few Arkansans would disagree. After a rude discovery that he wasn’t another Elvis, Robbins entered radio to “make people happy, or make them cry, or laugh.” Off the air, he’s pretty shy, he says.

Robbins, whose everyday name is Bob Spears, started in Little Rock at KAAY, spending a decade in Top 40, and then helped turn KSSN into a juggernaut under owner Jerry Atchley. Only one job offer, in Nashville, ever tempted Robbins to leave Atchley, who died in 2010. “What a wonderful boss, businessman and human being. I didn’t have the heart to leave him. This state has been very good to me, and I’ve never taken it for granted.”

iHeart isn’t taking him for granted. The new one-year contract has an automatic one-year rollover. Robbins says his health is good, thanks to Dr. Charles Clogston, his cardiologist, and Dr. Scott Winston, his primary care man. He loves the music and tries to sing along with - “or maybe it’s butcher” - every song. He’s playing his kind of country, with guitars and fiddles “and a twang to it.”

“I never saw the word ‘retirement’ in the Bible,” Robbins says. “But it’s a little tougher now coming to work every day. I’ve had so many friends that quit, and pretty soon they left this world. I’m the kind of man who has to do something.”

He would like more time to fish, to hunt with his sons and to devote to charities like Toys for Tots and Country Cares for St. Jude Kids. “Maybe after these two years it’ll be time to think about not complete retirement, but cutting back.”

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Information from: Arkansas Business, https://www.arkansasbusiness.com

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