Derry Brownfield started out teaching vocational agriculture. Before long he was doing markets by telephone for some radio stations while working at the state agriculture department. Clyde Lear was a pre-dental major at Central Methodist College until a frustrated professor suggested he try something else. They both wound up working at radio station KLIK in Jefferson City, Missouri. Clyde was working as a reporter at the station when Derry learned that Clyde had done his master’s degree thesis on broadcasting and how to set up a statewide radio network. Just what Derry had always wanted to do. Clyde worked the afternoon shift at the radio station and spent his mornings at a local coffee shop with Buell Baclesse (a local businessman) and Derry. On one occasion Clyde told Buell he was thinking about starting a radio network. Buell offered to help. On October 18, 1972, Clyde presented Buell with a proposal. Buell said, “Let’s do it.” Word got back to Stan Grieve, the manager of KLIK, that Clyde and Derry were planning to start the network. They had hoped to make KLIK the flagship station. It was not to be. One cold Sunday night in November, Stan and Clyde met under a corner streetlight to talk. The next day, Derry Brownfield was fired as farm director at KLIK. The following day he went on the payroll of Missouri Network, Incorporated.
The network went on the air at the beginning of 1973, broadcasting from a building next door to Buell Baclesse’s lumberyard. There were nine affiliates. The few items of studio equipment they had had been wired together by Clyde. A snowstorm came across the Midwest and Derry knew at six o’clock in the morning that Omaha and St. Joe and Kansas City were being snowed in. He told listeners they should get their hogs to market if they could. The market went up three or four dollars that day and one farmer sent Derry a check for a hundred dollars. As advertising revenue came in, Derry and Clyde hired some help. Jim Lipsey, Don Osborn and a couple of college kids named David Pearce and Roger Gardner. The original network spread beyond Missouri and was renamed The Brownfield Network, a reflection of the important role Derry’s personality played in the early success of the network.
On January 2nd, 1975, a news network was created to complement the farm network. The Missourinet began with a staff of three: Bob Priddy, Jeff Smith –who had started his radio career with Bob and Jim Lipsey at KLIK– and Charles Morris. Early in the Missourinet’s history, a job application came from a young announcer at KLEX in Lexington, Missouri. Bob Priddy took it to Clyde and recommended they hire the young man to do sports. His name was John Rooney. And that led to Missouri Tiger basketball with Norm Stewart and for one season, the broadcast team of Rooney and Bob Costas. Throughout the years, outstanding sports broadcasters have worked for Learfield Communications: Dan Kelly, Bob Star, Jack Buck, Tom Dore, Kevin Harlan and Mike Kelly. Missouri Athletic Director Dave Hart cancelled the network’s contract in 1979 and rebid it. Learfield lost the broadcast rights to a company in St. Louis before regaining the rights two years later making history and national headlines when it bid six million dollars for five years of broadcast rights at Mizzou.
For most of the first decade, Learfield was like all of the other networks: linked to its affiliates by telephone lines but in the early 1980’s, Learfield began up-linking programming via satellite from Derry’s farm. What started as two friends providing markets and farm news to nine radio stations has grown to become one of the country’s most successful multi-media companies. And they’re still having fun.
For two years in the mid-eighties (84-85), PBS aired a series on technology called New Tech Times. In the spring of 1984 they aired a segment on Learfield Communications.
The video runs about 5 minutes and offers an interesting look at where the company was twenty years ago. Much of the focus was on our move to satellite distribution and our location in a small, midwestern city.