Tad Felts: Phillipsburg’s voice of endearment
PHILLIPSBURG — Like the succulent smell of good home cooking, a radio voice that would pierce the morning darkness and linger into the night is a reminder of home for folks in a big chunk of northern Kansas.
For some 40 years, Tad Felts covered many aspects of life in Phillipsburg, Stockton, Norton, Smith Center and other spots on the KKAN/KQMA radio map.
Felts, 83, retired this past spring after 68 years in the business. More than 350 people honored him at a reception in the Huck Boyd Community Center.
While slowed from a long bout with blood cancer that’s now in remission, he uses a walker but still gets around town and the area.
Felts served as grand marshal of the Phillipsburg Rodeo parade this past summer, and the Veterans Day parade Nov. 11 in Kensington.
“He sat up there and gave everybody a big smile and a wave,” said Gary Bills, 75, of Phillipsburg, who traveled with Felts for some 20 years, covering sports all over Kansas.
“I don’t remember walking onto a football field or into a restaurant when somebody wouldn’t say, ‘Well, hello Tad. How are you?’ People knew him far and wide,” Bills said. “He was straight-forward and could tell a good story. Most of the stuff we talked about was experiences he’d had, and he weaved in humor.”
Still a regular
Felts is still a regular at Third Street Bakery, home of the Saturday morning Sports Talk show that he hosted for years.
“Tad would show up at 8 and have toast and a large iced tea as he set up his equipment,” said Linda Martin, bakery owner.
The shows, which were slated to last an hour starting at 9, would often stretch past 11, she said, because so many guests were invited.
“It got a lot of people in from out of town,” Martin said. “Those football boys ate a lot of doughnuts.”
Felts’ Wednesday morning show, dubbed “Tadpoll,” was a forum for local officials who were invited to the station to plug a fundraiser, public events, or for listeners to call in and pose a question.
As Thanksgiving Day nears, it’s apparent that many in the area want Felts to know how he graced their lives.
In that first hour on the radio most mornings, Felts provided and then repeated the weather forecast several times, said Pam Isernhagen, of Phillipsburg, which was appreciated if you happened to tune in late.
“You would know what to expect. It was real nice, and there was always an hour’s worth of news and sports,” she said. “I miss him every morning.”
Engrossed in his career
Darrell Small, a retired Stockton Junior High School custodian, showed up to work at 4:30 or 4:45 a.m., and hurried to complete his major tasks by 6 o’clock, just in time for Felts’ report.
“I used to listen to his sports and his news. I’ve seen him at Stockton ballgames,” Small said. “He has touched so many hearts, and he’s got a world of knowledge.”
Whether it was helping raise money for the Home on the Range sod house near Smith Center, emceeing the Community Fund telethons in Phillipsburg and Stockton, or accompanying groups of Phillipsburg High School seniors on yearly trips to New York City, Felts was engrossed in his career.
He did the noon news, covered school board meetings, covered most aspects of daily life and was among the first radio sportscasters to cover the state track meet. A number of Kansas icons shared airtime with Felts, including track star Jim Ryun and Nolan Cromwell, the “Ransom Rambler,” who starred as an NFL safety for the Los Angeles Rams.
“I enjoyed sports, getting out and working with the kids and the coaches. They always treated me well,” he said. “I made so many friends, and I’ve had a good life.”
Felts won a number of awards, among them the 1988 Hod Humiston Award for sports broadcasting. A member of the Kansas Association of Broadcasting Hall of Fame, inducted in 2010, Felts was a nominee this year for the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame.
“He’s a great person to know, I’ll tell ya for sure,” said Larry Friend, who coached the Plainville Cardinals from 1968 to 1988, winning Class 3A state championships in 1980 and ’85.
“Nobody worked any harder than Tad did,” said Friend, 80. “He was such a great person. It’s fun to talk about a good ol’ boy like he is. He could fit in with any type of crowd.”
An early start
Felts started in radio as an eighth-grader in Garden City at KIUL, an AM radio station. He worked for free through graduation from high school in 1951.
“I would go and sweep up and segue records,” Felts said. “I was cheap.”
Segueing meant playing continuous music, with no talk in-between songs, he said.
Felts enrolled at Fort Hays State University and worked part time for three years at KAYS radio. After graduation in 1955, with degrees in business administration and speech, he joined the radio station full time.
After stints in Goodland, where his sports broadcasting began, Felts worked two years in Phillipsburg before two years of managing a station in Mountain Home, Idaho.
Back home again
“I came back for Christmas, and (KKAN’s management) asked me to come back,” he recalled.
Because his youngest son was eyeing medical school, and there was no such training available in Idaho, Felts and his wife, Patricia, moved their family back to Phillipsburg in 1972.
Patricia died three years ago, leaving Tad, two sons and three grandchildren.
In four decades of covering news and sports in northwest Kansas, Felts embraced his listeners, said Doug Isernhagen (Pam’s husband), chairman of Phillipsburg Economic Development and a local financial adviser for Edward Jones.
“Tad was the voice every morning on the radio that we all heard before we came to work,” Isernhagen said. “He would participate in anything we would have in the community, as the spokesperson, the voice. He did it because he loved it, and you don’t see that very often today.”
The reaction has left an indelible mark after decades as that area’s voice of endearment.
“I had a great run, and there are so many friends,” Felts said.
Word has it he’s pondering a comeback, using cyberspace as the engine to spread the news, said Martin at the bakery.
“The other day, he asked me, ‘When I get to feeling better, can I do podcasts down here?’ ”
She’s leaning toward “yes.”