RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — A man wants to sell a truck, and a woman wants to buy some tomatoes.
In much of the world, they might turn to a computer to post ads online or flick through search results. But in some parts of rural America, they’re just as likely to pick up the phone and call a local radio station.
Three times every weekday (and twice on Saturdays) people in western Arkansas call in to KARV’s “Dial-A-Trade,” an audio adaptation of the classified ads. For an hour or so, callers explain what they’re looking to buy, sell or trade. Then they leave their phone numbers. On live air. For free.
Some people who live here see the program as a public service, but to outsiders, it seems more like a time capsule, a relic from an era before commerce began migrating to the Internet.
Radio want-ad programs are neither new nor unique to Arkansas. For decades, scores of similar shows across the country have filled the airwaves with callers looking to buy and sell everything from apples to ammunition.
These shows – with names like “Tradio” and “Swap Shop” – broadcast more than free bartering. They showcase a way of life that people in rural America have preserved like canned peaches. KARV’s “Dial-A-Trade” first went on the air in the 1970s and hasn’t changed much since then.
“We still have for sale quite a few of our laying hens,” Dolly Sinor said when she called the program. She ticked off the names of a few breeds before giving listeners directions to her home, where she and her husband sell birds and eggs.
“We’re the first driveway on the right,” she explained.
The notion that someone would give out directions and a phone number over the air seems preposterous in other parts of the country where people lock their doors and invest in home security systems.
But in Russellville, population 28,000, it works, and for now it seems likely to stay that way.
“If they tried to take that off the air in Russellville, there would be an uprising,” said Doug Krile, executive director of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association.
People like bargains, Krile says, and they like the interaction that comes with radio.
“It’s like the old days when you could call in and request a song,” Krile said. “It’s that feedback and being part of what’s happening on the air.”
That nostalgia may help explain why the show attracts a largely older audience.
“Probably 95 percent of them are going to be over 40 or 50,” morning “Dial-A-Trade” host Chris Womack said.
There are some younger listeners and callers like 28-year-old Philip McCutcheon, but they’re the exception.
“I find some of it kind of funny, and it may be because it’s mainly older people,” said McCutcheon, a barber. “They all call in about the same old thing every day.”
“Dial-A-Trade” is not broadcast online, which means people can only listen if they’re able to pick up the station’s AM or FM signals. Some worry that such programs may go the way of pay phones as more people turn to Craigslist or other websites to find deals.
But the future of “Dial-A-Trade” seems safe for now. Not everyone here has a computer or a high-speed Internet connection. About one in five people in Arkansas don’t even use the Internet, according to a 2012 report from an Internet advocacy group called Connect Arkansas.
The show also reflects the poverty that persists in this area, even as hundreds of people work at a nearby power plant and process food in factories.
“If they need to pay their gas bill and they’ve got something that’s worth 50 or 60 bucks, they can call the program,” Womack said. “Some people are hurting, even today.”
Louise Deal, 77, called the program last month looking for some tomatoes and veggies. A few minutes later, another woman called to talk about a yard sale.
“I also have some tomatoes, okra and squash for sale,” she said.
Womack – the host that morning – took the bait.
“Hey, let me give you a phone number,” he said. “I had a lady calling looking for some tomatoes and squash and some other things as well.”
Deal said she never heard from the other caller, but that doesn’t take away from her experience. The combination of things people are trying to acquire or get rid of is intriguing on its own.
On a recent show, in less than two minutes, callers hocked tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, chickens, baby ducks, rabbits, a clarinet, a 9 mm pistol and an offer to haul trash and hay. The clarinet, gun and offer for trash and hay-hauling came on the same call.
After listening for a few minutes, visitors to this part of the world learn that people here know how to farm and shoot guns. They figure out that manners still matter here as callers and hosts thank each other. And they hear the importance of religion in everyday life as callers wish folks a blessed day.
“Everybody thinks that it’s just people out there selling product,” said Vance Harrison, president of the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. “But I think it’s also more of a barometer of what’s going on.”
Follow Jeannie Nuss on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss