UCA journalism professor dies at 63

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Veteran broadcaster and popular University of Central Arkansas Journalism Professor Jerry Earle Overton died Thursday.

Overton, 63, was well known in the Little Rock, Northwest Arkansas and Dallas radio and television markets for his reporting and smooth delivery. His more than 40 years in broadcasting led him to play a wide variety of roles at numerous radio and television stations.

Over the years, he trained, mentored and helped launch the careers of dozens of radio and television anchors, producers and reporters.

Born June 27, 1954, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to the late Earle and Irma Overton of Mansfield, he attended the University of Arkansas. Overton was bureau chief at KARK TV of Little Rock from 1978 to 1983 and sports director and anchor at KHBS/KHOG TV of Fort Smith and Fayetteville from 1983 to 1993. He was the play-by-play announcer for the Lady Razorbacks basketball team, sideline reporter for Razorback football games and producer of former Coach Ken Hatfield’s television show. He also produced programing for the Arkansas Razorback Football Network.

In Dallas, Overton was a general manager, news anchor, producer and reporter at different times for nearly a dozen stations, including the national Salem Radio Network and WBAP-AM/KLIF-AM.

Overton began his career at UCA in 2014, where he took initiative in making improvements to the equipment and talent of the university’s student-run News 6 cable television station.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism degree from the University of Arkansas, a master’s from South Dakota State and was working on a Ph.D. in communication at the University of Oklahoma when he passed. He taught at each of those universities.

Those who worked alongside Overton said his knowledge of the journalism trade brought growth wherever he went.

“I first met Jerry in the early 1990s in Fayetteville, where he was reporting sports for KHOG television and I was doing the same for the Arkansas Gazette,” UCA Associate Journalism Professor Donna Lampkin Stephens said. “Nearly 30 years later, I was so happy to see his application materials when we were looking for an assistant professor for our broadcast journalism classes.

“We could not have found a better fit. He and [his wife] Donna embraced UCA and Conway.”

Journalism Lecturer David Keith said the university was able to turn out better journalism graduates because of Overton’s teaching and that his death “really leaves a hole.”

“Jerry brought so much vitality and growth to our journalism program, particularly the television program through his knowledge and ability to import it to our students,” Keith said. “Not only was [his knowledge] the best in the time that I’ve been here, but our students understood what he taught. Our students got it when he said it.”

UCA’s Director of Communication John Gale said Overton’s techniques set a new curve in the academic careers of the university’s journalism students.

“Through his work as a professor at the University of Central Arkansas, Jerry has set the tone for a whole new set of student broadcasters and journalists,” Gale said. “In Jerry’s professional skill, his teaching skill and his work ethic are the kinds of things that students need and our students have embraced.”

Stephens said the UCA journalism community was better because of Overton.

“Jerry had done what he wanted to do — after a long, distinguished career in journalism, he returned to school in order to be able to teach the next generation of journalists,” she said. “He was a valued friend and colleague, a true team player who immediately jumped in to help elevate the UCA Journalism program to a new level. His students had a kind and demanding mentor who expected only their best.

“All of our lives were made better by knowing Jerry. Losing him is devastating for all of us.”

Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. Monday at Martin Funeral Home in Mansfield and the funeral is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at Mansfield First United Methodist Church, 111 S. Division Ave., with burial to follow at Coop Prairie Cemetery in Mansfield. A memorial service is set for Conway’s First United Methodist Church at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20.

In lieu of flowers, memorials for a future Jerry Overton Journalism Scholarship may be sent to the UCA Foundation/Jerry Overton Fund, 201 Donaghey Ave., Box 4986, Conway, AR. 72035.

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