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Royals Radio Affiliate Spotlight: [KGND-AM 1470] Vinita, Oklahoma

As part of an ongoing series celebrating the Royals Radio network, we highlight WAYL-AM 990 in Vinita, our first (and last) Oklahoma affiliate to be spotlighted. The Royals Radio Network spans across eight states and from time to time Royals Review celebrates the romantic regionalism of the boys in blue. Maybe it is false nostalgia, but is there anything better than picking up a distant radio signal on a summer night? Of course, in these days of syndication too much local flavor has been replaced... The Royals Network, well, its not local and its not national. We explore that space between in these features.

Previous Affiliate Profiles:

York, Nebraska
Conway, Arkansas
Waynesville, Missouri
Topeka, Kansas
Storm Lake, Iowa

Vinita Oklahoma: Population- 6,017

Located 212 miles from Kansas City, KGND-AM in Vinita is the only Royals radio affiliate in the state of Oklahoma. Nestled in the northwest corner of the Sooner State, Vinita is still farther north than any point in Arkansas, which is nominally Royal-friendly in some areas. Vinita is about 180 miles southwest of Wichita, although interestingly enough, its damn near impossible to get from Vinita to Wichita without just taking the long way and looping around to I-35. Surely there have been people who've moved to Wichita who have had kin folks in Vinita and have had to handle this very problem. Vinita is 178 miles from Oklahoma City, and 65 miles from Tulsa. Despite its small size, a closer look at Vinita reveals it is one of the most interesting Royals Radio Affiliates on the Network.

According to Census figures, like most of rural America, the population of Vinita is declining, down to 6,017 after hitting 6,472 in 2000. Still, Vinita's still generally larger than it was in the past, as 1990 saw Vinita clock in at 5,804. I bet even money they've built a prison near town in the last decade... (Checks internet) Yep! Someone knows their small-towns... In 1994 the State of Oklahoma opened the "Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center" a minimum security joint located just outside of town. The State describes the Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center as such:

The Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center (NOCC), located in Vinita, began start-up operations July 1, 1994. The official opening date was December 13, 1994, when the first 25 inmates were received. NOCC is primarily an adult male minimum security facility, although a Treatment Alternatives to Drinking Drivers program also is located at the facility and inmates in this program are community residential. Inmates are assigned to Prisoner Public Works programs in the community, the Oklahoma Correctional Industries Agri-Services division farming operation, and support services for Eastern State Hospital.

The inmates at NOCC listen to the Royals constantly on KGND-AM.

Thanks to the bump in population created by the prison jobs, Vinita is the 62nd largest city in Oklahoma, and Craig County is the 45th most populous in the state, with a population of 15,078. Regarding Vinita, the Chamber of Commerce boasts,

Vinita is the second oldest town in Oklahoma. Our community is nestled where the golden prairies meets the foothills of the Ozarks. This northeastern corner of Oklahoma is abundant with natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Established in 1871, the town was born under the struggles of the Cherokee Nation and the expansion of the railroad. It was originally named Downingville and later changed to Vinita, in honor of Vinnie Ream, the sculptress who created the life-size statue of Lincoln at the United States Capitol. The name change was spearheaded by Elias C. Boudinot, whose father and 34 others sold the Cherokee ancestral lands to the U.S. Government, resulting in the Cherokee Trail of Tears Mass Migration in 1838. Not surprisingly, the sale of the land split the Cherokee Nation politically and the streets in Vinita are named for prominent leaders and citizens on both sides of the dispute.
Indeed. Weirdly enough, I've actually presented a conference paper related to this very subject, never knew the Vinita tie-in however.

What the Chamber doesn't tell you is the gruesome conclusion of this dispute.

(Skip ahead about four paragraphs if you don't like tragedy) Boudinot's uncle was known as "The Ridge" and was a major Cherokee figure during the Jacksonian Era, fighting alongside Old Hickory during the Creek War. Ridge, ultimately a prosperous slave-owner, encouraged the Cherokees to collaborate with the U.S. government in the Cherokee homelands, with the idea that a conversion to supposedly respectable agrarian communities and democratic institutions within the Cherokee Nation would gain the respect (and distance) of the U.S. When gold was found (supposedly) on Cherokee lands in Georgia settlers in the state poured into the nation and demanded that the Cherokees leave. As Government support for the Cherokees weakened (shockingly) the Treaty of New Echota was eventually signed in 1835 by Boudinot's cousin, John Ridge, the Cherokee leader. The Treaty of New Echota precipitated what came to be known as The Trail of Tears, which led to something like 4,000 deaths, as the U.S. military eventually arrived to force the migration to the new homesteads in Arkansas and Oklahoma. (Note, this is a drastically abridged summary of a complicated historical event whose details are still controversial. For the complete story, I suggest you read Thurman Wilkins' excellent study, Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People.)

The logic of the Ridge party was that U.S. encroachment was inevitable and that through negotiation they could at least gain new land, whose boundaries would be respected. At this point the Cherokees had developed their own written language, had English and Cherokee printing presses and featured a fairly prominent elite class who were becoming lawyers, writers, statesman, etc. Of course, the new Cherokee lands in the West eventually suffered the same fate.

Returning to Vinita and Elias Boudinot, on June 22nd 1839, Boudinot, his brother John Ridge and his father Major Ridge were all ritualistically executed in front of their families (the executions involved a series of stabbings and stompings by over 20 men) by members of the Ross faction, who opposed the Treaty, opposed resettlement and saw the Ridge's as traitors.

Boudinot and the Ridge's are all buried in northeastern Oklahoma. The Ridge-Ross in-fighting continued for decades, as the Rosses slowly rose to prominence. Boudinot's son was known as Stand Watie, and was reputed to be the last Confederate General to surrender in the Civil War. John Ridge's son, who also witnessed his father's execution, eventually fled to California and lived a long-colorful life as a novelist, poet and newspaper editor. He wrote what is considered the first Native American Novel, The Adventures of Joaquin Murieta.

Vinita's roots stretch back to the Trail of Tears.

The Cherokee Nation is still a large force in Oklahoma, with the capital in nearby Tahlequah. The Official Website is definitely worth multiple looks. Fittingly, Vinita's also linked to American history by another trail, albeit one with a happier ending: Route 66. Like previous Royal Radio Affiliate Waynesville Missouri, Vinita's an old Route 66 town, almost exactly 200 miles (200.74) to the southwest. An old town (relatively), Vinita's highway and railroad roots ensure that the downtown still nominally exists, although it looks like a large number of the shops are of the antique variety. Downtown Vinita is dominated by the Hotel Vinita, a five story Spanish revival style hotel built in the 1920s. The lower floor now features shops, including (wait for it) a Starbucks. Vinita also features the Summerside Vineyards & Winery and a museum dedicated to nineteenth century artist Vinnie Ream. Regarding restaraunts, might I recommend the Braum's on E. Illinois. What a great chain, too bad their only found in random Texoma areas.

Perhaps the signature Vinita event is the Annual Will Rogers Memorial Parade and Rodeo, held each August. This year's Rodeo was the 70th celebration of Rogers and all things Westerniana, as the famous cowboy/showman/humorist was born in a rural area outside of town in 1879.

This weekend, yes, this weekend the annual "Pelican Fest" will be taking place outside Vinita on the shores of the Grand Lake of the Cherokees, a massive man made lake just south of Vinita. Although it sounds like one of those goofy Red Lobster month-long promotions gone horrible awry, according to the organizers,

This festival celebrates the return of the migratory American White Pelican as it stops on Grand Lake to feed and rest before it continues its journey from Canada to the coasts of Mexico for the winter. The American White Pelican is one of the largest living birds. Adults weigh between 10 and 17 pounds with a wingspan of 8 to 9 ? feet.

During the festival the Grand Lake Audubon Society provides low cost pelican viewing tours for visitors and area residents. And, again this year, Wildlife Photographer Robert C. Livesay will be presenting a digital slide show entitled "The Secret Life of Pelicans" several times on both days. The festival is designed to include the young and old alike from the varied activities of the Kids Zone to the Art and Craft Faire for the adults. Some of the craft and food vendors are returning from previous years as they so enjoy the Grand Lake community. [...] Also new this year will be on stage performances featuring Magician Chris Capstone. Capstone will be performing an old fashioned family vaudeville magic show. Festival goers can catch his show several times a day both Friday and Saturday when he is sure to captivate the crowd.

I'm a sucker for old-fashioned vaudeville. Always have been, and I'll die that way. Roadie to "Pelican Fest" anyone?

Former Major League Jim Beauchamp was born in Vinita in 1939 and is the only player I could find with MLB ties. (Weirdly enough however, a former Angel player named Bill Harrison was born in Tahlequah. Harrison played in one big league season, 1968.) Beauchamp played first and outfield for six teams, including two tours with the Cardinals and Astros from 1963-73. A career .231/.288/.334 hitter, Beauchamp played in his only postseason in 1973, going 0-4 with a K in four pinch-hitting appearances for the Mets (who lost the series to Oakland).

According to Basball-Reference's similarity scores, the most similar player to Beauchamp in Major League History is... is... see for yourself.

Scary, very very scary.

According to Radio-Locator KGND-AM in Vinita juuuuust stretches its coverage into far southern Kansas at night. KGND is also a member of the Oklahoma Sooners Radio Network. Considering that the Cardinals claim affiliates in Tulsa, Norman, Ponca City and Bartlesville OK (not to mention Springfield and Joplin) you might consider little KGND-AM in Vinita a bastion of Royal Loyalty in a sea of red.

On a personal note, I've driven through Vinita probably six or seven times travelling on I-44. Although, if you know the Oklahoma Turnpike system, you know this means I actually haven't seen anything at all. I believe I spent a night once in Big Cabin Oklahoma, but it may been in Vinita. Driving home for Christmas one year I ran into a terrible patch of snow in Missouri and Oklahoma and didn't make it home until Christmas day because of the delays. The I-44 Turnpike that day was a complete disaster, which was to be expected. Still, I've also stopped before at a strange place on the Pike which Vinita claims as its own, "the Worlds Largest McDonalds".

See ya at Pelican Fest. I'll be the guy wearing a "Pelicans Gone Wild" shirt outside the vaudeville show.