Michael Hibblen

News Director

Michael Hibblen is the News Director for UA Little Rock Public Radio. He oversees local news coverage for KUAR, working with the staff to plan story ideas, edit news copy, and ensure accuracy and fairness in reporting. Hibblen has been a regular panelist and fill-in host on Arkansas PBS' Arkansas Week, where journalists and newsmakers discuss the top issues facing the state.

In March 2019, he was named one of 53 fellows selected to participate in the Editorial Integrity and Leadership Initiative at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The intensive 100-day training program for newsroom leaders from across the country was funded by a $1 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It involved a week of training that August at the Phoenix campus, working regularly with a coach and smaller group remotely, then returning to give a final presentation and graduate in January. The group began meeting again online to discuss challenges and issues facing newsrooms as COVID-19 began spreading across the nation.

A native of North Little Rock, Hibblen started in radio in 1988, spending his first five years as a DJ for music stations in central and northeast Arkansas. After a 1993 internship at the C-SPAN Cable Network in Washington, DC, he transitioned to news, working for commercial radio stations KARN in Little Rock, WRVA in Richmond, Virginia and WIOD in Miami, Florida. In 2000, Hibblen became a nationally-heard, Miami-based radio reporter for CBS News, covering major stories in the region, including the anthrax attack at a tabloid publisher, an international custody fight over Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez, and the 2000 presidential election recount. He was hired by The Miami Herald in 2003 when the newspaper partnered with NPR station WLRN to provide local news. Hibblen initially worked as a morning news anchor and reporter, later became the department's editor, then assistant news director. He also wrote frequently for the newspaper.

Hibblen returned home to Arkansas in 2009 to work for KUAR. At that time he resumed taking classes at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to finish his Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication, graduating in May 2013. Hibblen also enjoys researching radio and railroad history in the state and is the author of Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas, which was published by Arcadia Publishing in April 2017. He has also been involed in the preservation of the railroad's depot in the City of Perry, West of Little Rock. Hibblen maintains a personal website with more on his career and outside interests at www.hibblenradio.com.

Phone: 501-916-6377

Email: michael@kuar.org

Ways to Connect

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas ranks near the top of other states and countries in the percentage of people in prisons, according to a report released this month by the Prison Policy Initiative. The organization also said the United States incarcerates more citizens per capita than any other country. The report says “every U.S. state relies too heavily on prisons and jails to respond to crime.”

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A military medical team from outside the state is now working alongside medical professionals at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences providing much-needed assistance, officials say. The state-run hospital and medical school has been struggling with a staffing shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Steppe Mette, chief executive officer for UAMS Medical Center, welcomed the 23-person Army team to the facility during a press conference Monday. It includes physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists.

In a meeting on Zoom, Johnny Cash's daughter Tara Cash Schwoebel, sculptor Kevin Kreese and members of Arkansas Capitol Arts & Grounds Commission look at the latest mockup of Kreese's statue of Cash.
Zoom

Sculptors creating statues of Arkansas civil rights pioneer Daisy Bates and legendary singer Johnny Cash, which will represent the state in the U.S. Capitol, are working to finalize their designs so they can be submitted to federal officials for approval.

The Arkansas Capitol Arts & Grounds Commission met via Zoom Thursday with the artists selected to make the statues, discussing subtle changes that have been made or are being proposed to make them more accurate. Those involved have been studying old photos and films to consider any final modifications.

Erma Hendrix, seen here during a meeting of the Little Rock Board of Directors, died Wednesday at the age of 91.
Arkansas Times

Erma Hendrix, a member of the Little Rock Board of Directors, died peacefully at her home on Wednesday, the city announced Thursday. She was 91.

Hendrix, who represented Ward 1, was first elected to the board in 1993 where she served one term. More than a decade later, Hendrix ran again, winning the election. She would then be reelected three times, serving from 2006 until her death.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. on the first day of early voting casting his ballot at Sue Cowan Library.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Early voting is underway for Little Rock’s proposed sales tax increase. If passed next week, starting January 1, the city’s sales tax would increase from 9% to 9.625%. The tax increase is the only item on the ballot for next Tuesday’s special election.

On Tuesday, the first day of early voting, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. cast his ballot at Sue Cowan Library.

“I voted for it,” Scott told reporters afterward. “I want to make sure that everyone knows that we’re voting for our city, how we rebuild our city for its future.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaking to a crowd of supporters on Sept. 6 in Benton.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Nine months after announcing her candidacy for Arkansas governor through a produced video, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is now taking her campaign to the people. This Labor Day weekend she began a series of 15 appearances around the state.

On Monday evening, the former White House press secretary spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at a rally in Benton. Sanders was introduced by her father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The COVID-19 pandemic is being blamed for many people putting off routine medical procedures and screenings. One key concern for health officials is a rise in the number of men not being diagnosed with prostate cancer until they are already in the late stages of the disease.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, cabinet secretaries and health officials enter Tuesday's press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor's Office / YouTube

Arkansas has again set a new record for COVID-19 patients on mechanical ventilation. While hospitalizations declined by 45 on Tuesday, the number on ventilators rose by 27 compared to the previous day, bringing the total to 388 people. It’s the second day in a row Arkansas has reached a new high.

The state Department of Health also reported 22 additional deaths, along with 2,626 new cases of people testing positive for the virus. Hospitalizations dropped to 1,212.

Johnny Cash at his boyhood home in Dyess, Ark. in 1968.
Library of Congress

Plans are being unveiled for this year’s Johnny Cash Heritage Festival, which raises money for the music icon’s boyhood home in east Arkansas. The annual event had to be cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid a resurgence of cases in recent months, the decision was made to hold this year’s festival online.

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was shown to reporters at the Arkansas Department of Health on Dec. 14, 2020 just before the first doses were administered in the state.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A newly-published study by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences looks at the hesitation some people in Arkansas have about getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Researchers found 21% of those surveyed had some degree of vaccine hesitancy.

The Arkansas Department of Health has reported steadily increasing numbers of people who have been fully vaccinated, and last Wednesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson touted on Twitter that the state had surpassed 1.1 million vaccinations. But there are still many who are reluctant to get a shot.

Defense Focuses On Disgraced Judge’s Credibility As Baker Bribery Case Goes To Jury

Aug 9, 2021
Defendant Gilbert Baker exits the U.S. courthouse on Friday afternoon.
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Nonprofit News Network

UPDATE: The jury completed its first full day of deliberations Monday without reaching a verdict. Deliberations will resume Tuesday morning.

Jurors in the bribery trial of former lobbyist Gilbert Baker went home for the weekend after hearing closing arguments and deliberating less than two hours Friday afternoon.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., surrounded by city officials, announced at a news conference Thursday that the city is imposing a mask mandate.
City of Little Rock / YouTube

The city of Little Rock is reinstating a mask mandate in public places, defying a state law enacted last week that prohibits such mandates. The announcement Thursday by Mayor Frank Scott Jr. came the same day two Arkansas school districts filed a lawsuit against the state and Gov. Asa Hutchinson challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

During a press conference at City Hall, Scott said the action was recommended by Little Rock’s COVID-19 Task Force, which includes representatives from hospitals in the city.

Marion School Superintendent Dr. Glen Fenter speaks with reporters Wednesday before the start of the special legislative session.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

As members of the Arkansas General Assembly began a special session Wednesday to consider a proposal by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to revise a ban on mask mandates, the head of an east Arkansas school district said the number of students in quarantine because of possible exposure to the coronavirus had grown to more than 750.

Governor's Office

On the day before the Arkansas General Assembly begins a special session to consider modifying a state law prohibiting mask mandates, Gov. Asa Hutchinson acknowledged there might not be legislative support for the change.

Arkansas Children's Hospital
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

As Arkansas is experiencing a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases, with more than 2,800 new cases reported Thursday, kids are being impacted like never before in the pandemic. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was especially concerned about the increase in pediatric cases while announcing he was reinstating a public health emergency for the state.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, seen here last October.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas reported 2,552 new cases of the coronavirus between Saturday and Monday, with the state continuing to lead the nation per capita.

The Department of Health says there were 15 additional deaths in that time, with the total since the pandemic began now at 6,007. Hospitalizations grew by 106 to of 787.

Arkansas PBS

Arkansas continues leading the nation per capita in new coronavirus cases, blamed on the spread of the more infectious delta variant and the state’s vaccination rate, which is among the lowest in the country.

The Department of Health reported 1,342 new cases Friday, with the number of active cases growing by 671 to 9,750, a figure not seen in the state since Feb. 15. Eleven deaths were reported, with Arkansas on track to, in the coming days, surpass a death toll of 6,000 since the first deaths were announced in March 2020.

Artist Kevin Kresse with a prototype of the statue he is making to eventually be on display in the U.S. Capitol.
Kevin Kresse

Artist Kevin Kresse, who was selected by the state earlier this month to create a statue of Johnny Cash, which will be one of two representing Arkansas in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol, spoke with KUAR about his appreciation of Cash and what inspired him in this project.

A statue of civil rights leader Daisy Bates, best known for her work with the Little Rock Nine desegregating Central High School, will also eventually be on display. That one is being created by Benjamin Victor of Boise, Idaho.

Cummins Unit Prison
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A four-year study by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock will look at the climate and culture inside state prisons.

A $453,000 contract has been awarded to the school by the Department of Corrections to conduct the study, which will include visiting each prison in the state to talk with inmates, staff and visitors. Corrections Secretary Solomon Graves said it will be a first-of-its-kind study for the state.

A new solar array in North Little Rock, which city leaders say will provide about 20% of the power for its wastewater utility.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

North Little Rock’s Wastewater Utility is now being powered in part by a new solar array. Completion of the $1.4 million facility was celebrated Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Director Michael Clayton says the solar panels will provide about 20% of the electricity needed to power the utility, which typically costs about $900,000 a year. It serves about 42,000 customers in North Little Rock, Sherwood and Maumelle.

A file photo of University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, who announced Thursday that he would resign the following day.
Beth Hill / Arkansas Business

University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz resigned Friday, about 24 hours after announcing in an email to faculty, students and staff that he would take the abrupt action.

Steinmetz did not elaborate Friday in the hours before leaving office. UA System President Donald Bobbitt has not announced an interim chancellor or what would happen next.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. speaking at Thursday's dedication for the new 10-mile trail system at River Mountain Park.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A new 10-mile trail system for cycling, running and hiking is now open in Little Rock, further enhancing a network of trails that local leaders say has helped provide a high quality of life for residents and made the city a destination for cyclists.

A dedication ceremony was held Thursday at River Mountain Park, which is along the Arkansas and Little Maumelle rivers. The new trail system is the first to be professionally built in the city and features trails with varying degrees of difficulty for beginners and seasoned cyclists.

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was shown to reporters at the Arkansas Department of Health on Dec. 14, 2020 just before the first doses were administered in the state.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences are starting a one-year project to look at disparities between minority communities and the state’s general population when it comes to COVID-19.

The project is being funded by a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, with UAMS being one of 11 teams selected nationwide. Researchers hope their efforts will increase vaccination rates among minorities.

Sculptor Benjamin Victor shows a model of what he envisions the Johnny Cash statue would like during a meeting Wednesday.
Arkansas Citizens Access Network

Ahead of an expected decision Monday, five artists who want the honor of making statues of civil rights leader Daisy Bates and music legend Johnny Cash that will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol presented models Wednesday of what they envision their works would look like.

A barge passes underneath the Junction Bridge heading south on the Arkansas River on Sept. 4, 2015.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A recently-released book explores the history of efforts to control major rivers in the U.S. and the impact those waterways have on the lives and livelihoods of many people. But aging infrastructure and a lack of funding is posing major problems, as author Tyler J. Kelley points out in "Holding Back the River: The Struggle Against Nature on America’s Waterways."

The tower on Lee Mountain near Russellville which is the first of five new signals that Arkansas PBS says will go on the air this year to provide coverage to nearly the entire state.
Arkansas PBS

Arkansas PBS is now broadcasting on an additional signal near Russellville. It’s the first of five new transmitters being added this year to provide broadcast coverage to nearly the entire state.

The public television network said Thursday the new transmitter at Lee Mountain is operating at full power, with the signal capable of being picked up in Pope, Johnson, Logan and Yell counties.

(Left) Richard Barnett's mug shot at the Washington County, Ark. jail. (Right) Barnett sitting at a desk inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Jan. 6.
Washington County Jail/ Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

An Arkansas man, facing federal charges for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, is raising money for his legal defense.

Richard Barnett, also known as “Bigo,” became one of the most public faces of the breach at the Capitol when he was photographed in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with his feet propped up on a desk. Now for a donation of $100 or more, people can receive a signed copy of that photo.

U.S. Rep. French Hill of Arkansas' 2nd congressional district, seen here in 2018, was one of 35 Republicans to join Democrats in voting to support creation of an independent commission to probe the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A bill in Congress which would create an independent commission to investigate the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January is now in the hands of the Senate. A week ago, the House passed the bill with 35 Republicans joining Democrats to support the proposal.

But the future of the bill is unclear with Democrats needing the support of 10 Republicans to avoid a possible filibuster. GOP leadership is opposing an investigation.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Criminal Justice and Criminology Director Dr. Tusty Ten Bensel and Graduate Coordinator Dr. Robert Lytle will oversee the study of hate crimes against Muslims in Arkansas.
Zoom

The National Science Foundation is funding a three-year program to study hate crimes committed against Muslims in Arkansas. Two criminal justice professors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have been awarded a $324,987 grant, which will enable an assessment of anti-Muslim sentiments.

The Arkansas Medical Society hosted the first of four COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Arkansas Travelers baseball games on Tuesday.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas health officials and pharmacies continue working to try and make it as easy as possible for people in the state to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

At Tuesday night’s season opener for the Arkansas Travelers, the first of at least four vaccination clinics was held at Dickey Stephens Park in North Little Rock. But while there were lines of people waiting a half-hour or more for beer, there was no wait to get a shot, with the doctors and nurses mostly hanging out, eagerly engaging anyone who approached.

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