Michael Hibblen

News Director

Michael Hibblen is the News Director for UA Little Rock Public Radio. He oversees news coverage for KUAR, which includes assignments for the staff, helping develop story ideas, editing news copy and ensuring accuracy and fairness in all reporting. Michael is also a regular panelist and fill-in host on AETN's Arkansas Week, where journalists discuss issues in the news.

A native of North Little Rock, Michael 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, Michael became a nationally-heard, Miami-based reporter for CBS Radio 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 newspaper The Miami Herald in 2003 when it partnered with NPR station WLRN to provide local news. Michael initially worked as a morning news anchor and reporter, later became the department's editor and then assistant news director. He also wrote frequently for the newspaper.

Michael 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. Michael 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 maintains a personal website with more on his career and outside interests at www.hibblenradio.com.

Phone: 501-683-7386

Email: michael@kuar.org

Ways to Connect

Attorney Solomon Radner (left) with plaintiffs Tyrone Jackson and Tasheara announcing the lawsuit Wednesday. They contend the Power Ultra Lounge was negligent by not providing better security.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Nineteen people who were injured during a mass shooting last year at a Little Rock nightclub are suing the manager of the Power Ultra Lounge and its property owner. Twenty-five people were hit when gunfire erupted between rival gang members at a performance by the rapper known as Finese2Tymes. Three others were injured while trying to escape the club.

Attorney Solomon Radner of Southfield, Mich. says the club was negligent by failing to have adequately trained security and staff for that kind of event.

Union Pacific
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Union Pacific is cutting 60 jobs in central Arkansas as part of a second round of layoffs nationwide. A spokeswoman said Monday the local positions come from the railroad’s locomotive servicing and car repair shops in North Little Rock.

The company is eliminating 675 positions nationwide during the fourth quarter of the year. A further reduction in the size of its workforce is planned, company officials say, as Union Pacific works to improve profitability.

The railroad serves 23 states in the western two-thirds of the U.S. and employs about 2,500 people in Arkansas.

Delta Queen
www.deltaqueen.com

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday on legislation that would allow a steamboat built in the 1920s to resume taking passengers up and down the Mississippi River and tributaries like the Arkansas River.

A bill regarding the Delta Queen has already passed in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 94-to-6.

Lee Powell, executive director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, has been advocating for the legislation. He says the steamboat resuming operations would create 150 jobs and spur tourism. But there would also be broader benefits, he said.

White Bluff Coal Plant
Wil Chandler / Arkansas Business

Entergy Arkansas has agreed to replace two of the state’s largest coal-fired power plants with cleaner energy facilities.

As part of a settlement with the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association, the White Bluff plant in Jefferson County will halt operations by 2028 and the Independence plant in Independence County by be shut down by 2030.

Both lack modern emissions controls and, a lawsuit alleged, violate the federal Clean Air Act.

Rubber bands
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

Executives with a Hot Springs-based rubber band manufacturer were in Washington, DC on Tuesday appealing for help against what they say is unfair competition from foreign companies. Leaders of Alliance Rubber Company met with representatives of the International Trade Commission for the meeting which was focused on whether the company has been injured or faces the threat of injury from the foreign competitors.

Jason Risner, director of business strategy for Alliance Rubber Company, says imported rubber bands are being sold at unreasonable prices.

Robinson Center
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A new permanent exhibit tells the history of Little Rock’s Robinson Center. The auditorium opened in 1939 and has hosted important events and performances over the decades. Two years ago it reopened after a $70 million renovation and expansion.

On Friday a curtain was dropped along a wall on the second floor unveiling the 50-foot long display, with a crowd responding with applause. At the start of the timeline is a nearly 10-foot tall photo of former Arkansas Governor and U.S. Senator Joe T. Robinson.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Chief State STEM Officer/ State Director of Computer Science Education Anthony Owen
Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is touting an increase in the number of Arkansas students enrolled in computer science classes. The current school year saw a 30 percent increase for middle and high school students compared to the previous year.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday at the Capitol, Hutchinson said that will have long term benefits.

French Hill Clarke Tucker
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The race for Arkansas’s 2nd Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives proved to be among the most competitive in the state. Incumbent Republican French Hill didn’t make a victory speech until almost 11 p.m. Tuesday night after it became clear he had won the election.

Final election results from the Secretary of State's office:

Republican French Hill: 131,760 (52.1 %)
Democrat Clarke Tucker: 115,749 (45.8 %) 
Libertarian Joe Ryne Swafford: 5,176 (2.0 %)

Election Voters Voting
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Polls in Arkansas closed at 7:30 p.m. for Tuesday’s midterm election. Voting locations around the state were busy.

At one polling location in Little Rock's Capitol View-Stifft’s Station neighborhood, voter Barbara Stafan called this an important election for her because of what she called "the incivility of our country."

Pat Watson, another voter, called this election critical.

A poll conducted by the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville shows 23 percent of the people in the state think healthcare is the most important problem.
Creative Commons

The 20th annual Arkansas Poll published by the University of Arkansas suggests that healthcare is the most important problem in the state replacing the economy. 23 percent of participants said it was important compared to the 15 percent who thought the economy is a priority. Last year the economy was at 28 percent and healthcare was at 14 percent.

Poll Director, Dr. Janine Parry, says it’s a reflection of the current environment.

Alan Leveritt
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

The presence of one central Arkansas media entity is changing. The Arkansas Times – which for more than 25 years has been a weekly publication – will transition in February to a glossy monthly magazine.

It was originally a monthly when it debuted in 1974, but after the closing of the Arkansas Gazette 26 years ago, became a weekly to provide timely coverage.

Alan Leveritt is publisher of the Times and spoke with KUAR about the impending change.

KUAR and Arkansas Public Media won eight awards at this year’s competition of the Arkansas chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The 2018 Diamond Journalism Awards were handed out Thursday evening in Little Rock. The honors are for reporting that was published or broadcast between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018.

Below are the three categories that KUAR and Arkansas Public Media entered along with links to the award-winning reports and comments provided from the judges.

A study released Thursday by the Brookings Institution and the Walton Family Foundation looks at the economic health of a 19 state region in the middle of the country, including Arkansas.

"The State of the Heartland : Factbook 2018" uses socioeconomic factors to look at the how the area’s economy has been performing in recent years compared to the rest of the country. The full report can be found here.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission
Facebook

A company hired to grade Arkansas medical marijuana dispensary applications says it can deliver scores to the state by the end of next month. But at a meeting Tuesday, the chair of the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission voiced concerns that no physicians are part of the scoring team.

Thomas Aldridge, a manager with Public Consulting Group, spoke with commissioners about the process to help decide who should get the 32 licenses for dispensaries that will be spread throughout the state. About 200 entities have submitted applications.

Students prepare for a previous presentation of Tales of the Crypt at Little Rock's historic Mount Holly Cemetery.
Parkview High School

Rain is again impacting the annual Tales of the Crypt which is normally held at Little Rock’s historic Mount Holly Cemetery. The event features high school students portraying the many notable people who are buried there.

It was originally scheduled to be held last Tuesday, Oct. 9, but thunderstorms prompted organizers to postpone it until this Tuesday. With rain again in the forecast, the event will not be held at the cemetery, but instead in the auditorium at Parkview Arts & Science Magnet High School.

Jon Woods
Ashley Gardner

Former Arkansas state Sen. Jon Woods was sentenced Wednesday to more than 18 years and four months in prison for his role in a bribery scheme. The Republican must also serve three years of supervised release and pay over $1.6 million in restitution.

Woods was convicted in May of 15 felony charges. Prosecutors alleged he took kickbacks in exchanging for steering state money to a private Christian college. Woods co-defendant, Randall Shelton Jr. is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.

Elizabeth Eckford
National Park Service/ Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A bench now on display across from Little Rock’s Central High School commemorates one key moment from the school’s desegregation. It is a replica of one Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine sat on in 1957 after being kept from entering the school by national guardsmen.

Tuesday’s unveiling coincided with the 61st anniversary of the event.

Central High School’s Memory Project aims to encourage students to remember past events of the high school and to keep the memory of the Civil Rights Movement alive.

Jon Woods
Arkansas Times

A sentencing hearing is to begin Wednesday at 9 a.m. for former Arkansas state Senator Jon Woods. He and several others have been convicted or pleaded guilty as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation. Woods' co-defendant Randell Shelton Jr. will be sentenced Thursday, while their accomplices are scheduled to be sentenced next week.

Doug Thompson, a reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, covered Woods' trial from start to finish and spoke with KUAR about Woods' case.

File photo: Gov. Asa Hutchinson presenting part of his Arkansas Works plan, the state's version of Medicaid expansion.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Thousands of Arkansans are at risk of losing their healthcare coverage this weekend for failing to comply with a recently enacted work requirement for the state's Medicaid expansion program. The deadline is Friday at 5 p.m.

August is the third month that a work requirement has been in place for the Arkansas Works program. Enrollees who fail to report three months in a row will lose their coverage on the first day of the following month. That means those who haven't reported anything will be cut from the program on Saturday.

Downtown Little Rock
Wikimedia Commons

Central Arkansas leaders fear the region is fighting a problem of perception. While northwest Arkansas is viewed as booming, the Little Rock metro area – at least according to some around the country – appears to be struggling.

Arkansas Business reporter Kyle Massey digs into that for a story in this week’s issue. He spoke with KUAR's Michael Hibblen during Morning Edition, which you can hear above.

Interview Highlights

Rusty Cranford
Arkansas Nonprofit News Network

Next week, the first in a series of sentencing hearings will be held for former Arkansas lawmakers, a college president and others who were convicted or pleaded guilty for their roles in a wide-ranging corruption scheme.

It’s a complicated story largely centered around Rusty Cranford, a once-powerful lobbyist. Reporter David Ramsey wrote about this in a story for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.

Bill Gwatney
Arkansas Business

Monday marked the 10th anniversary of the murder of Bill Gwatney, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. He was shot August 13, 2008 at the party’s state headquarters in Little Rock and died several hours later. The gunman would be shot and killed by police later that afternoon.

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre
www.therep.org

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre in Little Rock, which shut down in April because of financial difficulties, is preparing to reopen with a new season of performances in January.

The turnaround of the professional theater is thanks to more than $500,000 in donations, which was matched by the Windgate Charitable Foundation in Siloam Springs, according to Ruth Shepherd, the chair-elect for The Rep’s board of directors.

Arkansas Baptist College
Arkansas Business

Arkansas Baptist College is again struggling to organize its finances. Members of the school’s board blame former President Joseph Jones with squandering a budget surplus by not focusing on enrollment and replacing staffers with new employees who were paid higher salaries.

Jones is accused of hiding the deteriorating financial situation from the board until the college was in a crisis. Now officials are working to address an estimated $4 million hole.

Arkansas Business digs into the situation in this week’s issue:

Jeff Sessions Cody Hiland
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Arkansas on Wednesday for a pair of events. Speaking at the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, he called for a fix to a Supreme Court ruling regarding violent offenders. Sessions later joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other officials near Hot Springs to discuss school safety.

30 Crossing
Arkansas Department of Transportation

Public comments are being compiled on a $630 million proposal to widen Interstate 30 from six to 10 lanes in central Arkansas. Friday was the deadline for people to give their thoughts on an environmental assessment, with the proposal to now be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.

Hotel Pines
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A $35 million project is underway in Pine Bluff to restore the once-grand Hotel Pines. The 105-year-old structure at the corner of 5th Avenue and Main Street was designed by George Mann, the same architect who designed the Arkansas state Capitol and the Marion Hotel in Little Rock.

Hughes Street Interstate 630 I-630 expansion
Arkansas Department of Transportation

U.S. District Judge James Moody said he will likely issue a decision Tuesday on whether to halt an expansion project just getting underway on Interstate 630 in Little Rock. On Monday he heard a full day of oral arguments and testimony that continued into the evening. 

Stone Bank
Arkansas Business

Despite predictions that brick-and-mortar bank branches would be rapidly declining in this online era, the number of bank locations in Arkansas actually increased over the last budget year. Arkansas Business Editor Gwen Moritz wrote about that in this week’s issue, which was released Monday.

Like ink-on-paper publications, brick-and-mortar bank branches are taking much longer to die out than predicted when the millennium was new.

Hughes Street Interstate 630 I-630 expansion
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

As a construction zone is being set up to widen a 2.2-mile stretch of Interstate 630 in Little Rock, a federal lawsuit aims to bring the $87.4 million project to a halt. One lane is to be added in each direction between Baptist Health Medical Center and University Avenue.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas argues that a proper environmental assessment was not conducted. Attorney Richard Mays is asking for a temporary restraining order which would stop construction until the lawsuit can be heard in court.

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