By Kevin Jenkins
Special to Business Today
POPLAR BLUFF -- Many in Poplar Bluff might remember her as "CyberTel Michelle," while others might just recall her as the first cellular phone agent in the city. Today, Michelle Crittenden is still very much in the thick of things and serves as manager of MO-Ark Communications & Electronics.
The company, located at 612 S. Westwood, has gone through several name changes through the years.
"We started out as CyberTel," said Crittenden. "Then we were bought out by Ameritech. Now we are an authorized agent for Verizon."
CyberTel's original business focus was selling two-way radios -- primarily to farmers -- and offering trunking and paging systems. Today, while cellular service has become an increasingly important share of its business, MO-Ark Communications is still providing its customers with a wide-range of communication solutions.
"Just recently our company installed the 911 system for the Malden area. No matter how many kinds of services we offer, however, communications is our only business," said Crittenden.
Crittenden began working for CyberTel in Cape Girardeau prior to moving to Poplar Bluff.
She said that a few years ago -- while the company's antenna transmitting system was changing from analog to digital -- MO-Ark suffered through "an eight to nine month bumpy road" as sound quality to her customers was often very poor to non-existent. The problems were caused by a dearth of cellular antennas available to boost and transmit phone signals.
In fact, there was only one digital tower in the area, which meant customers trying to make and receive calls beyond a 5-mile radius often got nothing more than static and had to contend with the constant frustration of "dropped" calls.
Crittenden said, "We lost some long-term customers because of this, but our relationship with them through the years was such that many called us and apologized for changing their service to another cellular company."
The days of deafening static and frequent dead transmission areas are quickly disappearing as new towers continue to be built throughout the region.
"We've had four towers go into service in a 50-mile radius of Poplar Bluff within the past 12-months. The newest tower is in Greenville and went into service two weeks ago. If you're on a main highway or interstate, you're going to have a good connection. Dropped calls are a thing of the past," Crittenden said.
According to Crittenden, the cell phone market, since 1993, has gone through an incredible expansion in which owning a cellular phone is fast becoming almost as common as having a land-based phone in the home.
"It isn't just for the wealthy or business executives anymore," she said.
MO-Ark Communications, with six employees in its Poplar Bluff location, also has offices in Jonesboro and Blytheville, Ark.
Kevin Jenkins is business editor of the Daily American Republic in Poplar Bluff.