Category Archives: Drew’s DJ Career Stories

The Big Move to Iowa: KKEZ-FM (Z94) Fort Dodge 1986-87

On the third Friday in August, 1986, I arrived in Fort Dodge, Iowa. After checking into Super 8 for the night, I woke up early the next morning to begin my new adventure. This was back in the days when it was inexpensive and easy to find a place to live. You didn’t need to submit to a credit check, a criminal background check, or pay an exorbitant deposit. I went to the radio station, grabbed the want ads, and began making phone calls. By that afternoon, I was living in my new home: the upper half of a house that had been converted into duplexes. It was just a few blocks from the radio station. My rent was $185 per month “plus lights” (electricity.) The landlady said “You look like an honest young man. You can pay the deposit ($100) after you get your first paycheck.” This was a good thing. I had a total of $300 to my name at that point. After unloading my stuff from the car (Rule #1 of radio: NEVER own more stuff than you can fit in your car), I walked up to the station and met a couple of the weekend guys. When their shifts ended, they took me to Godfather’s for pizza and beer. Welcome to Iowa!

Monday, August 18 was my first night at KKEZ. At this point, we were still “Fort Dodge’s Hit Radio 94, KKEZ.” Two weeks later, we would become the hot rockin’, flamethrowin’ Z94! This could easily have become an uncomfortable situation: several long-time airstaffers had recently been fired in order to accommodate the format change. A few others had been “reassigned” but were still in the building. I’ve always said that one of the greatest benefits of working nights is that you don’t have to deal with the office politics! By the time I showed up at 6PM, all the “day people” were gone. Plus, I was so excited about being at a new station in a larger market that I didn’t care. I just got on the mic and gave it all I had to give!

I was still very “raw” and inexperienced on-the-air. Yet, Jim Davis (my Program Director) believed in me. He gave me a ton of freedom to have fun with the listeners and develop as an air personality. Jim was an experienced broadcaster and programmer. He had worked for KOIL-AM 1290 in Omaha and KIOA-AM 940 in Des Moines. Both of these were legendary, heritage AM Top 40 stations in the Upper Midwest. Jim was very good to me and taught me well. KKEZ was the station where I learned to do good, solid phone bits. It’s also where I became serious about airchecking and reviewing my air work. EVERY show was recorded. After work, I would listen back to the entire tape at home, making mental notes about what to correct and how to improve for the following night’s broadcast.

I made some good friends at KKEZ and sister station KWMT-AM 540. Jane E. Morgan, Phil Jaye, Jim Davis, and Duane Murley are still in radio today. We keep in touch. In fact, Jane and Duane are still at KKEZ/KWMT. It was a great place and a great time to be working as a broadcaster. I was being paid fairly well, had a great boss, and was cultivating a loyal nighttime audience that enjoyed what I was doing on the radio. I was really happy here, as evidenced on this composite aircheck.

All good things must come to an end. In March, Jim Davis announced his resignation. He received a job offer too good to pass up at WLLR-FM 101.3 in the Quad Cities. His replacement was Doug MacKinnon. Doug had a long radio history in Des Moines, stretching back to the 1950s. Our General Manager reasoned that because of his experience, he would be a great candidate for mornings on-air and Program Director. Doug had some “different” ideas regarding the future direction of KKEZ. Shortly after his arrival, he called a mandatory staff meeting to outline the many changes and new rules which he had implemented. He told me “You are no longer to put callers on-the-air.” In response, I told him this was an important and essential element of my show. I was the night jock at a high-energy FM CHR station. My callers were a large part of what made my show fun and interactive. Doug’s response: “We don’t do that here. We’re not a talk station.”

Shortly thereafter, Doug MacKinnon fired me. It was not a friendly parting of the ways. I walked into the KKEZ building shortly before 6PM on Monday, March 30, 1987 to do my show. Doug was sitting there, waiting for me. When I walked up to him, he handed me my final paycheck and said “We no longer have need for your services.” If I had acted on first impulse, I would have ended up in jail on assault and battery charges. I knew better. Instead, I calmly took my paycheck from his hand. I looked right at him and said “Well, I’ll be hearing you across the dial and you can damn well bet you will be hearing me as well!” Then, I turned and walked away. The last words I ever heard from Doug were “What does that mean?” as I moved toward the exit. I said nothing. Just opened the door and walked out. Thus ended my 6 months of radio fun at Z94 KKEZ.

Although my tenure at KKEZ had been terminated, my radio days in Fort Dodge were far from over. There was a new radio station on the horizon. Don and John Linder of Mankato, Minnesota had recently purchased KRIT-FM 96.9 in Clarion, Iowa. The signal had been upgraded to 100,000 watts from a new tower north of Fort Dodge. I knew from my research that KRIT was getting ready to move into Fort Dodge and relaunch as a local operation. I had already promised myself that if Doug were to fire me, I would do everything in my power to become his primary competitor on this new station! This is what I was eluding to when I bid him my fond farewell. Was my quest successful? Sure was! I’ll tell you all about it in the next thrilling installment of “Drew’s Radio Stories!”

The Summer of 1986: Two Steps Back

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote the latest chapter in my continuing radio saga. I should make this into a book and title it “I was a Roaming Radio Gypsy” or “Fifteen Years as a Radio Drifter.” I’m only up to station number 3 and there are about 20 left to go! I figure I’ll have this finished by the end of this year.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, I left KWKR to return to Minnesota and attend college. That didn’t work out as planned. In the preceding chapter, I mentioned that I would come back to KCHK whenever I was “between jobs” and needing an income source. Put these two together and you can guess where I made my next stop on Radio’s Road of Fortune. I went back to New Prague and filled in as needed for a couple of months. Back to playing polka records and reading obituaries on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t all bad, though. My parents lived close enough so they could hear me. I happened to be working on the morning of Mom’s 50th birthday. I played “The Old Lady Polka” and dedicated it to her. Ah, the perks of small market radio! During this time, I supplemented my income by working as delivery driver for Domino’s Pizza. Since I didn’t finish driving until 1:00AM and KCHK sign-on was 5:00AM, there was no point in going home to sleep. It was here that I learned the fine art of sleeping on the control room floor, hoping to get a few hours’ rest before my shift began. Later, I would learn to carry a sleeping bag in the trunk of my car for this very purpose. All for the princely sum of $4.00 per hour. Was I crazy or just plain stupid?

In late June, Bette Bailly called me. As you may recall, Bette was the General Manager at my first station: KNAB AM/FM in Burlington, Colorado. I had talked to her a few months earlier when I decided to leave Mankato State University and get back into radio. Bette had an opening. She usually hired beginners out of Brown Institute. But in this case, the guy who was leaving had been there a few years and was quite good. She wanted someone with experience. So of course, I packed up my reliable ‘ol puke green 1973 Buick Century and headed west. Again. Whereas my first KNAB adventure lasted 9 months, Round Two was over in just 6 weeks. Bette and I clashed on too many issues. Since I now had experience at a larger station, I would question procedures and policies that I felt were incorrect. Bette would have none of it. She was the boss, pure and simple. If I had a dime for every time she said “I don’t give a rat’s ass WHAT you did in Garden City!”, I would be a rich man today. So, I left KNAB for the second time on Wednesday, August 6, 1986.

During the time I was attending college in Minnesota, Jim Davis had replaced Lee Barr as Program Director of KWKR. I had worked with Jim and he knew of my desire to return to KWKR. He assured me the next air slot to open up would be mine. Burlington was only 170 miles from Garden City. My purpose in coming back to KNAB was to get back on-the-air and draw a paycheck until I could get back to KWKR. After leaving KNAB, however, I had no idea what my next move was going to be. I didn’t have a home phone. This seriously complicated one’s ability to find a new job in 1986 B.I. (Before Internet!)

One week later, I was awakened to the sound of a car horn, frantically blowing in my alley. I lived on the third floor of an apartment building that was locked 24/7. Since I had no phone, my friends would contact me by driving through the alley below and either honking their horn or throwing rocks at my bedroom window. I opened the window to find my friend Betty Boland, yelling through the open T-tops of her ’79 Trans Am. “Some guy named Jim Davis called for you at the beauty shop. He says to call him right away. He has a job for you!” The fact that Jim was able to track me down via Betty’s Beauty Bar was nothing short of amazing. Yay for small towns where everyone knows each other!

Mr. Davis had come to my rescue in my time of need! I threw on my clothes and ran down to the beauty shop to call Jim. I told him I was ready to come back to Garden City! I was so happy to be coming back to KWKR. I could be there tomorrow, if need be. Then, Jim said something I will never forget: “I’m not in Garden City. I left last week. I’m Program Director of KKEZ in Fort Dodge, Iowa. We’ve got 100,000 watts that cover more than 30 counties. We’re Number One! I want you to get the (expletive deleted) up here and do nights for me!”

I was excited, but I was also scared. This was a much bigger sandbox than Garden City. Fort Dodge was only 70 miles from Des Moines as the crow flies. With a good radio, KKEZ could be heard in Des Moines. The capital of Iowa. There had to be at least a few hundred thousand people within that signal contour! At age 22, I had an ego that wouldn’t quit. But deep down, I knew I was still pretty “green” and not all that behind the mic. What if I couldn’t cut it? Jim had over 20 years of radio experience, including heritage Top 40s KIOA/Des Moines and KOIL/Omaha. I knew his standard for performance was pretty high.

On the day before I was to leave for Fort Dodge, I received another phone call. This one was from Ron Isham, my General Manager in Garden City. Jim Davis’ departure created an opportunity in the budget to hire another person. They could move some people around at KWKR, making room for me to return. What to do? What to do?

It was the classic choice of risk vs security. KWKR was a known commodity. The company was solid, the operation was successful, and I would have that job for as long as I wanted it. But it was an unrated market in Western Kansas. I knew people who had been on-the-air there for 20+ years. I did not aspire to become one of them. Fort Dodge was a huge opportunity: the chance to work with an experienced programmer and do my thing on a big signal. But it was also risky. I knew nothing about the company or the market, other than what Jim had told me. If I wasn’t as good as Jim thought I could be, I was outta there in short order.

The next morning, I left Burlington. I stopped at the McDonald’s in Colby, Kansas and sat in the parking lot for about 20 minutes, making a decision. This is where the road split: US 24 east towards Fort Dodge or I-70/US 83 to Garden City. I carefully weighed all the pros and cons. Finally, I pointed my car east on Highway 24 and headed for my future: the new night jock on Fort Dodge’s Hit Radio 94, KKEZ.

The Minnesota Maniac is Born! KWKR-FM Garden City, KS 1984-86

One afternoon while on-the-air at KCHK, I received a phone call from Lee Barr. Lee was the Program Director of KWKR-FM 99.9 in Garden City, Kansas. This was one of the stations I had sent an audition tape and resume to. Lee made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I packed up my ’77 Cougar XR7 and headed for the high plains of Western Kansas.

I arrived at KWKR on Monday, November 12, 1984 to take over the 7PM-1AM shift. The station was barely a year old. However, their AM sister station KIUL was the region’s oldest station, having signed on in 1935. KIUL and KWKR were owned by Harris Enterprises. This was a big deal since they owned many larger stations as well as several newspapers. The equipment and facility was top-notch. Our control board was the Harris Micro Mac: a large stand-up audio board with multiple mix channels. They were in the process of completing a large addition to the building which we referred to as “The Ivory Tower.” We were paid generously and treated well.

Being owned by Harris did present one problem, however: FCC rules at the time prohibited one entity from owning an AM station, an FM station, and a newspaper in the same market. We also owned the Garden City Telegram. So, KWKR was legally not a Garden City radio station. It was licensed to Leoti, Kansas and required to broadcast from it’s “main studio” in Leoti for a minimum number of hours each week. Rick Nulton did the 6-9AM morning show from Leoti. From 9AM-1AM, we used the “auxiliary studio” in Garden City, co-located with KIUL and the Telegram. This in itself was not a problem. The problem was that the KWKR transmitter was located over 30 miles from Garden City. Because of the cross-ownership restrictions, KWKR could not provide a city-grade or local signal strength within the city limits. We had to use a short tower of less than 400 feet and just 61,300 watts effective radiated power instead of the 100,000 watts which the license class would have otherwise allowed. This caused reception problems, especially on poor quality radios and inside of concrete and steel buildings. You couldn’t hear us inside the mall. Doing a remote broadcast required two people: one to be on-the-air and another to stand outside the window with an FM Walkman and cue the jock when it was time to do the live break.

Despite the signal issues, KWKR was an extremely popular station. To the north and west of Garden City, coverage was solid. In this area, we were the only “rock station” on the dial which certainly didn’t hurt our listenership. KWKR was where I made the transformation from all-purpose rookie radio announcer to specialized Top 40/CHR night jock. Being just 20 years old, I was in the same age range as most of my listeners. The request line rang constantly. Teenage girls would come to the remote broadcasts to meet me. I was on the radio playing the music that I liked and I was somebody! A dream come true.

At this point, I was still using my real name on-the-air. A few months later, I was running some errands before my shift. While parked at the mall (actually a strip center named Garden City Plaza, but everyone called it “the mall”), I heard our afternoon guy say “I’m Everett Green, with you until 7 tonight. After 7, the Minnesota Maniac Drew Durigan comes in to entertain you until 1AM.” As soon as I came on, the phone began ringing. “Did you hear what Everett said about you? He called you a Minnesota Maniac!” The name stuck. I embraced my new alter-ego and did my best to live up to the name! Surprisingly, Lee Barr and General Manager Ron Isham tolerated my antics. To this day, I am still amazed they did not fire me.

Everett Green was quite a character, by the way. On one particular spring afternoon, I was enjoying the company of a young lady in Scott City. Scott City was roughly 35 miles north of our studios. I happened to look at my watch and realized it was almost 6:30! As anyone who has ever worked in radio knows, being late for your airshift is THE cardinal sin! My shift actually started at 6:53, following the 3 minute CBS Radio Radio news feed at 6:50. I ran to my car and drove “in excess of the posted speed limit” down Highway 83. As I entered the Garden City limits, Everett signs off and the news begins. I’m flying through town, hoping and praying to not be seen by a cop! At 6:53, the network news adjacency commercial ends. Then, SILENCE! DEAD AIR! DEAD @*#&%!! AIR! I’m horrified, thinking E.G. left the studio after his shift. Nobody’s in the building! I’m going to get fired for sure! Then, after what seemed like an eternity (although Everett assures me it was just a few seconds), he starts the familiar “Ninety-Nine-Ninnnnne” jingle, followed by a song. I was saved!

That summer, Everett left for another job. We hired Cindy Olson for nights and I moved to afternoons. In July, we hosted “Hot Fun in the Summertime II“, a large outdoor concert. Attendance was well over a thousand people. Pretty impressive for a sparsely populated place like Western Kansas!

While at KWKR, I also received some valuable advice. One of our part-timers had some peculiar mannerisms. Out of respect, I won’t mention his name since he is now deceased. He was very high-strung and had a hard time keeping it together on-the-air. Occasionally, his hands shook when he talked. We just thought he was weird. One night, he walked into my studio with a cassette tape. “Listen to this and tell me what you think.” It was an aircheck from the early 1970s of a hot Top 40 jock in Kansas City. This guy had it all: energy, timing, good phones, etc. Definitely of major market caliber and easy to see why he was at one of the top stations in KC. I said “This is great! Who is this?” He looked right in my eyes and said “That was me, before I (expletive deleted) myself up. When you get to the big stations, there will be drugs. Wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t do drugs. Just don’t do it. Or else, you’ll end up like me.” That stuck with me, always and forever. I never forgot what he said. I never used drugs. Thanks, buddy, for the most valuable piece of radio advice I ever received. R.I.P.

My last show on KWKR was Friday, November 15, 1985. My parents had been pushing me to go to college and get a degree in ‘something.’ “Go back to school and get a real job”, as my dad loved to say. So, I did. I went back to Minnesota and enrolled in college. I hated it. When the quarter was finished and I had completed my exams, I got in my car and drove 800 miles back to my radio station in Kansas. At 6:00 the next morning, I walked into the KWKR air studio. Much to the surprise of Lee Barr who couldn’t believe I was really standing in front of him. My timing was good since Cindy (who replaced me in afternoons) was going on vacation next week. Would I be interested in filling in for her? Of course I would!

Unfortunately, there was no full time position available for me to slide back into. My “KWKR Comeback” was just a temporary 2 week radio fix. So after completing vacation relief duty, I headed back to Minnesota. I would soon end up back at KCHK and then, back at KNAB! Two steps forward, two steps back. That’s the way this crazy business called “radio” works sometimes. I’ll tell you all about my Summer of ’86 Radio Regression in Chapter 7.

Add Your Comments to Drew’s Radio Stories!

I’ve received a lot of positive e-mail feedback on Drew’s Radio Stories. As you read these, please feel free to add comments and stories of your own if you happen to come across a familiar set of call letters. All I ask is that you keep it clean. Comments that are libelous or blatantly defamatory will be deleted. I know there are a few of you who have worked at these same radio stations, so let’s have some fun!

I am the Polka King: KCHK AM New Prague, MN 1984, 86, 88

When I left KNAB, I thought getting another radio job would be easy. I’d just move back to Minnesota, snap my fingers, make a few calls, and presto: I’d be working at one of the big Twin Cities stations. After all, I now had “experience”, right? Wrong. It was at this time that I learned a cardinal rule of radio: “It is MUCH easier to get a job if you already HAVE a job! Never quit your job until you have already secured a new job!” Because of this mistake, I spent the summer of 1984 working at Kmart. As in the same Kmart where I worked during high school a few years earlier. You do what you have to do for beer and gas money.

In August, my luck changed. I received a call from Rick Hennen. Rick was the Program Director of KCHK, a small AM daytime station in southern Minnesota. He had heard my tape and was interested. When I asked Rick about KCHK’s format, his response was “milk house radio.” Basically, KCHK was a mix of local news, sports, farm market reports, plus country and Old Time music. Old Time meaning polkas and waltzes. As it’s name suggests, the majority of New Prague’s residents were of Czech heritage. They loved the music of the “old country” and KCHK played it. A lot of it. Old Time music aired Monday-Saturday from 6-9AM and Noon-1PM. Sundays were 100% polka and waltz tunes from sunrise to sunset.

Being all of 20 years old, I thought this format was a complete joke. But I needed a job! My wallet spoke louder than my ego. So, I drove down to interview. Rick offered me the job. I started a few days later. I was now the Polka King of Southern Minnesota, pumping out a whopping 500 directional watts of the Czech Lites, the Ben Barta Band, Ernie Coopman & the Stagemen, Al Grebnick and the Boys, Marv Nissel, Wally Pikal, and of course “The Great One” Whoopie John Wilfahrt. I actually had a good time at KCHK. Apparently, both Rick Hennen and General Manager Jack Ludescher liked me because after I left, they invited me back 2 more times. The station was only 26 miles from my parents’ house, so it was a great place to fill in when I was “in between jobs.” This is a common occurrence in radio. I had three separate tours of duty at KCHK: 1984, 1986, and 1988.

One day during my first tenure of employment, I noticed an unfamiliar newspaper-type publication on Rick’s desk. I would soon discover the magic of Radio & Records. Specifically, the job listings. I had only been at KCHK for a few months and had no intention of leaving. But just for fun, I decided to make a new audition tape, update my resume, and apply for a few jobs. I sent out about 10 packages and received no fewer than 3 offers! (See earlier lesson learned re: easier to get a job when you’re working.) Texas, Wisconsin, and Kansas all wanted me. In Garden City, Kansas, they were looking for someone to “have fun on the radio at night” with their new Top 40 FM station. When the Program Director offered me $1,000 per month, I couldn’t believe my ears! Considering I was only making $750 at KCHK, this was HUGE money. They also offered full medical insurance and profit sharing: benefits that were unheard of in small market radio back in those days. Most of all, this was a chance to put away the polka records and be a ROCK JOCK! A chance to be the hot-rockin’ nighttime DJ that got all the girls on the request lines!

I hated to leave KCHK after being there less than 90 days. I was afraid Mr. Ludescher would come unglued when I gave him my notice. Instead, he got right to the point: “How much are they paying you?” When I told him, he said “A THOUSAND dollars per month? That’s great! You’d be stupid to pass that up. Take it! Get outta here! Get down there before they change their mind!” And so it was. For the second time in 15 months, I said goodbye to my family and headed out west. I would soon become “The Minnesota Maniac” on Western Kansas Rocks, 99-point-9, KWKR.

My First Radio Job: KNAB AM/FM Burlington, CO 1983-84

I graduated from Brown Institute of Broadcasting in June, 1983. To say that I was anxious to begin working in radio “for real” was an understatement. Our Placement Director at Brown was a man by the name of Mike Kronforst. Shortly before graduation, Mike advised our class on how best to land our first position. “Don’t be picky with jobs”, he said. Those who were willing to go anywhere and do any format for any salary would be most successful in finding work. This was me. At 19, I was more than ready to start my new adventure, wherever it might take me. All I had to do now was send out those audition tapes and wait. To quote Tom Petty, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

A couple months later, Mr. Kronforst called me. He said “I think I might have something for you. It’s a small station in Colorado.” I was stoked! COLORADO! Mountains, ski resorts, snow bunnies, and non-stop fun. While my classmates were having to relocate to Wolf Point, Montana; Dickinson, North Dakota; and Osage, Iowa, I hit the jackpot. I was going to COLORADO! Then, Mike said something I will never forget: “But I have to warn you, she’s a very demanding employer.” I didn’t care. Did I mention that I was going to Colorado?

KNAB_Aug_1983

The station: KNAB AM/FM in Burlington, Colorado. Bette Bailly was the General Manager. I called her immediately and was offered the job. Told her I would have to think it over. The next day, I called back and asked for another $50 per month. Gutsy, I know. But she agreed, so I packed up my ’77 Olds Cutlass Supreme and headed west. I couldn’t get to Burlington fast enough. When I arrived, my first question was “Where are the mountains?” The locals laughed and said “Mountains? There ain’t no mountains here. This is Eastern Colorado! You have to go another 100 miles west to even see the mountains. Just what I wanted to hear after driving across Kansas on I-70 and looking at flatlands for the past 425 miles. But none of this mattered. I had arrived. My radio dream was finally coming true!

Bette Bailly was one of a kind. By far, she was the toughest boss I ever worked for. She would work you hard and for long hours. She could cuss like a sailor. As a new KNAB employee, you learned these things quickly. But she was also fair. When I got chewed out, it was because I deserved it. Bette absolutely would not tolerate schlocky work. If she thought a commercial wasn’t good enough, she’d make you do it over. She was the boss and you were the employee. She had no time for attitude from kids fresh out of Brown who thought they knew everything. If you didn’t produce, she would fire you without hesitation and find a replacement who would. As it should be. Bette always said “Disc jockeys are a dime a dozen.” She was right. In later years, I developed a great deal of respect for this lady. You see, she’s been at KNAB since it began in 1967. This was a time when very few women worked in radio. She purchased KNAB AM/FM in 1991 and has owned them ever since. Her stations make money, even during hard economic times. Through the endless waves of radio corporatization and consolidation, she has managed to hang on for 47 years and counting. A very impressive track record, to say the least.

At KNAB, I did a little bit of everything. I worked various on-air shifts, produced commercial announcements, gathered news, helped with sports, burned the trash, and occasionally shoveled the snow. All for the princely sum of $750 per month. The rent on my furnished 1BR apartment was just $180 per month, so this wasn’t too bad. Truth be told, I would have done it for free, just to be on-the-air! KNAB was a great little station. The equipment was in solid shape, good signals on both AM and FM, and we even got to play “rock” records after 6PM! I worked for Bette from August 22, 1983 to May 23, 1984. Mr. Kronforst strongly suggested we stay one year at that first job. I figured 9 months was close enough. For reasons that to this day I don’t completely understand, I wanted to return to Minnesota. So, at the conclusion of my last show, I packed up my U-Haul and headed back home. Little did I know that my next radio job would be at a POLKA station! More on that in Chapter 4.

I Built My Own Radio Station: WERD & KAVR 1974-83

When I was 10 years old, I determined that I needed an AM transmitter. But there was a slight problem: a 10-year-old kid can’t just walk into a store and buy a radio transmitter. You have to build it, either from scratch or from a kit. At my school library, there were books on how to build radios and related electronic devices. My favorite was a trilogy by Alfred Morgan: “The Boys’ (First, Second, Third) Book of Radio and Electronics.” The Second Book had plans for a small tube-type AM broadcast transmitter. I checked this book out several times. In fact, I was the only one who checked out this book! After studying the plans and parts list, I decided to go a different route. Radio Shack had recently introduced an inexpensive kit known as the Science Fair AM Broadcaster. Cost was a very reasonable $7.95, including all necessary parts and assembly instructions. I had never built anything before, but I decided to give it a try. Within a few evenings, my project was complete. I will NEVER forget the excitement of connecting that final wire, scanning the dial on my Wards Airline 6 Band portable, and hearing my own voice over the radio speaker. IT WORKS! IT WORKS! I ran down the stairs to show my parents, then outside to see how far the signal would carry. No longer did I need to use a walkie-talkie with a piece of tape over the button. Now, I had a REAL radio station!

The instructions supplied with my AM Broadcaster stated a range of “about 40 feet.” This proved to be accurate. I could transmit from one side of our house to the other or to the next-door neighbors. On a good day, I could make it to the street. This coverage was achieved by using the supplied antenna: a simple piece of green insulated wire, approximately 10 feet in length. It also assumed a standard 9-volt transistor radio battery would be used as the power source. I soon began to experiment with long wires of various lengths and heights. As I became more knowledgeable about antenna construction, the range of my little station improved. One day, I was staring at the unused telephone wall jack in my bedroom. What would happen if I were to open up the jack and connect the end of my green antenna wire to one of the telephone wires? I tried it and was initially disappointed since the signal level inside the house didn’t seem to change much. But then I went out and stood underneath the overhead phone lines on the street in front of my house. WOW! A solid 5 out of 5 on the Airline’s signal strength meter! I excitedly walked up and down the street, listening to the LP record that was playing back in my bedroom. To me, this was sheer magic!

For the next 9 years, I “played radio” every day for my neighbors. I would bring a tape recorder to school to “interview” kids and teachers on the playground. When I came home that afternoon, I would play the tape back over my station, complete with live narration of the day’s activities. The kids in my neighborhood and even their parents thought this was pretty cool! I even developed an ongoing program which I called “Interview the Playground Aid.” My call letters during this time were W-E-R-D. “That’s ‘Drew’ spelled backwards”, as I would proudly proclaim on-the-air!

By 1979, I was 15 and into that rebellious Album Rock music that my parents hated so much. The format was changed to reflect this. Being in Apple Valley, Minnesota, I also changed my calls to K-A-V-R, standing for either ‘Apple Valley Radio’ or ‘Apple Valley ROCKS!’ My belated apologies to the real KAVR-AM 960 in Apple Valley, California. I never heard from them, so I’m pretty sure they were unaware that I had pilfered their call letters! I also occasionally used K-A-A-R which stood for ‘Apple Valley AM Rock.’ By the fall of ’79, KAVR had established itself as the neighborhood rocker and I was well on my way to becoming a radio DJ!

KAVR signed off for the final time in August, 1983. It was hard to say ‘goodbye’, but I had a valid reason: Now 19, I had recently graduated from Brown Institute of Broadcasting and had accepted an on-air position with a Colorado station! Time to pack up my transmitters, take down all those antennas on my parents’ house, and make the big move to my first radio job, 750 miles and 4 states away. Finally, I get my chance to work for a REAL radio station AND get paid for it! I was headed for KNAB AM/FM in Burlington, Colorado. A very fun adventure which I will tell you all about in Chapter 4.

My First Radio Station was a Walkie-Talkie! 1971-74

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, the thing I most wanted as a kid was to be on the radio. No other desire even came close. When I was 7 years old (1971), I was given a pair of inexpensive walkie-talkies for my birthday. 99.99% of the population used these to talk to another person. You’d give your friend one of the “talkies” and both walk around the neighborhood, talking to each other. Not me. I soon realized that if I took a piece of my dad’s duct tape and wrapped it tightly around the press-to-talk button, the walkie-talkie would transmit continuously. If I then placed the unit in front of my record player, I could walk around outside with the other walkie-talkie and hear the record. Instant radio station! Granted, it was a very crude method with horribly bad audio quality. But it was a functional radio transmitter. The light had gone off inside my brain. The genie was out of the bottle.

My next big discovery came about a year later. I’m not sure how I came to notice this but one day, I realized that the output of my little walkie-talkie could also be heard just above “108” on any FM radio! This was the fourth harmonic frequency, of course. The walkie-talkie transmitted on 27.125Mhz (CB Channel 14.) Which meant it would also transmit a slightly weaker signal on multiples of it’s intended frequency. In this case, 27.125 x 4 = 108.500 Mhz. Just above the upper limit of the FM broadcast band but receivable on nearly all radios. Fortunately for me, digital tuning had not yet been invented. I then discovered that if I connected our rooftop TV antenna to the walkie-talkie, it would transmit much further than with it’s telescoping antenna. Now, I had a signal that could be heard for about 1/4 mile on any FM radio! Never mind that the distorted audio sounded even worse as an AM transmission on an FM receiver. I was thrilled! I had a radio station! KDRS-FM 108 was born. Drew’s Radio Station!

For Christmas 1972, I was given an Archer Space Patrol Base Station. This offered several advantages over my walkie-talkie. First, it had more power (100mW) and cleaner audio. It also had a lever that could be placed into continuous transmit mode. No need for duct tape! The Base Station had an external power jack. This meant I could (and did) buy an AC adaptor so that I was no longer spending all my allowance money on batteries. Finally, it had an external microphone and jack. I replaced the microphone with a patch cord to the speaker jack of my record player. (By this time, I had also upgraded my record player from a simple mono unit to a stereo phonograph with 2 external speaker jacks.) Taken together, the Base Station represented a significant advancement in broadcast quality from my previous facilities!

Still, I faced a sizeable problem: this was the early 1970s. Most of my neighbors did not own an FM radio. Or if they did, they had no idea what it was used for. All the action was still on AM, at least in my little corner of the world. That fancy new Archer Base Station with it’s 4th harmonic on 108.5 was no good if people could not receive my broadcasts on their radios. I needed to get on AM. This would become my next project as you will read in Chapter 3.

In The Beginning: My Early Love for Radio 1967-71

For years, friends and family have been telling me “You’ve gotta write down all your radio stories! People would love reading about them!” I’ve always been skeptical of this. For one thing, I don’t think folks would believe me! For another, I’m far from certain that anyone cares to hear the assorted ramblings of a 50-year-old who’s last radio job ended on May 21, 1999. Still, my friends and former colleagues insist this would make for good reading material and that it’s something I need to do before I begin to develop memory loss. Fair enough. I’ll give it my best shot. The stories you are about to hear are true. In some cases, the names have been changed to protect the ignorant and the clueless. In other cases, I have deliberately “named names” so those responsible for my success in the industry can receive the recognition which they rightly deserve.

My love affair with radio began on my third birthday: Friday, May 26, 1967. My parents threw a big party and I received the usual assortment of gifts: Tonka trucks, Tinkertoys, even a tricycle. But it was the little box that interested me the most. Since it was the smallest gift, it was the one I opened last. The box contained a Lloyds AM transistor radio. Dad bought it over Mom’s objections. “Don’t give him that”, she said. “He’s too young. He’ll break it. He won’t know what to do with it.” To this day, my mother still tells me the story of my reaction: “You pushed all your other presents away. The only thing you cared about was that radio. You took it everywhere. You tried to sleep with it at night. If we took it away, you cried hysterically until we gave it back. We would have to wait until you fell asleep and then turn it off to keep the battery from going dead.” Thus began my lifelong obsession with the airwaves.

On each birthday and Christmas that followed, my parents would ask me what I wanted for a gift. The answer was always the same: another radio! Not just any new radio, but one of a specific brand, model, and capability. Clock radios, bike radios, radios that would operate on either AC or batteries. Later, multi-band radios which could receive police calls, airplane pilots, and ham radio operators were added to the mix. Also walkie-talkies. Which of course are simply two-way radios. Radio became my life. I would spend nearly all of my free time tuning the dial, listening to the various stations, and making mental notes about what the DJs would say about the records they played. I was hooked!

As much as I loved listening to radio, I really wanted to be on the other side of the microphone. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to be a disc jockey! In 1971, I took my first steps towards making this a reality. More on this coming soon in Chapter 2.