KNDK celebrates 50 years on the regions airwaves

KNDK has been a favorite radio station of the Langdon area for 50 years now with its first broadcast taking place on June 27, 1967. The station signed on at 4:15 p.m. with Ken Torkelson as the first voice heard.

Posted 07/07/2017

By Melissa Anderson

“KNDK was the dream of Grand Forks radio engineer Arnie Pietrich,” Bob Simmons of Simmons Multimedia said.

In the early years of the station, it was limited to signing on at local sunrise and signing off at local sunset. Simmons explained that this was to protect a distant Texas station that shared the same frequency.

“KRLD at Dallas had grandfathered status, and KNDK had to sign off in the evening to prevent interference,” Simmons said.

At the outset of the station in Langdon, it held only one license. Over the years, there have been a number of attempts to establish other stations with paperwork being filed with the FCC. The goal of those who filed the paperwork always being the hope of targeting the lucrative Southern Manitoba market.

“In the time we have owned KNDK, there have been at least seven proposed facilities. Of the six, three were actually built which we would later absorb into our operation. A fourth station was never built but we purchased the license and moved it to Grafton where we have other stations,” Simmons explained.

Simmons Multimedia, owned by Bob and Diane Simmons, managed and eventually purchased the KNDK station in Langdon in 1990s. Simmons Multimedia operates six full power radio stations, two AM and four FM. The company has plans to expand their broadcasting family over the next two years, adding two additional FM stations. KNDK AM & FM, KAOC FM, or Maverick 105, and KYTZ FM, also known as Big 106, all  share the studio and office space in the Langdon hub.

“We also have a satellite studio and office complex in Morden, Manitoba, Canada, and we operate KXPO AM and KAUJ FM in Grafton,” Diane Simmons added.

As locally owned radio stations across the nation disappear, Diane Simmons explained that the reason why Simmons Multimedia has found success in the region is due to the Langdon area still being a very small, local market and, as such, is not appealing to the large consolidators. Larger radio companies operate on a large scale business model, which doesn’t work well in communities this size.

“Radio is a people business first, and those one-on-one relationships are critical with both listeners and advertisers. If you have a question or comment and call our Langdon hub, you’ll be able to talk to a real person. That’s the difference.”

Along with the landscape of ownership, the technology of radio broadcasting has also changed significantly since KNDK first graced the airwaves in the summer of 1967 as have the rules instituted by the FCC in regards to radio. Thanks to computer automation and more reliable transmission methods, Simmons Multimedia is able to operate six, 24 hour-a-day radio stations with just one staff. When the KNDK station first began, this would not have been possible due the high costs.

In the 1990s, Bob Simmons explained that the FCC relaxed the rules impacting daytime-only radio stations if they could prove that staying on the air would not interfere with those grandfathered stations. To accomplish this, KNDK hired a consulting engineering firm that prepared paperwork showing KNDK could operate at a reduced power from local sunset to sunrise and not cause harmful interference with the station in Dallas. For KNDK, this opened new avenues of being able to provide local  coverage to their listeners. No longer limited to sunrise to sunset broadcasting, KNDK began covering those important high school football and basketball games, a very important ingredient to their success.

“Technology has been a game changer,” Diane Simmons said.

From the beginning KNDK was a country music station. Over the years the cost of playing music (royalties) has skyrocketed.  Today most music programming is found on FM with AM stations relying more on spoken word or talk formats. KNDK focuses on talk programming that they believe is of interest to local listeners.

“We continue to offer a local morning show and a number of regional talk programs that are targeted specifically to North Dakotans. Two such programs originate from Fargo: Joel Heitkamps News & Views and Farm Talk with Mick Kjar,” Simmons said.

The station also focuses on local news, farm reports, sports, weather and community announcements. Longtime staff announcer Jake Kulland can be heard on the daily “Community Billboard” program, where he interviews locals about the comings and goings on in Langdon and the surrounding area.

Over the past 50 years that KNDK has been on the air, there have been several memorable broadcasts, ranging from information to entertainment that has made KNDK Langdon’s go-to radio station. Bob and Diane Simmons had several broadcasting events that were favorites, including one broadcast that helped send soldiers headed to the Gulf War in the early 90s with  videotaped messages from family members. The recordings were driven to Fort McCoy, Wisc. where the local National Guard unit was stationed awaiting deployment.

The winter of 1997 was one for the record books, and the blizzard that many in the area probably remember was another event that made KNDK a primary source of information.

“Who could forget that weekend? Listeners were glued to KNDK as we were one of only a handful of stations left on the air during the height of the storm.  To this day folks tell us where they were listening and how important KNDK was to them and their family during the great blizzard of 1997,” Simmons recalled.

Another memorable broadcast started out with humor but soon turned somber. On the morning of September 11, 2001. Bob Simmons was on the air playing segments of a new CD that was being sold in stores,  Funny Phone Calls To 911 Operators. Later that same morning, the lives of every American and the world was changed when the planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York City. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks, including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.

The most epic broadcast for KNDK was when a couple was married live on-air. Larry Langdon and his fiancée, Patty, of upstate New York were travelling across the country visiting towns named Langdon.

“We found out about it, and they agreed to be married on KNDK,” Simmons recalled.

With so many memories connected to the station, the Simmons family is honored to be stewards of KNDK and to have shared in its legacy. In the Langdon area, just about everyone you meet has a connection to KNDK, maybe a family member or they, themselves, worked at the station.

“Records pre-1990 are scarce, but over the past 27 years we count well over 100 people having worked in some capacity full- or part-time at KNDK,” Simmons shared.

“People are the driving force. People like our listeners and advertisers. Without them there would be no KNDK. We cannot forget all the people, past and present, who have worked at the radio station whether on-air or behind the scenes.”

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the KNDK radio station, Simmons Multimedia will be sponsoring the inflatable games during Music Fest. The games will be set up on the morning of Saturday, July 15.