Community Opinion

Upside Down Under

Border blasters impact North Dakota…..

In the 1960s, AM radio was king of the airwaves, and if you listened to the AM stations at night, you would know about X-Rock 80.

By Marvin Baker

It was a radio station in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico that broadcast at 800 kilohertz on your dial.

The most interesting thing about X-Rock 80 is that for all intents and purposes it was a border blaster, a term that meant it was a radio station in one country, Mexico, targeting another, the United States, and not abiding by the rules of the American FCC.

With El Paso, Texas immediately across the Rio Grande, the tower was next to the U.S. border. At night, it would come in loud and clear as far north as North Dakota, hence the border blaster moniker.

At that time, X-Rock 80 was pushing out 150,000 watts of nighttime power, so if you were standing under that transmitter, you could have probably fried an egg.

A number of these AM radio stations popped up in Mexico and started competing against each other, but there are others that have had a direct impact on North Dakota.

In September 2012, Golden West Radio put CKSE on the air at 106.1 FM in Estevan, Saskatchewan. It was branded “Rock 106”, and part of its mission statement is to target Divide, Burke and parts of Ward County in North Dakota.

That’s uncharacteristic of a Canadian radio station. Most of them near the border use a directional signal to push their broadcasts northward.

Sister station CHSN on 102.3 FM, branded “Today’s Best Music,” has blanketed extreme northwestern North Dakota since 2001 but doesn’t actually express that on its brochures or website.

Winnipeg is 60 miles north of the North Dakota border, and it has an FM radio station originally known as CKY-FM. It was broadcasting on 92.1 FM, and in 1978 changed its call letters to CITI.

The station went on the air in 1962, and up until 2003, it was the most powerful radio station in North America, transmitting 360,000 FM watts from a 790-foot tower that was located 40 miles north of Pembina.

As a result, all of northeastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota had daily access to CITI-FM. In 2003, Rogers Media was granted a decrease in power, the station dropped to 140,000 watts and CITI-FM all but disappeared from North Dakota’s airwaves.

It seems there has been a unique relationship between Winnipeg and northeastern North Dakota that not only involved FM radio but also television.

Considered in Canada as a famous border blaster from 1960 to 1975, KCND-TV in Pembina was on the air for the sole purpose of targeting the ABC network to the city of Winnipeg in the name of advertising revenue.

It was a network TV station in a town of 500 people broadcasting to a city of 700,000 in another country.

Sometime during that tenure, the Canadian government restricted ad revenue to American border stations. As a result, KCND was sold to the Asper family of Winnipeg, the station was moved to Winnipeg, transposed its call letters to CKND and has been broadcasting on channel 9 ever since.

But a broadcast tower remained in Pembina so when the FOX network came to North Dakota in 1983, the intent of the station’s leadership was to create a Red River Valley network.

That meant KNRR-TV, channel 12, went on the air in Pembina, and again, its purpose was to target southern Manitoba including the city of Winnipeg. So since 1960, with the exception of eight years, North Dakota has had a border blaster TV station located in Pembina drawing advertising revenue from the sixth largest city in Canada.

On the other border is KOLY-AM and FM in Mobridge, S.D. Because Mobridge is so close to the state line, it covers a wide swath of south central North Dakota.

Sidney, Mont., has KGCX at 93.1 FM that broadcasts to an audience in west-central North Dakota including Williston, Dickinson, Watford City and New Town. Branded “Eagle 93,” it is the only classic rock station between Sidney and Billings.

Lisbon, Hettinger, Cavalier and Langdon all broadcast beyond the North Dakota boundary.

KFYR-AM in Bismarck claims to be heard in five states and two provinces. It pushes 5,000-watts of clear signal on 550-AM.

CJOB, 680-AM in Winnipeg, can be heard in three-fourths of North Dakota, with its 50,000 watts of KHz power. The talk show format can be heard during the day as far south as Linton and Ellendale and as far west as Beulah.