Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

Real People. Real Jobs. Real Adventures.

Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


'I've got the AM radio blues'...

Posted 6/20/17 (Tue)

Nobody talks about AM radio anymore. Sometimes you have to wonder why AM stations are still on the air? Who is listening?

They have their purpose. In this part of the world, we can listen to Minnesota Twins or Toronto Blue Jays baseball, weather reports are aired often and if you like talk radio, you’ll like AM.

But not so many years ago, AM had a much larger footprint in the broadcasting world. Especially during the 1960s, when FM was just getting its foot in the door, the AM stations ruled.

In fact, many of us will remember how nighttime radio was different than daytime radio. At night we could (still can) pick up radio stations from all over the place and a lot of them were worthy of our listening.

The first one that comes to mind is XEROK, 800-AM in Juarez, Mexico. It was known as a “border blaster” and I listened to it often here in North Dakota.

This radio station, which now broadcasts a Christian format, was incredibly powerful. It was broadcasting on 150,000 watts, three times the maximum power allowed U.S. AM stations. So it’s no wonder we could pick it up in North Dakota, 1,300 miles apart.

KAAY, 1090-AM in Little Rock, Ark., is another nighttime gem that my brothers and I listened to frequently.

Late at night it had a segment called “Beaker Street” that supposedly broke all the rules of radio etiquette with its high energy rock ‘n’ roll and raspy disc jockeys. There were nights I would listen sometimes until 2 a.m., until I was too tired to stay awake.

WLS, 890-AM in Chicago was just another station that blasted across North Dakota at night.

In the 1960s and early ‘70s, WLS was known for introducing the latest music in the United States and is credited with being one of the first in the United States to play the Beatles.

WLS has always maintained its 50,000 watts of AM power, even today, while it broadcasts a C-Quam AM stereo signal.

We also tuned into KOMA, 1520-AM in Oklahoma City. That may have been one of our least favorite radio stations at the time, but you could count on it being on the dial every night. So, when some of the other stations weren’t available, KOMA was.

There are numerous other stations that I remember listening to in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, some of them from places you wouldn’t expect.

Do you remember some of these?:

• WHAS 840-AM, Louisville

• WJR, 760-AM, Detroit

• WLW, 700-AM, Cincinnati

• KOA, 850-AM, Denver

• KSL, 1160-AM, Salt Lake City

• KMOX, 1120-AM, St. Louis

• WCCO, 830-AM, Minneapolis

• CKRC, 630-AM, Winnipeg

• CKCK, 620-AM, Regina

• KFI, 640-AM, Los Angeles

• KSTP, 1500-AM, Minneapolis

• KCMO, 710-AM, Kansas City

CKRC went off the air and later emerged as an FM station in Weyburn, Saskatchewan and CKCK became CKRM, the voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. All the other stations can still be heard across North Dakota at night.

• WRNO was a shortwave radio station in New Orleans that was frequently available to us at night as well. It was branded as “Worldwide Rock.” It’s still on the air today, but like X-Rock 80, is broadcasting a Christian format.

Another shortwave radio station we listened to often was Radio Canada International. That signal was coming out of Montreal and was available almost every night.  I remember my dad listening to it when I was a little kid and my brother and I kept listening as long as our shortwave radio worked.

By the early 1970s, FM was beginning to find its place and a few radio stations began popping up here and there. FM was already popular in California and Florida, but didn’t have much exposure at all in North Dakota.

But since radios were already equipped with FM dials, it was worth investigating to see what would be available.

There were two FM stations in Bismarck and one in Mobridge, S.D., that we could pick up. We often listened to KOLY, 99.5-FM in Mobridge if for no other reason than it played more music and fewer commercials.

In 1973, I discovered CKY-FM, a Winnipeg station that, similar to  X-Rock 80, was broadcasting on 360,000 watts, while U.S. stations were restricted to 100,000 watts.

Now CITI-FM, 92.1, it became the holy grail of FM radio because of its sheer power and remains a classic rock gem today.