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Upside Down Under

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

 

Recalling the AM giants...

Posted 1/15/14 (Wed)

Listening to “Vinyl Tap” on CBC Radio 2 Sunday night reminded me of a fledgling hobby I had growing up.

Host Randy Bachman of “Guess Who” and “Bachman-Turner-Overdrive” fame, was talking about growing up in Winnipeg and having access to nighttime AM radio stations in the 1960s called “blaster” stations.

My oldest brother got me started on two of those radio stations; KAAY in Little Rock, Ark., and KOMA in Oklahoma City.

Both were 50,000-watt AM giants and would probably melt the plastic off your cell phone if you stood under the transmitter today.

But that power brought those stations to North Dakota airwaves and we listened to them like we listen to FM these days.

Sometime later I learned about KSTP 1500 in Minneapolis and CJOB 680 in Winnipeg, but those stations were more about North Stars and Jets hockey.

That was just the beginning. I was lucky because my parents had a 1945 Sparton radio that had the AM band and two shortwave bands. It was pure fascination tuning through the dial and listening to broadcasts from places we never knew existed until then. When I was a little kid, I remember my dad listening to the Friday night fights on WJR in Detroit.

I think the first shortwave broadcast I remember listening to was Radio Canada International. I often tuned into this international service of CBC and while my parents were watching the TV news, I was listening to a program called “As It Happens.”

One evening my brother and I were tuning through the shortwave dial and we picked up a station called WRNO in New Orleans. It was billed as “Worldwide Rock.” It turns out that during that particular broadcast, in the mid ‘70s, someone else from North Dakota was listening because the announcer said he wanted to say hi to everyone in Parshall, North Dakota. That was exciting.

Still another memorable AM station was called X-Rock 80 in Juarez, Mexico. It was located at 800 on the AM dial and because it was in Mexico it wasn’t regulated by the Federal Communications Commission so the transmitting power was outrageous; 150,000 watts, three times the legal limit in the United States and more powerful than most FM stations. It’s no wonder Randy Bachman could listen to it in Winnipeg.

In recent years, I was surfing the Internet and found that X-Rock 80 was an Internet-only radio station in Williston. That station is off the Internet now, but X-Rock 80 in Juarez remains on the air with lower power but switched its format to Spanish-only broadcasts.

I’ve gone away from the shortwave phenomenon but still listen to some nighttime AM stations when I can. Nighttime AM is interesting, especially three stations located at points south.

KSL broadcasts on 1160 AM in Salt Lake City. That’s always been a pretty decent “big city” radio station. That’s where I first heard the news that Osama bin Laden was neutralized. Ilene and I were coming home from a weekend in Rapid City and were listening to KSL when the news came over the air.

KOA broadcasts on 850 AM in Denver, which is mostly talk radio but has a lot of information about the Colorado Rockies and Denver Broncos.

There’s also KMOX, 1120 AM in St. Louis. You can’t imagine how many St. Louis Blues and Cardinals games I’ve listened to over the years. Just tune the dial to 1120 and presto. I caught two of last year’s World Series games on KMOX.

There’s one AM station, however, that broadcasts 50,000 watts night and day and is probably a favorite although it isn’t classified as a “blaster” station.

Today it’s called CBC Radio 1 and back then it was just CBC Radio. It broadcasts on 990 AM in Winnipeg. It’s advantage over Radio Canada International is that it’s always available in most of North Dakota.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it had two programs; “The Great Canadian Gold Rush,” and “Major Progression.” Those shows proved to be some high quality programming. And yes, I listened to musician Randy Bachman and his group “The Guess Who” all those years ago on CBC radio like I listen to his show “Vinyl Tap” today on CBC Radio 2.

After my parents were gone, the family agreed I’d get the Sparton radio, I guess because of this obsession that I inherited from my dad that more recently includes FM radio and over-the-air TV.