By Jean Ruzicka
PARK RAPIDS – The “voice of the nation’s vacationland” debuted 50 years ago today, chief engineer Ed DeLaHunt behind the move to bring a radio station to the Park Rapids area.
The station came to life Dec. 2, 1962, halfway into a Friday evening basketball game between Park Rapids and Sebeka, as KPRM AM sportscaster Andy Lia’s voice announced Park Rapids’ 57-48 win in the season opener.
The long-anticipated telegram from the Federal Communication Commission had arrived at 7:30 p.m. that evening.
Community members embraced the addition of the 100-watt station, broadcast on 1240 kilocycles.
Area newspapers – three at the time – provided weekly updates on progress for what was considered cause for celebration. The broadcasting station was considered a welcome amenity for a town “well-known for natural attractions.”
DeLaHunt would go on to add KDKK-FM, and operate a total of five FM and four AM stations under the DeLaHunt Broadcasting Group/ KK Radio Network.
Bemidji is home to two, KKWB with WBKK AM added in August. Three are now located in Park Rapids, including Hot Country 92.5, added in 1996. A Walker site broadcasts oldies on AM and FM and Staples-Wadena has AM and FM stations.
DeLaHunt was responsible for getting more than 100 stations up and running in a five-state area, building the towers and providing equipment, with a labor dispute helping provide the push to get started.
‘Try our own?’
Ed DeLaHunt and wife Carol were living in the Twin Cities in 1959 when a union dispute sent the family packing. “We were locked out,” Ed said of his role as chief engineer at the station. “We had our first child and no job.”
He learned a Thief River Falls station was looking for an engineer and announcer and the family headed north, Ed accepting a “major wage reduction.”
Twenty-two dead mice in the transmitter greeted his arrival, but he “got things going,” the incident stirring the DeLaHunt entrepreneurial spirit.
“Maybe we should try our own,” the couple decided. The DeLaHunts purchased a $25 used typewriter and drafted an FCC license application, Park Rapids to be the site.
Ed, who’d spent summers on the Brainerd Whitefish chain of lakes, determined “pristine” Park Rapids to be “our kind of town.”
But the first application was rejected. He went to the local TV shop where he repaired a few to earn extra cash to re-file. The second was accepted.
Meanwhile, he learned a station in northwest Iowa that needed to be built.
That sent the family to Sheldon, Iowa, where he was responsible for building the tower and getting the station operational.
After completion, ad salesman was added to his duties. On the air in the morning, he headed out in the afternoon to meet clientele.
DeLaHunt also was an Air Force pilot who would serve 13 years in active and reserve duty. In 1961, during a 45-day interim while on military duty, he’d been replaced at the station in Iowa. But the owner of KLIZ in Brainerd, Minn. “heard I was on the loose,” so Carol and their now two children headed north.
In September 1962, the DeLaHunts received FCC approval for the Park Rapids station. Ed continued his role at KLIZ, flying up in a borrowed plane to work afternoons in Park Rapids.
A 153-foot tower was built a mile west of Park Rapids.
By mid-November, the station was ready, the telegram from the FCC the final component.
“Ralph Nordquist, the owner of the hardware store walked around the corner and handed me the telegram,” Ed recalls of the evening a half-century ago. “We were on the air.”
Regular broadcasts of KPRM AM 1240 began the next day at 6 a.m.
At 100 watts, “the sheriff had 150 more on his two-way radio,” Ed recalled. The wattage was the lowest power that could put a station on the air, he said, but, like the business, would grow over the years.
Most powerful in state
In 1966, when a new tower and building on Minnesota Highway 34 came into existence, the DeLaHunts applied for an FM permit, which was granted in 1967.
KDKK – Music for Adults – would come to be the “most powerful FM station in the state at 100,000 watts.”
“This is unbelievable for the size of the community,” Ed said, noting his good friend Stan Hubbard came on at 100,000 watts two months later in the Twin Cities.
The FM station broadcasting “the best music ever made” is also home to “Coffeetime,” “When Radio Was,” and “Curiosity Time.”
Family members have played key roles in the business evolution, including wife Carol – “if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here.” Her father, Eugene Granse, was a partner when the station debuted.
Sons David, Richard, Butch and his wife Tammy and daughters Bernie Schumacher, Gene Kanten and Cindy Jacobson – working as a consulting engineer in Washington, D.C. – have played key roles in the stations’ evolution.
And grandkids are now stepping up to the mic.
‘Still on Coffeetime’
In April, Ed was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular, autoimmune disorder that affects muscles and the nerves that control them.
It’s manageable, but not curable, doctors told him.
“But I’m still on ‘Coffeetime,’ give or take a morning,” he said of the venue for espousing his political views over the last 50 years.
At “75 and still alive” Ed has no intentions of turning off the microphone any time soon.
“What’s most unique,” Butch points out of his father’s legacy, “is every station, from bricks and mortar to the tower, we built and operate.
“Nine stations built, owned and operated by a single family – and never been sold,” Butch said. “This may be unique in the country – definitely in Minnesota.”
By Jean Ruzicka