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Fifty years behind the microphone, Ed DeLaHunt continues to engage audiences. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Celebrating 50 years of radio

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The "voice of the nation's vacationland" debuted 50 years ago Dec. 2, chief engineer Ed DeLaHunt behind the move to bring a radio station to the Park Rapids area.

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The station came to life halfway into a Friday evening basketball game between Park Rapids and Sebeka, KPRM AM sportscaster Andy Lia's voice announcing 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.

"Should we do it?" was met with a nod.

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."

'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, a salesman had informed him of a station in northwest Iowa that needed to be built.

"What's the pay?" Ed asked. The wage sent the family to Sheldon, Iowa where he was responsible for building the tower and getting the station operational.

After completion and licensure, ad salesman was added to his duties. On the air in the morning, he headed out in the afternoon to meet clientele, his first day reporting sales of $40,000.

The station owner was "flabbergasted," he recalled.

Meanwhile, in 1961 the Russians were causing international consternation with the building of the Berlin Wall. Ed, an Air Force pilot who would serve 13 years in active and reserve duty, was sent to the Offutt Air Force in Nebraska. He faced the possibility of deployment if the matter was not resolved.

During the 45-day interim while on military duty, he'd been replaced at the station in Iowa. But the owner of KLIZ in Brainerd, "heard I was on the loose," so Carol and their now two children headed north.

Telegram!

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. The station was located behind what's now Buster's, just west off the third block of Main. 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 (amplitude modulation) 1240 began the next day at 6 a.m. Plans called for "a sensible policy on music" and "play-by-play sports."

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 time would soon propel the figure. "Nine months later, we received the FCC okay to turn the power up to 250 watts." Fourteen months later, it was at 1,000 watts.

But the station was having "trouble covering the area," so in the early 1970s, they applied for 1270 AM, with 5,000 watts daytime. "We tried nighttime, but the airport commission shut us down," Ed recalled.

They headed to the FCC where they were informed they'd soon have a break down on clear channel stations to create more opportunity.

"870 looks good," the FCC rep said of the AM station. In the late '70s, the DeLaHunts applied for 870 and service at night.

"Clear Channel" 870's wattage would increase to 10,000 in the early '80s, 15,000 in the mid '80s, 25,000 in the early '90s and, four months ago, 40,000 watts.

An application for 50,000 watts is now pending.

Most powerful in state

AM stations, the family agrees, are under-rated. "They are content driven," Butch DeLaHunt said, known for the talk shows, news information and sports. "You won't find Rush (Limbaugh) on FM."

In 1966, when the tower and building on Highway 34 came into existence, the DeLaHunts applied for an FM (frequency modulation) 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 the "infamous" Coffeetime - the irascible but irrefutably savvy host drawing cheers and jeers.

"When Radio Was" and "Curiosity Time" entertain a wide audience on the station with coverage that extends north of Bemidji, east to Remer, south to Bertha and west to Detroit Lakes.

And in the ensuing decades, seven additional stations - totaling five AM and four AM - would enter the airwaves 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 in 1996. A Walker site broadcasts oldies on AM and FM and Staples-Wadena has AM and FM stations.

Meanwhile, Ed was responsible for getting more than 100 stations up and running in the five-state area, building the towers and providing equipment.

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.

Ed's roles extended from beyond the stations, serving on the national board of the Jaycees and named one of 10 Outstanding Jaycees in Minnesota.

He was instrumental in organizing the snowmobile race from International Falls to Park Rapids in the early 1970s.

Ed and Carol DeLaHunt were inducted into the Pavek Museum's Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2006.

'Still on Coffeetime'

In April, Ed was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis a neuromuscular, auto-immune disorder that affects muscles and the nerves that control them.

He recalls beginning to say the word "Brainerd" on air during the morning forecast when speech eluded him.

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.

His career, that began as a ham radio operator at 13 and an MC for Prom Ballroom, has introduced him to many notables through the years, many becoming friends.

The original Pied Pipers, Four Lads, Four Freshmen, Porter Wagoner, Ray Price and others have been on a first-name basis with the voice behind the microphone.

He's interviewed Brenda Lee and met Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gale. But singer Jo Stafford holds top billing in his line-up.

In 1959, he was planning to be one of the announcers at a Buddy Holly concert in Fargo, a night after he was to have performed in Clear Lake, Iowa.

"Bobby Vee did the program," Ed recalled after the plane crash that claimed Holly's life.

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. This may be unique in the country. Definitely in Minnesota," Butch said.

Tune in Monday, Dec. 3 for some on-air celebrating of the five decades of broadcast.

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