Fifty years ago, Hastings radio station KDWA – AM 1460 came on the air with a bang. Literally.
Just four days after the station began in October 1963, it suddenly went off the air. To those out in south Hastings at the time, the reason was apparent. A number of loud sounds emitted from the small building at the foot of the station’s tower.
It turns out that a number of large tubes had exploded in the building. Frantically, the owners of the brand new station placed a call to the manufacturer to get some new tubes on order.
A week later, when they still hadn’t arrived, the owners called the manufacturer back.
“We kept waiting for these tubes,” said Dave Baudoin. “They had sent all the tubes as quickly as they could to Hastings, Neb.
“We got off to a very rocky start,” Baudoin said with a laugh.
The station first went on the air at 7 a.m. on Oct. 24, 1963.
The voice of Paul Castner was the first one residents heard on the station. Then Baudoin came on the air to deliver the station’s first newscast at 7:30 a.m.
Once the station got those tubes replaced and business got running again, it wasn’t long before a significant moment in the country’s history occurred.
Baudoin was living near the station and at about 12:20 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963, he went home for lunch. As he walked into his place, the phone was ringing. It was Castner on the other line.
“Get back here right away,” Castner said. “The president has been shot.”
“I remember going back right away and trying to find out local reaction to it,” Baudoin said.
At the time, Baudoin was one of six people working at the station.
“I was just a young kid,” he said. “It was very exciting for me to be there starting a brand new thing. I enjoyed it an awful lot.”
Baudoin eventually sold the station and later, on Oct. 1, 1991, Dan Massman purchased the station. He still owns it with his wife Barb.
Massman said he was bitten by the radio bug after going on a tour of the station when he was in Cub Scouts here in Hastings.
“I thought I was going to get into radio after that,” he said. “Little did I know I’d exceed my goals and buy the place.”
At first, the station was allowed to be on the air only from sunrise to sunset. That slowly changed over the years, thanks to the FCC.
The station was allowed to come on at 6 a.m. so when there school closings, they could get the word out. That was followed by a ruling that allowed the station to run into the nighttime hours, which made all the difference in the world. That allowed KDWA to broadcast live sporting events.
“Without that, there’s just no way you could survive,” Massman said.
Local content like those sporting events has been the bread and butter of the station since it started.
“As long as we’re live on the football game and cover the local news, we’ll be around,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s AM or FM. If you have something people want to hear, you’re going to be around.
“Your small market stations, we’re surviving. We’re healthy. Radio will be around as long as we serve our community.”
When Baudoin started, he had the same philosophy.
“We determined way before Day 1 that we had to have a lot of local choices,” he said. “Being local was the only way we could take on WCCO. We did everything we could to try to keep it local.”
Most radio stations across the country are owned by a few big companies, but KDWA is bucking that trend.
“We’re one of the few hometown family-owned radio stations left,” Massman said. “I think that helps keep us going.”
Massman said the career path is one he’s thankful he took.
“I’ve been blessed to work at my hobby for the past 23 years,” he said. “Have I really worked a day in the last 23 years? Some people would say ‘No.’
“It’s been great. It’s been the greatest job in the world.”
Baudoin remembers all kinds of fun stories from the early days of KDWA.
He remembers sitting in that little building below the tower during lightning storms so that he could get the station back on right away if the tower was struck by lightning.
The building was located in a field and critters would eventually find their way in as they sought somewhere warm to go.
Well, one day the station was getting knocked off the air periodically, and off Baudoin went to the tower. It turns out a garter snake had worked his way into the building and got into the transmitter.
Eventually, as Baudoin put it, the snake got to “where he shouldn’t have,” and he was electrocuted. This resulted in the snake somehow being hung–up between the equipment and dangling in the air. As he swung from one side to the next, he’d eventually make contact with certain equipment that would cause a short circuit and knock the station off the air.
“We’d be on the air until his little body swung over there again,” Baudoin said.
The discovery was made by Baudoin and engineer John Trog.
“I said, ‘John! Reach in there and get him out of the way.”
“Why should I do that?” Trog asked.
Baudoin remembers spinning records, many of which lasted just two minutes to two minutes and 30 seconds. That meant he was constantly busy and there was little time for breaks. The only way to get a break in was to find a six- or seven-minute song and let it run its course, he said.
“It was hands-on, every minute of the day,” he said. “It’s amazing how everything was so horse and buggy back in 1963. It was a wild, wild time. Just crazy. It was a wonderful run. It was a high point of my life to be part of the Hastings area that way. I loved it, and I miss it.”