December 1: Lawrence Welk’s First Radio Appearance
Judson Siercks, known as Jud, was born on this date in 1908, and if visitors to the Bottineau County Museum make a journey to the back of the building, they will discover an interesting device he built.
In 1926, 16-year-old Jud was living in Landa, North Dakota, where his parents owned the Landa Hotel. It was a time when radios were new and exciting, inspiring amateur radio builders. In Jud’s case, that interest went beyond building a receiver, he built a transmitter.
Jud used a number of items from the hotel. A round Quaker Oats box contained the components. An apple crate provided a wooden base. A visiting piano tuner who had come to tune the family piano had some knowledge about transmitters, and he assisted by drawing up a circuit plan.
Jud’s transmitter was soon ready, with the call name J-U-D-S, Juds. The signal reached as far east as Rugby, about 50 miles away. And with Landa just 7 miles from the Canadian border, JUDS was an international station. In short order young Jud was receiving fan mail from the U.S. and Canada.
In March, a unique opportunity occurred when four people arrived by train to perform at the Landa Hotel. The group was the “The Peerless Entertainers,” a polka band led by George Kelly. The band included his wife, daughter, and an accordion player – a young fellow named Lawrence Welk, whose music career was just getting started.
Welk and Jud quickly became friends, and as “The Peerless Entertainers” prepared to perform, Jud had an idea – a live radio show featuring the band.
However, Jud’s transmitter stopped working. He made a repair, but didn’t have a radio receiver to confirm the fix. Knowing the local elevator had a radio, he left the transmitter turned on with the microphone live. Racing to the elevator, he tuned in his station. Sure enough, he could hear voices of people in the hotel.
That afternoon, Kelly’s band, with Lawrence Welk on the accordion, did a two-hour live show. Welk later told Jud it was his first radio performance.
Jud and Welk would only meet one more time, when Jud and his wife, Bernyce, danced on the Lawrence Welk Show in California on their 40th wedding anniversary. Welk looked on with a smile, no doubt recalling his very first radio performance on radio station J-U-D-S.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Wagar
- The Bottineau Courant
- Letter from Jud Siercks about his time with Lawrence Welk and his first performance on radio in Landa.