Public Radio in North Dakota
Public Radio stations have been providing their distinctive non-commercial programming in North Dakota for more than eighty years. Seven years ago today most of those stations were united for the first time in the statewide network we know as Prairie Public.
The story of public radio in North Dakota is too complicated to recount outside of a scholarly thesis. There have been so many changes in location, call letters, frequencies, wattage and so forth—details that only a radio engineer can love. Following is a rough chronological summary of how Prairie Public evolved over eight decades…with emphasis on “rough” and “summary.”
Engineering departments at the universities in both Grand Forks and Fargo were experimenting with radio in the early 1920’s. The North Dakota Agricultural College—now NDSU—appears to have licensed a station about a year before UND, in October of 1922. However, that license was allowed to expire in 1926, and NDAC didn’t really get back into broadcasting until the fifties. In the meantime, they did produce some programming, including informational “Farm Flashes,” for broadcast on commercial station WDAY. Today’s KDSU 91.9 fm signed on forty years ago, in 1966.
UND’s operation of a station has been nearly continuous since KFJM went on the air in October of 1923. Early programming emphasis was on music, with live broadcasts of performances by UND musicians. The University Band closed the very first broadcast with a foxtrot. In 1925, live performances of dinner hour orchestras at the downtown Frederick and Dacotah Hotels were carried over phone lines to the KFJM studio for broadcast across the city.
The Grand Forks station weathered a series of difficulties in the 1940’s, including some legal problems with the FCC involving commercial partnerships; minor interruptions in the mid '40s due to the war; and a total loss of the studio and equipment in a fire in 1949. 89.3 fm, which is now KUND, signed on thirty years ago, in 1976.
In 1981, due to popular demand in the West, Prairie Public Television expanded its service into radio with a new 100,000 watt transmitter at Bismarck—KCND 90.5 fm. The Prairie Public Radio network began to form with the addition of a low power translator at Dickinson in 1982, 100,000 watt KMPR at Minot in 1983, KPPR in Williston in 1985, transmitter KDPR in Dickinson in 1987, and transmitter KPRJ in Jamestown in 1993.
Prairie Public’s goal of reaching all North Dakotans edged closer to reality with the addition of low power translators at Lakota, Crary, Devils Lake, Harvey, Crosby, Tioga, Beach, Bowman, Hettinger, Plentywood, Montana, and Thief River Falls, Minnesota.
Although some listeners still haven’t totally embraced the name change, Prairie Public Radio ceased to exist seven years ago today, when the community licensed central and western network entered into a partnership with University licensed KUND and KDSU to form the 7-station/11-translator network we have today—bringing public radio’s unparalleled news, information, and music programming to listeners mainly in North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, but also in Montana, South Dakota, and Manitoba...and on the Web. KFJM’s unique programming, broadcasting from the campus of the University of North Dakota, is streaming live on the World Wide Web. You’ll find it at ndpr.org. Thus our oldest public radio station is the first to be available worldwide.
If one thing has been constant for public radio in North Dakota, it’s change…and almost always for the better. North Dakotans can be proud of what they’ve built and achieved with their public radio service…since 1922. Sorry about all those dates folks, but after all…this is…Dakota Datebook.
Prairie Public Broadcasting history files