KDWB went on the air on September 16, 1959 as a top 40 station. (The name change from WISK was reflected in the radio listings in the newspaper on September 19.) To get us in the mood for another rock ‘n’ roll station, they played “Charlie Brown” by the Coasters – in French – non-stop for several days.
THE GOOD GUYS
Don French was the first Program Director. The first lineup of DJs was Hall Murray, Phil Page, Sam Sherwood, Bob Chasteen, Bob Friend, Randy Cook, and Dick Halvorson John McCrae was the first General Manager, and Sam Sherwood held that position throughout the ’60s. The FCC required that the station identify itself as “KDWB – Lake Elmo, also occasionally serving Minneapolis and St. Paul.” The station provided immediate competition to leading rock ‘n’ roll station WDGY: See a good piece on the KDWB/WDGY rivalry from KARE-11 News.
The KDWB Seven Swingin’ Gentlemen, 1960: Randy Cook, Dick Halverson, Bobby Dale, Sam Sherwood, Bob Friend, Lou Riegert, Hal Murray. Photo courtesy Pavek Museum of Broadcasting.
As part of the station’s first promotion, it sold ads to rival WDGY (which had gone Top 40 back in 1956) and all the other radio stations ads for a product called “Formula 63.” Will Jones of the Trib reported that the ads were recorded by Dudley LeBlanc, the former Louisiana politician who sold Hadacol years ago. LeBlanc mentioned Hadacol and then said that the new Formula 63 was for people who were tired, dull, depressed “Get immediate relief from boredom with new Formula 63.” Little cardboard packages (about the size of a lipstick) were made up with Formula 63 labels, stuffed with pamphlets plugging the new station. Security was so tight that the 120,000 packages were stuffed at the Society for the Blind. Free samples at Snyder Drug Stores revealed what the “product” really was. Even the disk jockeys weren’t let in on it until that morning. All the other radio stations fell for it and advertised the product until people started calling to complain. Some stations were incensed, while others figured they were getting paid so why not? See a good piece on the KDWB/WDGY rivalry from KARE-11 News.
The show was to start at 8 pm and take place at both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Auditoriums at the same time, with the stars “shuttled” by helicopter between them. (Helicopters had to be replaced by limos when things got too dangerous.) Proceeds were to be divided between the Minneapolis and St. Paul Community Chests. Advertised performers were:
- Dodie Stevens
- Carl Dobkins, Jr.
- Billy Vaughan
- The Four Preps
- Randy Sparks
- Ed Townsend
- Jan & Dean
- Jerry Fuller
- Sandy Nelson
- Jimmy Haskell
- Ernie Fields
- Bobby Vee
Unfortunately, the staff was so busy working out the show and the logistics that they forgot tO promote the concerts, and they were poorly attended, Sherwood reported.
One early promotion involved a sticker that said “KDWB is Everywhere.” $630 would be awarded to the person who placed the sticker in the most unusual place, which turned out to be on the St. Paul Cathedral dome! To promote the contest the jocks would ride around on a float in rush hour handing out stickers, hopelessly tying up traffic.
THE COOKIE INCIDENT
One contest in 1963 was a challenge to bake the world’s biggest Christmas Cookie. At first the prize was proposed at 63 cents per pound, but Station Manager Don French decided that a bigger incentive might be $6.30 per pound. They never expected the gigantic turnout, and the ultra-gigantic cookie that won the contest! Below is a photo that’s not too great, but hopefully shows how big the winning monster was. It was delivered in the back of a pickup truck and weighed 2,300 pounds, made with 1,010 pounds of cookie mix, 725 pounds of powdered sugar, and 172 pounds of shortening. It was made by a student named Goodman, who financed the venture by selling $1 shares to his friends with a double-your-money guarantee. It was baked in five pound slabs in a church basement and delivered just an hour before the deadline.
Program Director Sam Sherwood: “I so remember how Don French was on the hot seat for getting hit by such a large prize…he and I argued: ‘I’ll take the hit…no I will…no no, I will’ and that’s the way it went until the cookie picture hit the front pages of news papers across the country….THEN….we became heroes, both Don and I. After becoming VP and General Manager, I made sales calls in all the major markets and it never failed….’Sam Sherwood?!!! Oh the Cookie Station KDWB!!!!’ …and the association never quit from New York to LA…It was the most visible thing we ever did…..!!!!” Sam also remembered that the President of station owner Crowell-Collier was pretty mad, and annoyed when the guys on the golf course started calling him “Cookie,” but when he got to become a celebrity as the story went national, everyone’ job was safe.
The cookie was displayed in the lobby of the Foshay Tower, where viewers filched pieces of it until French dispatched a guard. What to do next? “‘We may drop it from the top of Foshay,’ said Sherwood, Chuckling at the prospect of the world’s biggest pile of crumbs.” Sam says that what actually happened to it was “the cookie was picked by cargo plane at Twin Cities Airport and flown to the ‘I’ve Got A Secret’ Show in New York, MC’d by the late Gary Moore and after that it was just disposed of…not sure how … but that was it…!!”
Another crazy promotion was the time Charlee Brown styled himself as the Emperor and threatened to take over the State of Wisconsin.
FLAG POLE SITTING REED
In conjunction with the 1966 Aquatennial, disc jockey Jimmy Reed spent (a reported 21 days) on top of a flagpole in downtown Minneapolis starting on July 5, 1966. Don Betzold recalled, “It wasn’t really a flagpole. It was a small shack hoisted on a small tower on the corner of 9th and Nicollet. I stopped and visited him one morning, and he lowered a Bob Dylan album for me. Although he broadcast his morning show from there, there were reports that he went inside the adjacent Young-Quinlan-Rothschild building at night. I don’t recall if he spent 21 days up there, but it was a while.” A KDWB “Fabulous Forty” survey that Don donated to the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting called the shack a “four-story-high flag pole playhouse.” John Pratt saved an article from the Minneapolis Star reporting that four hoodlums set the crepe-paper wrapping on the 40-ft. pole on fire. “Police said the wood snow fence frame beneath the paper had ignited at several points.. The whole tower and Reed’s escape rope would have burned had the wood had a chance to get a good start.” Reed slept through the whole thing.
The first of the station’s catchphrases was “My Mommy Listens to KDWB.” (Not my mommy!)
Another early catchphrase was “KDWB-63 – That’s easy to remember.”
KDWB IN TROUBLE
Congress amended the FCC Act in September 1960 to provide penalties short of license revocation for violations of FCC rules. The first station in the country to receive disciplinary action was KDWB. The station was fined $10,000 in March 1961 for exceeding its authorized power in nighttime operations. Although authorized for only 500 watts from midnight to 4am, it had been broadcasting at full 5,000 watt strength since Crowell-Collier Broadcasting bought the station in late 1959. Whether it actually had to pony up the $10,000 is unknown.
THE AMOEBA INCIDENT
In the July 2, 1967, edition of the TMC Insider, we learn that “KDWB went off the air last Friday when a 50-foot tower was blown down and fell on top of the station’s studios. As the tower hit, a light fixture fell and narrowly missed Bob Morgan, who was on the air talking about the weather.”
On August 13, 1968, KDWB started programming “underground music” from midnight to 5 am. However, they were not playing records by local groups – Earl Trout III told the Insider that the station “was on a tighter playlist.”
From 1969 to mid 1970, Tony Glover held down the midnight to 6 am shift. In an article in the February 1972 Insider, Tom Murtha noted that Glover was the “prime mover in bringing more diversified programming to local radio.”
Glover did most of his programming from his own record collection. His wry, understated wit, carefully studied word choice, and RELAXED delivery won him a following unheard of since the days of “Murray-go-round” on KDWB and “Throckmorton” at WLOL. … Glover finally finally took two weeks vacation in New York City and never came back.” [He became a freelance writer and contributing editor for Circus, a music magazine.]
IN OTHER NEWS
On November 30, 1969, fire spread through the KDWB studio, destroying two transmitters and shutting it down for two days. See Rob Sherwood’s blog for the whole story.
In March 1970, two engineers struck for higher pay and the disk jockeys honored the picket line. The station put on its salesmen, some, like Stan Mack, were former jocks. Everyone made up and by 1972 (and probably before) the station had a Super Shooters basketball team.
The station was innovative in its promotions, had legendary DJs, features like Solid Gold Weekends, and at least two airings of “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” an all-encompassing “rockumentary.”
On April 18, 1994, after 36 years, the 630 kHz frequency went dark. The owner, Midcontinent Media, sold the property. The state of the art facilities were dismantled, salvaged and/or destroyed to make room for the construction of the-then State Farm Insurance Companies regional headquarters.
Scads of airchecks and music surveys are posted at
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