KNDS Station:Surviving Different Call Letters, Frequencies
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 14:10
After Mike Luidahl graduated with a degree in university studies from NDSU in 1997, he returned to NDSU for a second major and is currently studying broadcast journalism. With years of wisdom and real world experience under his belt, he hopes to enlighten the student body by rewinding back to NDSU experiences from back in the day and describe how it differs now in his column entitled “RewiNDSU.”
In all likelihood, most Fargo-Moorhead residents, including NDSU students, have no idea that a campus radio station even exists on University Drive North.
There’s also a good chance that those who have discovered it did so by pressing the scan or seek button on their car radio while driving around town. What can’t be realized by tuning in, however, are the frequent setbacks that the now student-run organization has endured to somehow remain on the air.
As a big fan of radio over television, I must admit that I didn’t often listen to campus radio as a student here my first time around. Consequently, I’m not proud to say that I played part in their most glaring and ongoing problem, which was a lack of student listenership.
Back in the ‘90s we knew it as KDSU and that it could be found at 91.9 on the FM dial. Due to a variety of challenges, much has changed for the organization since then and this has actually been the case dating back to what was termed as an “experiment” back in 1922.
Broadcast radio technology was still in its youth when NDAC (North Dakota Agricultural College) faculty and students collaborated to build a 50-watt AM transmitter. Interestingly, the wattage of the current FM frequency stands at 54, but that low of a power can easily reach all of the two-city area. The less reliable AM signal, towered atop Ladd Hall, had problems getting into the new metal framed dorms when the campus went through expansions.
Overall, transmission issues haven’t been the main contributing factors to the ups and downs experienced by NDSU campus radio over the years. The primary concerns have always come in the form of a couple questions: “Are enough people listening?” and “If there aren’t enough, will we continue to get adequate funding?” Although the station was professionally operated for nearly 50 years, occasional strife between it and the student government over budget requests caused a handful of shutdowns.
The aforementioned 1920s experiment lasted only four years and the effort wasn’t resurrected until 1952, through the establishment of KDSC. Like many aspects of life during that era, most everything seemed hunky dory until the ‘60s came along.
That’s when the questions surrounding whether it deserved funding based on popularity first arose. After being silenced for the entire summer in 1964, some adjustments were made that eventually led to a more permanent solution. That’s when the appropriate decision was made for relocation to the recently renovated Memorial Union where FM band broadcasting equipment would be installed.
KDSU went on the air as a campus radio station for the first time in 1966 and would remain in that capacity with its studios in the same location for the next 33 years. Despite consistently becoming more of a presence on campus, money matters entered the picture once again to threaten how or if it could continue to exist. The result was a needed affiliation with National Public Radio, which in turn led to it becoming more of a station that just happened to be located on campus instead of legitimate campus radio.
This quote from a Spectrum editorial summed up the forthcoming changes quite well. “KDSU is not homogenized. It’s lumpy like mother’s homemade frosting. It’s not bland. It’s hot and spicy like a good bowl of chili. If you want, you can listen to other radio stations. But, that’s like eating potatoes for the rest of your life.”
After becoming a regular listener and sports play-by-play contributor to campus radio over the past few months, I can honestly say that it appears to have come full circle in dumping any sort of starchiness that it may have resorted to. After an all-out takeover of the 91.9 frequency by Prairie Public Radio in 1999, some innovative maneuvers were needed to ensure that NDSU students like me would have an opportunity to gain on-air experience or in radio station operations.
Without a studio to broadcast from or a transmission tower, a group formed an Internet-based station to fill the void that was left a few months earlier. One certainly couldn’t stumble across it when searching for it in their car, but Thunderweb radio was a serviceable alternative for about four years until a door opened for students wanting to learn hands-on through the traditional radio medium.
In 2004, Thunderweb joined forces with Radio Free Fargo to apply for a low power FM station that was put up for grabs by the Federal Communications Commission. The partnership was fortunately awarded a frequency that would sufficiently allow them to carry out their objectives.
“KNDS 105.9 Radio for Everyone,” was the slogan in reference to the many different shows, sports and news that are broadcast from the old campus post office building just north of the Bison Turf bar. The slogan remains the same today with the only difference being a move to 96.3 on the digital tuning dial. The web remains an option for out of town listeners at www.kndsradio.com.
Even though the Bison football loss last weekend was ugly, I can undoubtedly say that I still had quite a bit of fun broadcasting it. The importance of a student-run station complete with officers and a faculty advisor seemed to hit home more than it had during previous experiences. Thanks to the resiliency of past students, faculty and station staff, I was afforded the opportunity to not only have a good time, but to also improve upon my skills.
Considering what NDSU campus radio has already been through, there’s good reason to believe it will continue to build upon its legacy regardless of the amount of listeners. If you’re looking for a change of pace I encourage you to give it at least a few minutes of your time.