Friday, February 26, 2010


KLOH AM/FM, one mile west of Pipestone on Minnesota Highway 30

I first heard of KLOH AM 1050 in the summer of 1963. At that time, KLOH had a Saturday afternoon rock request program.

On KLOH I first heard that the ultra-cool Lacemen and the popular Jadesmen were going to play at the Marshmallow Lounge in downtown Sioux Falls. The Marshmallow Lounge was a “teenage nightclub” modeled after the Peppermint Lounge in New York. You had to be 16 to enter. Since I wasn’t 16 yet, I used my first fake ID in the fall of 1963.

In 1964, KLOH AM 1050 added rock music every weekday after school. Every day KLOH brought me a new record or band -- each cooler than the one before.

Doug Wagner was working on the air at KLOH. I wrote him a letter in April 1964 saying I wanted to be a DJ and asking his advice.

He sent me a kind reply letter urging me to check out Brown Institute in Minneapolis, where he had gotten his training. He also invited me to come to KLOH and see his program. Wow!

In August 1964 I had just gotten my drivers license. My parents let me drive my mom’s Corvair to Pipestone to visit KLOH. It was my first out of town trip on my own.

I drove down the gravel driveway into the parking lot in front of the little house on west highway 30 – the home of KLOH. It was the mid afternoon on a Saturday.

Doug Wagner greeted me at the door. He was a prince of a fellow who made me feel at ease right away. He took me into the studio and explained “the board,” “cartridges,” “the log” and how to cue up a record. He even let me cue a couple up.

It was a turning point in my life. My career goal became to be a radio DJ, not to a dentist as my father had advised.

Meanwhile, in November 1964, a new weeknight rock program debuted in Sioux Falls on KELO-AM 1320 – “Night Rock with Lord Douglas.”

There was an unusual tie between KLOH and KELO. KELO had tried to hire Doug Wagner away from KLOH. In their plans, Doug was going to host a new show KELO called “Night Rock With Big Doug.”

But Doug Wagner backed out of the KELO deal at the last minute and stayed at KLOH.

KELO had already purchased singing jingles promoting “Big Doug.” What to do?

The folks at KELO decided to name the replacement DJ “Lord Douglas” so that jingles wouldn’t be wasted.

“Night Rock with Lord Douglas” was heard from 7:00pm to midnight Monday through Friday. “Lordy” played lots of local music including many of the 45 RPM singles that my bands released.

Lord Douglas with The Dynamic Hursmen, Sioux Falls Coliseum Annex, spring 1966

By 1965 many midwest rock bands were advertising their appearances on KOMA AM 1520. They were traveling the ballroom and armory circuit through Kansas, Nebraska, both Dakotas, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Each night on KOMA you’d hear about the Flippers, the Red Dogs, the Blue Things” and “Spider and Crabs.”

[Side note: KOMA continued as the key station for traveling rock bands well into the 1970s with Wire and Baby.]

By 1965 KLOH became the center of the local rock band scene, very similar to KOMA. For me, it was KLOH during the day and KOMA after the sun went down.

KLOH’s 5,000 watt signal blanked southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and most of eastern South Dakota. KLOH was the radio station where I promoted my bands.

KLOH-AM daytime coverage map

Doug Wagner at KLOH created custom “KOMA type” commercials for my bands and many other bands. Thirty second spots were $2.50 at KLOH, more expensive than KELO but totally worth it.

KLOH had a perceptual advantage over other stations at the time. KLOH didn’t talk down to the listeners. Others referred to its listeners as “teenagers” like they were an oddity. In short – KLOH was FAB, not pre-fab!

The first time I risked money on a dance promotion it was with KLOH. In May 1965 at the Pipestone National Guard Armory I presented Dale Gregory and the Shouters for a dance and concert.

Doug Wagner from KLOH emceed the gig. We all made money. My only mistake was forgetting to hire a rent-a-cop. This was quickly remedied by a generous contribution to the Pipestone PD “recreation fund.”

For the rest of 1965 and 1966 my bands – Dale Gregory and the Shouters, The Dynamic Hursmen, Those of Us and The Trippers – were heavily advertised on KLOH.

Lot’s of other bands were on too: The Pilgrims (Doug Wagner’s band), Dee Jay and Runaways, the Sting Rays, the Continental Co-ets, Orlin Hunstad’s Gemini Six and, of course, the untouchable Steve Ellis and the Starfires.

Dance & concert promo poster August 1966

Steve Ellis was a huge area favorite. In 1966, his song “Walking Around” was a regional hit and had lots of airplay on KLOH and KOMA.

KLOH had ads for the most happening places like the Hollyhock Ballroom, Hatfield; the Showboat Ballroom, Lake Benton; the Dells Ballroom, Dell Rapids; Teen Town, DeSmet; Ruskin Park, Forestberg; the Rainbow Ballroom in Lane; the Roller Drome in Mitchell; the Island Park Ballroom in Milltown; the Groveland Park Ballroom in Tyndall and many, many more venues.

Back in Sioux Falls, on September 16, 1966 a new company, Starr Broadcasting, took over KISD and changed it to 24/7 Top 40 rock.

Almost overnight KISD became the number one station in Sioux Falls and pushed KELO out of part time rock music. I immediately moved my Sioux Falls band and promotion advertising from KELO to KISD.

The new KISD had little effect on KLOH. KLOH reached a much larger geographic area than KISD so I kept buying lots of time.

I became a “KISD Good Guy” – a part time weekend DJ – on KISD October 1, 1967. The first song I played was “Get Off My Cloud” by the Stones.

Soon I was full time at KISD doing the 7:00pm to Midnight shift. I was a full time student at Augustana College and a full time “KISD Good Guy” for the rest of 1967, all of 1968 and well into 1969.

At KISD I met Gregory J. Christ. Greg came to KISD from KLOH to do the overnight shift. Since I was on just before him, Greg and I crossed paths almost every night. We frequently talked about KLOH.
In August 1969, I dropped out, so to speak. I quit my job at KISD and joined VISTA – Volunteers In Service to America, a domestic Peace Corps part of LBJ’s “great society.”

VISTA took me to Texas and Oklahoma to help start new noncommercial radio stations that many years later became part of NPR. But, my VISTA project was cut by the Nixon administration after only a few months.

By summer 1970 I was “on the beach” in Sioux Falls, wondering what to do next.

I heard that my old friend Greg Christ had gone back to KLOH, so I called him and asked for a job. Greg said “when can you start.” And I said “tomorrow” – which is what I did.

[Doug Wagner had left KLOH a year or so earlier and Greg was running KLOH with part timers during the long summer AM broadcast hours.]

I immediately fell into my groove at KLOH. There was no “clock” per see and the jocks picked their own tunes. I created a rack of the top 30 songs and mixed in lots of oldies. It was rocking freeform hit radio, exciting freedom and opportunity.

At the time, KLOH was owned by the Ingstad family from North Dakota. KLOH was managed by Glenn Olson – “G O” as he was known.

Wally West [Christensen] did sign on to 10:00am playing “chicken rock” and country. “G O On the Go” went from 10:00am to 11:00am. From 11:00am to Noon KLOH switched to its satellite studio in Luverne where Jerry Hennen hosted a program.

The noon hour was a combination of news, farm info, features such as Earl Nightengale, “A Point of Law” and sports commentary by Howard Cosell.

Dave Lindemeyer started rocking at 1:00pm and I worked from 4:00pm to signoff – after 9:00pm in the summer.

Plus, there was a colorful crew of KLOH part timers: Dan Gregg, Bill Stout, Lee Sundemeyer and a 14 year old kid with an amazing voice – Greg Ausham.

In September 1970 I went back to being a full time student at Augustana. I made an arrangement with G O to work part time at KLOH on Saturday and Sunday.

Around this time that KLOH signed on FM 98.7. The FM aired sleepy elevator music. I was certain that FM rock was the next big thing and I convinced G O to let me host a Sunday album rock program simulcast on KLOH AM and FM.

The program, called “Holding Together” was an instant hit. Though the hippie music probably scared the shit out of G O and others at KLOH, the show brought in new advertisers, particularly from Sioux Falls, a nice business move for Sunday when advertising was traditionally light.

“Holding Together” was similar to other “underground rock” programs across the region and nation. Other shows included “Beaker Street” from KAAY, “Transition” from KELO-FM and blues player Tony Glover on KDWB.

These were great days for me at KLOH. In addition to being on the air, I spoke at high school assemblies, did remote broadcasts and became friends with a bunch of Pipestone kids.

I graduated from Augustana in May 1971. Instead of attending the graduation ceremony, I went to work as usual at KLOH. I worked full time at KLOH until the end of October 1971.

I always treasure my association with KLOH. The station paid me well and gave me the space to grow. They tolerated my excesses and always made me feel at home. I am proud to be an alum of KLOH.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Life & Times: KISD Survey October 1, 1967

This is the KISD More Music Survey from October 1, 1967,
the date I started my career in radio. My first shift was Midnight to Six AM.
The first song I played was "Get Off My Cloud" by the Rolling Stones.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Early Days of the Skywave Rider


(c) 1995, Berg Borthers Publishing

"Behind the Scenes with the Multi-Faceted Ken Mills"

By Jim Olsberg (used with permission of the author)

In January of 1965 Ken Mills formed Ken Musical Enterprises. His business covered two different areas: one was booking and management, the other, dance promotions. The booking part lasted from January '65, until February of '68, while his dance promotions went into 1969. Mills managed Sioux Falls, South Dakota's best rock bands during the mid-'60s and constantly encouraged them to look beyond the city limits. He took several of them to Minneapolis, Minnesota to cut records, hoping that one would break the national charts. None of them did, although it wasn't for lack of effort on Mills end.

"I was 16-years old when I started the venture in an upstairs bedroom of my parent's house," said Ken Mills. "I didn't play music, but wanted to be involved somehow. Brian Epstein was definitely my biggest influence. I liked the whole idea of taking the music, packaging it, and getting it out to the public. I guess the business side came naturally to me because my dad had been a band leader and had also booked his own group back in the 1930s and 1940s. I had heard stories about my father's experiences."

"My parents were terrified about what I was undertaking, and loved it at the same time. They had a vicarious thrill from the whole thing and on the other hand, were scared to death that we'd drive off the road somewhere in the middle of the night, or get in too far over our heads in some business deal. They were probably all valid fears, but somehow we all came through it safe."

"The reason that I went from Ken Musical Enterprises to just Ken Enterprises was because I got a letter once from a school that was looking for a band for a prom and they addressed the letter to Ken Musical. Opening the letter I saw the greeting was 'Dear Mr. Musical.' I took so much abuse from that I just decided to shorten the business title. "

My company logo 1965

"The first time I ever saw Dale Gregory & the Shouters was during Christmas vacation, late 1964, at a Battle of the Bands. I was friends with Greg Blomberg and Gary Tabbert - this was when they were just starting out as a fourpiece group. I asked Greg if I could book some gigs for them. He said 'Yeah,' they were really having a difficult time on their own. The first show I booked was at the YWCA Gym in January, '65. Pat O'Brien joined the first week of February.

Dale Gregory and the Shouters
Sioux Falls YWCA Gym, January, 1965
(left to right: Greg Blomberg, Ted Christy, Dale Gregory Yost, Gary Tabbert)

"The first out-of-town job for them was at the Richmond Lake Ballroom in Aberdeen, SD. I still remember that day because I sat in my booking office, in a chair by the phone, just staring at it, afraid to dial. I was scared of being turned down. Finally I got up the nerve to pick up the phone, dial it, and asked for the manager of the ballroom. He actually said yes! I booked the job. The YWCA gig had been a friends-type thing. The Richmond Lake Ballroom was my first official booking - I was thrilled. It was for $125, or 60% of the door, and I'm really glad we got the guarantee because only about 75 people showed up that night. From here on I worked on a standard 15% cut for the bands I booked."

"In late 1965 Dale Gregory & the Shouters had a lot of success and momentum going for them. I booked a Job for them with Steve Ellis & the Starfires (from Pipestone, MN Ruskin Park, located near the town of Forestburg, SD. Ruskin Park had no rules. If you were old enough to see over counter, you were old enough to buy 3.2 beer. A mother's nightmare, Ruskin Park was kid heaven. I think the Shouters did as well as the Starfires that night. They also gained a tremendous amount of self-confidence because Steve Ellis was the premier entertainer in our area at the time."

"At the start of 1965, to the fall, I had the Shouters only as clients. At that point I started managing the Dynamic Hursmen. Shortly after the Hursmen I picked up the Trippers and, in the fall of '66, Those Of Us.

There were probably a half-dozen other bands that I booked, but on a more sporatic basis. There were times, like at prom time, where there'd be a tremendous demand for musicians. At my peak I had 15 bands working on a particular Saturday. At 15% each, I wasn't doing too bad for a kid!"

"One of the groups that I remember liking was the Continental Co-ets out of Fulda, MN. I always wanted an a girl group, or at least a female lead, but never found one to become involved with. If I would have found the Joan Jett, Melissa Etheridge, or Chrissie Hynde back in those days.

I think I'd still be involved in the rock & roll business. Marlys Roe & the Talismen were roaming through our area at the time but I thought she was a little too square. You have to remember there was 'before the Beatles' and 'after.' You definitely wanted to be 'after' in 1966."

"I had my groups playing throughout North and South Dakota, Iowa, southern Minnesota and even down to Lawrence. Kansas. But probably the toughest place to play, in my opinion, was the Rainbow Ballroom in Lane, SD. The ballroom was run by the two Deneke brothers who were at least 6' 9" tall each. They were huge! It was always a tough gig because it was five-hours; 9 pm to 2 am. And it was one of those set-up clubs where there was a bar next door to the premises. There was always a tremendous amount of alcohol involved at those dances."

"I showed up at almost every show I ever booked. If two or more bands were playing at the same time, I'd alternate who I would travel with. I didn't promote a lot of national acts through the area, however. Probably the biggest was when I promoted the Turtles in 1967. We paid $5,000 for the group and made a fortune off the show.

"In the roughly four years I was putting on gigs I only lost money once. At the time I didn't really think about it - I just took it for granted. It's amazing the success we had. The only one I ever lost on was when I booked the Fabulous Flippers into Yankton, SD, at the same time the University Of South Dakota was having their graduation ceremonies. We thought we'd be able to get a lot of people into Yankton to see the Flippers. Everybody showed up at the graduation, nobody at ours. We definitely lost money that night."

"One of my most interesting memories is when I had Dale Gregory & the Shouters open for the Hollies. Graham Nash and company were literally fresh off the boat, so to speak. I think this was their third stop in the United States. All our American customs, music, etc.. were new and exciting to them. I recall playing the record 'California Dreamin', by the Mamas & the Papas, repeatedly for Nash and he loved it.

Tony Hicks of The Hollies and Ken Mills
After concert pool party, February 1966

Right off the start Ken Mills had the bands he booked go into the recording studio in the attempt to create that elusive "hit." "The decisions on recording choices were really made on the merit of what we thought would get radio airplay," stated Mills. "It was not unheard of for a band to become a one-hit wonder. Bands like the Swinging Medallions, ? & the Mysterians and the Count Five were just like us, but they happened upon the right song in the right set of circumstances."

"There was really one primary reason for choosing Dove Recording Studio; the Minneapolis scene. I really felt that Sioux Falls was a disjointed suburb of Minneapolis. There was a lot of going back and forth between the two cities. We were very aware of what was going on in the Twin Cities and I'm sure we heard about the recording facility through other bands or musicians."

"The first band that I went into the studio with was Dale Gregory & the Shouters, followed in succession by the Dynamic Hursmen, and the Trippers.

The Dynamic Hursmen, Sioux Falls Coliseum, April 1966
(left to right in back: Leo Flynn, Pete Early, Jim Peters, Dale Westendorf; front: Jeff Kahler, Bob Magnuson; Dan Jensen and Mike Rothenbuler, not pictured, were in a second version of the Hursmen)

The Fabulous Trippers, Roof Garden Ballroom, Arnold's Park, Iowa, July 1967
(left to right: Mark Henjum, Mark Griffin, Mike Ward, Gordy Haugan, Terry Park, Chris Harper)

I acted somewhat as a producer at those sessions, picking the songs and generally giving input as to what the arrangements would be, how the mixes would eventually sound. But in terms of really being a producer, that was left up to Rod Eaton, Dove's recording engineer."

"After a few false starts, the Shouters hit upon 'Did Ya Need To Know,' which hit #1 (and the B-side. 'I Remember,' #2) back home in Sioux Falls even before we got the records back from Dove. It was big locally, but never did what it was supposed to outside the area."

"The one part of the industry that we didn't really know anything about was distribution. We knew enough about getting our songs played on the radio, locally, but didn't know how to get them into large distribution chains. Most of our sales came either out of the back of our cars, or by directly going into smaller stores and consigning a couple copies. No recording band that I was ever involved with sold over 1,000 copies."

"In December of '67 the Trippers and I were at Dove, recording 'Conquistador' and 'Kaleidoscope.' Peter Steinberg, co-owner of the studio, teamed us up with the writing team of Gary Paulak and Barry Goldberg, who had written the popish 'Have You Ever.' The Trippers sang the song, but only their guitarist and drummer actually played on it. The other musicians were made up of Dove personnel. We wanted to have a hit so much that we just ate that kind of stuff up. Steinberg and I formed Milltown Records for the release, which didn't sell well, but received the most airplay. 'Have You Ever' got played on about a dozen stations in the upper midwest. It had a good commercial sound but never went beyond mid-chart."

"I'm surprised that the bands I worked with didn't release more records because we recorded enough times. Dale Gregory and Those Of Us took naturally to the studio and were extremely creative while there. Part of the problem was that recording was fairly expensive for us because we paid by the hour. I think If we would have had the opportunity to have an open recording-type arrangement (like the T.C. Atlantic or Underbeats did), we would have taken full advantage of it."

"A lot of it too was the Beatles' influence. By the mid-'60s, George Martin and the Fab Four were doing very creative studio things - playing with the audio, different things with the mix, etc. When you booked studio time by the hour you didn't have that luxury afforded you."

"Those Of Us was the first 'designer' band that I actually assembled. John Everist, Mike Connor and Gary Johnson were all talented musicians. singers and songwriters from the X-Men. Pat O'Brien and Ted Christy. from Dale Gregory & the Shouters, were equally so. During the summer of '66 there was a lot of changes going on, music-wise, in Sioux Falls. In July I put on a show in Pipestone, Minneosta, that I called the 'Battle of the Sioux Falls Bands.' We had the Hursmen, X-Men and the Shouters perform. I got to thinking that night what a powerful group it would be if I got the right musicians together. It went from an idea, to a concept. to a band in about two-to-three weeks. Their first gig was September 1, 1966. but even before that I had them record 'Without You' at IGL Recording Studio in Milford, Iowa. Looking back, I wish I would have had Those Of Us record more - they had some great original songs!"

Those of Us, September 1966
(left to right: Pat O'Brien, John Everist, Gary Johnson, Ted Christy, Mike Connor)

"In 1967 1 started booking a very good soul act, the Handy Brothers Chessmen Show. They weren't together very long, but were quite popular.

I started working as a disc jockey at KISD radio in Sioux Falls in October 1967. My biggest influence in radio was Ray Ford, who was acting Program Director at KISD. That man was a one-man cultural landslide. I learned more from him than any other single individual in the business. He had a perspective on the industry that was uncanny."

Ken Mills, on the air at KISD, Sioux Falls, Summer 1969
(Booking agent Chris Buren looks on)

"My booking agency went until February, 1968. 1 found that going to college full-time, working at KISD radio full-time, booking bands and dance promotions were more than I could handle. So I dropped the booking agency to concentrate on promotions. In partnership with Ray Ford, we promoted dances and shows in a 100-mile radius of Sioux Falls. The Stillroven, Underbeats. Rumbles, Red Dogs and the Mob all attracted huge audiences. The last shows I promoted were with Crow in August, 1969.

"I've kept in touch with many of those who were in the bands. In 1974, Greg Blomberg and I went into the advertising business together. Together, with a couple of radio friends, we opened Media One Advertising and Marketing, which is still going strong today. I left Media One in 1979 to get into radio management. I started a rock station, K-SKY out in the Black Hills. After that I managed radio stations in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Los Angeles, California."

"Now I'm still in the booking business. I'm in charge of "booking" radio programs on stations across the country as the Director of the Ken Mills Agency (KMA) in Minneapolis. I'm basically still a booking agent, using the phone constantly. I often think about that first call 30 years ago that I almost didn't make."

"As I look back on the whole experience with a little sharper perspective I see a lot of things that could have been done differently, more efficiently. etc. Today it seems so easy and obvious, but back then we didn't know any better. Everything was cutting edge. Overall, my memories are pleasant ones that I wouldn't trade for the world!"