KOMA, 1520 on the AM dial, was a radio phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s. KOMA had millions listeners in a couple of dozen Midwest and high plains states. The South Dakota Music Association has chosen KOMA its 2014 Radio Station of the Year. (scroll down to read more about KOMA)
WHAT SONGS DID KOMA PLAY?
Here is a KOMA survey from August 1965 (click to expand):
WHY KOMA MATTERED IN SOUTH DAKOTA
In the mid 1960s, South Dakota, like most of the plains states, had very few fulltime Top 40 rock stations. Stations like KLOH and KELO aired rock only part time and KIMM and KSDR signed off at sunset. For many eager rock listeners, KOMA was their favorite nighttime station. You could hear KOMA almost anywhere in South Dakota.
In 1964, John Brown, owner of Mid-Continent Entertainment in Lawrence, Kansas, was promoting a band called The Blue Boys, who soon became The Blue Things. According to Brown, he was tired of driving endless miles to put up posters for gigs when he starting buying ads on KOMA. The ads worked incredibly well and led the way for dozens of bands to advertise dances and summer tours on KOMA.
Brown’s bands, The Blue Things, The Flippers, The Red Dogs, Spider and the Crabs, The Rising Suns and The Young Raiders, became regional sensations and were role models for aspiring South Dakota musicians. At least two South Dakota bands, The Apostles and The Bleach Boys also advertised on KOMA.
Listening to KOMA was a common shared experience, a place to hear new tunes and the source of information about dances in ballrooms, armories, Legion halls, clubs and frat parties.
BRIEF HISTORY OF KOMA
KOMA was one of a handful of US radio stations authorized to operate at night with 50,000 watts, the maximum power allowed by the FCC. To protect the signals of stations from Central and South America, KOMA was required to use a highly directional signal which covered much of the central and western US and parts of Canada.
In 1958 KOMA was acquired by Storz Broadcasting headed by Todd Storz, an heir to the fortune of the Storz Brewing Company in Omaha. Storz also owned other legendary early Top 40 rock stations like WDGY, Minneapolis; WHB, Kansas City; WTIX, New Orleans; and WQAM, Miami.
KOMA switched from automation to live programming in early 1964 and quickly became the most popular station in the region. DJs who spun the hits included Dale Wehba (heard in the clip above), Perry Murphy (the fat daddy fun frolic), Charlie Tuna, Don McGregor, Paul Miller, John David, Chuck Dann, J. Michael Wilson, Johnny Dark, Buddy Scott and a Brit, John Ravencroft.
Unknown to listeners, in the late 1960s the FCC fined KOMA for over modulating its signal, a technique that pushed its reach even farther than authorized.
TWO OF MY EXPERIENCES WITH KOMA
When I was in ninth grade, KOMA was saluting listeners in the many states where it was heard. I sent in a card for “South Dakota Night” and they said my name on the air and joked that my handwriting made my name look like “Ken Zookie.” I was amazed by how many kids at Patrick Junior High told me they heard it. This was one of things that led me to a career in radio.
In the fall of 1969, after I worked at KISD, I was living near Stillwater, Oklahoma and I made a pilgrimage to the KOMA studio and transmitter in Moore, just south of OKC. John David was my tour guide. Among the many things I saw included KOMA’s underground production studio. KOMA was a “conelrad” station – stations that were supposed to keep broadcasting in case of nuclear attack. The production room was also a bomb shelter with emergency food, water and supplies.