The sounds we grew up with
I still have the 1977 Chevy Scottsdale pickup truck that my dad bought new. Lots of its pieces and parts have been replaced. The heart and soul of it remains, and memories of my father who passed away 15 years ago.
It still has the original AM radio. In 1977, AM-FM radio was an option. But, really, who needs FM? For 37 years the first preset button brings you to 860. I’ve never changed it, and now it is the Sylvester Krzmarzick Memorial Preset Button.
860 AM takes you to KNUJ. This summer we are celebrating the 65th anniversary of that venerable station. I assume some of the first voices and music I heard emanated from their New Ulm studio since our kitchen radio was always on 860. I learned early on to keep quiet during the weather, markets, and funeral notices. It is a practice I follow to this day.
And, of course, the barn radio was also set to KNUJ. I am from a generation of farm kids who grew up with their dads in the barn. A whole lot of the time I spent with my dad one-on-one was there, and KNUJ was on, soothing background sound for man, boy, and beast. Back then KNUJ was the Polka Station of the Nation. Even though I can’t keep a beat, somewhere deep in my veins courses the oom-pah-pah of old time music.
Perry Galvin was my Walter Cronkite, the voice that guided me through the currents of news and weather, bad and good. Perry also did sports broadcasting. This was small town radio; Perry did everything.
Once when I was a baseball player at St. Mary’s, KNUJ was broadcasting our game with Cathedral. I convinced my mom to tape the game. Afterwards, several of us players came out to listen to it. (This might lay aside any doubts that I was a pretty boring kid.) During the game, Perry referred to best buddy Billy Moran as being a scrappy player, all over the field like “a little monkey.” Needless to say, Bill took merciless needling from the rest of us.
Perry was a mainstay for decades. Alongside him was Doris Aufderheide, whose strong voice boomed out announcements and recipes. Long-time Yankee PA announcer Bob Shepard famously became known as the “Voice of God.” If we come to find out that God is a woman, I’ll nominate Doris as the true “Voice of God.” I got to know Doris some. She was on the short list of people I never wanted to disappoint, right there next to my mom.
In my adult years, KNUJ never got too far out of earshot. Tim Babel and Brian Filzen have overseen quite listenable morning shows. Years ago, I spent the day with Karen Lehman, a policy analyst from the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy. She had come to speak at a Farmer’s Union function. I took her to be interviewed by Brian on the Community Affairs show. Lehman had worked all over the globe and spoke to many press people from much larger media than KNUJ. Afterwards, she told me that Brian was one of the best interviewers she had ever met.
Tom “Wheeeeeler” is the kid from Edina who came to visit and never left. If you’ve ever seen Tom out in the backwoods ballparks of Brown County, you know that he may as well be Bob Costas or Harry Carey. He’s a celebrity, and places like Leavenworth and Sigel fight over preparing the best “Wheeler Burger.”
Todd Olson, Mike Lemmer, Amy Zents ? they’re all easy to listen to. It is a well run radio station with lots of local content. If you go up and down the radio dial, that is increasingly rare. Most other AM stations have much of the day given over to syndicated programming. Some broadcaster in New York isn’t likely to know that Stark Township got three inches of rain last night.
In The World That I Grew Up In, we all listened to radio and read newspapers. KNUJ, the New Ulm Journal, and the Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch were common fare for all of us. They were a fundamental part of our community. We were bound partly by sharing the same sources for information and entertainment.
Now there are so many media options it can make your head spin. I joke that the typical reader of this column is 80 years old. It is an exaggeration, but it is clear that younger generations have many and splintered sources for news and entertainment. Heck, you can “make” your own radio station.
I appreciate that KNUJ, the Journal, and the Herald Dispatch continue to put out a good product in the face of competition from YouTube and iPods and Twitter and probably some things I don’t even know how to turn on.
I do have one small complaint with KNUJ. Every time I see station manager Jim Bartels, I ask him to give us a little more old-time music. Right now, the Dinner Bell Hour is all that remains of the Polka Station of the Nation. How about One More Hour? One teensy weensy hour more? I enjoy a wide variety of music, but there are days the Tic-Toc Polka is just what a body needs.
I have decided to kick my campaign for “One More Hour” into high gear. By the time you read this, I will have chained myself to the Glockenspiel in Schonlau Park, right there next to the KNUJ studios. I am vowing to remain chained there until my demands are met and KNUJ adds One More Hour of old time music.
To show how serious I am about this, all I have brought with me is one single case of Schell’s Beer. That is all I have to sustain myself. When that is gone I shall be beerless in the searing heat of day and frigid cold of night. It is almost too horrible to contemplate, day after beerless day. If you see Jim, tell him to help that poor guy out there.