The Minnesota Maniac is Born! KWKR-FM Garden City, KS 1984-86

April 9, 2020

One afternoon while on-the-air at KCHK, I received a phone call from Lee Barr. Lee was the Program Director of KWKR-FM 99.9 in Garden City, Kansas. This was one of the stations I had sent an audition tape and resume to. Lee made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I packed up my ’77 Cougar XR7 and headed for the high plains of Western Kansas.

I arrived at KWKR on Monday, November 12, 1984 to take over the 7PM-1AM shift. The station was barely a year old. However, their AM sister station KIUL was the region’s oldest station, having signed on in 1935. KIUL and KWKR were owned by Harris Enterprises. This was a big deal since they owned many larger stations as well as several newspapers. The equipment and facility was top-notch. Our control board was the Harris Micro Mac: a large stand-up audio board with multiple mix channels. They were in the process of completing a large addition to the building which we referred to as “The Ivory Tower.” We were paid generously and treated well.

Being owned by Harris did present one problem, however: FCC rules at the time prohibited one entity from owning an AM station, an FM station, and a newspaper in the same market. We also owned the Garden City Telegram. So, KWKR was legally not a Garden City radio station. It was licensed to Leoti, Kansas and required to broadcast from it’s “main studio” in Leoti for a minimum number of hours each week. Rick Nulton did the 6-9AM morning show from Leoti. From 9AM-1AM, we used the “auxiliary studio” in Garden City, co-located with KIUL and the Telegram. This in itself was not a problem. The problem was that the KWKR transmitter was located over 30 miles from Garden City. Because of the cross-ownership restrictions, KWKR could not provide a city-grade or local signal strength within the city limits. We had to use a short tower of less than 400 feet and just 61,300 watts effective radiated power instead of the 100,000 watts which the license class would have otherwise allowed. This caused reception problems, especially on poor quality radios and inside of concrete and steel buildings. You couldn’t hear us inside the mall. Doing a remote broadcast required two people: one to be on-the-air and another to stand outside the window with an FM Walkman and cue the jock when it was time to do the live break.

Despite the signal issues, KWKR was an extremely popular station. To the north and west of Garden City, coverage was solid. In this area, we were the only “rock station” on the dial which certainly didn’t hurt our listenership. KWKR was where I made the transformation from all-purpose rookie radio announcer to specialized Top 40/CHR night jock. Being just 20 years old, I was in the same age range as most of my listeners. The request line rang constantly. Teenage girls would come to the remote broadcasts to meet me. I was on the radio playing the music that I liked and I was somebody! A dream come true.

At this point, I was still using my real name on-the-air. A few months later, I was running some errands before my shift. While parked at the mall (actually a strip center named Garden City Plaza, but everyone called it “the mall”), I heard our afternoon guy say “I’m Everett Green, with you until 7 tonight. After 7, the Minnesota Maniac Drew Durigan comes in to entertain you until 1AM.” As soon as I came on, the phone began ringing. “Did you hear what Everett said about you? He called you a Minnesota Maniac!” The name stuck. I embraced my new alter-ego and did my best to live up to the name! Surprisingly, Lee Barr and General Manager Ron Isham tolerated my antics. To this day, I am still amazed they did not fire me.

Everett Green was quite a character, by the way. On one particular spring afternoon, I was enjoying the company of a young lady in Scott City. Scott City was roughly 35 miles north of our studios. I happened to look at my watch and realized it was almost 6:30! As anyone who has ever worked in radio knows, being late for your airshift is THE cardinal sin! My shift actually started at 6:53, following the 3 minute CBS Radio Radio news feed at 6:50. I ran to my car and drove “in excess of the posted speed limit” down Highway 83. As I entered the Garden City limits, Everett signs off and the news begins. I’m flying through town, hoping and praying to not be seen by a cop! At 6:53, the network news adjacency commercial ends. Then, SILENCE! DEAD AIR! DEAD @*#&%!! AIR! I’m horrified, thinking E.G. left the studio after his shift. Nobody’s in the building! I’m going to get fired for sure! Then, after what seemed like an eternity (although Everett assures me it was just a few seconds), he starts the familiar “Ninety-Nine-Ninnnnne” jingle, followed by a song. I was saved!

That summer, Everett left for another job. We hired Cindy Olson for nights and I moved to afternoons. In July, we hosted “Hot Fun in the Summertime II“, a large outdoor concert. Attendance was well over a thousand people. Pretty impressive for a sparsely populated place like Western Kansas!

While at KWKR, I also received some valuable advice. One of our part-timers had some peculiar mannerisms. Out of respect, I won’t mention his name since he is now deceased. He was very high-strung and had a hard time keeping it together on-the-air. Occasionally, his hands shook when he talked. We just thought he was weird. One night, he walked into my studio with a cassette tape. “Listen to this and tell me what you think.” It was an aircheck from the early 1970s of a hot Top 40 jock in Kansas City. This guy had it all: energy, timing, good phones, etc. Definitely of major market caliber and easy to see why he was at one of the top stations in KC. I said “This is great! Who is this?” He looked right in my eyes and said “That was me, before I (expletive deleted) myself up. When you get to the big stations, there will be drugs. Wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t do drugs. Just don’t do it. Or else, you’ll end up like me.” That stuck with me, always and forever. I never forgot what he said. I never used drugs. Thanks, buddy, for the most valuable piece of radio advice I ever received. R.I.P.

My last show on KWKR was Friday, November 15, 1985. My parents had been pushing me to go to college and get a degree in ‘something.’ “Go back to school and get a real job”, as my dad loved to say. So, I did. I went back to Minnesota and enrolled in college. I hated it. When the quarter was finished and I had completed my exams, I got in my car and drove 800 miles back to my radio station in Kansas. At 6:00 the next morning, I walked into the KWKR air studio. Much to the surprise of Lee Barr who couldn’t believe I was really standing in front of him. My timing was good since Cindy (who replaced me in afternoons) was going on vacation next week. Would I be interested in filling in for her? Of course I would!

Unfortunately, there was no full time position available for me to slide back into. My “KWKR Comeback” was just a temporary 2 week radio fix. So after completing vacation relief duty, I headed back to Minnesota. I would soon end up back at KCHK and then, back at KNAB! Two steps forward, two steps back. That’s the way this crazy business called “radio” works sometimes. I’ll tell you all about my Summer of ’86 Radio Regression in Chapter 7.