My First Radio Job: KNAB AM/FM Burlington, CO 1983-84

April 9, 2020

I graduated from Brown Institute of Broadcasting in June, 1983. To say that I was anxious to begin working in radio “for real” was an understatement. Our Placement Director at Brown was a man by the name of Mike Kronforst. Shortly before graduation, Mike advised our class on how best to land our first position. “Don’t be picky with jobs”, he said. Those who were willing to go anywhere and do any format for any salary would be most successful in finding work. This was me. At 19, I was more than ready to start my new adventure, wherever it might take me. All I had to do now was send out those audition tapes and wait. To quote Tom Petty, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

A couple months later, Mr. Kronforst called me. He said “I think I might have something for you. It’s a small station in Colorado.” I was stoked! COLORADO! Mountains, ski resorts, snow bunnies, and non-stop fun. While my classmates were having to relocate to Wolf Point, Montana; Dickinson, North Dakota; and Osage, Iowa, I hit the jackpot. I was going to COLORADO! Then, Mike said something I will never forget: “But I have to warn you, she’s a very demanding employer.” I didn’t care. Did I mention that I was going to Colorado?

KNAB_Aug_1983

The station: KNAB AM/FM in Burlington, Colorado. Bette Bailly was the General Manager. I called her immediately and was offered the job. Told her I would have to think it over. The next day, I called back and asked for another $50 per month. Gutsy, I know. But she agreed, so I packed up my ’77 Olds Cutlass Supreme and headed west. I couldn’t get to Burlington fast enough. When I arrived, my first question was “Where are the mountains?” The locals laughed and said “Mountains? There ain’t no mountains here. This is Eastern Colorado! You have to go another 100 miles west to even see the mountains. Just what I wanted to hear after driving across Kansas on I-70 and looking at flatlands for the past 425 miles. But none of this mattered. I had arrived. My radio dream was finally coming true!

Bette Bailly was one of a kind. By far, she was the toughest boss I ever worked for. She would work you hard and for long hours. She could cuss like a sailor. As a new KNAB employee, you learned these things quickly. But she was also fair. When I got chewed out, it was because I deserved it. Bette absolutely would not tolerate schlocky work. If she thought a commercial wasn’t good enough, she’d make you do it over. She was the boss and you were the employee. She had no time for attitude from kids fresh out of Brown who thought they knew everything. If you didn’t produce, she would fire you without hesitation and find a replacement who would. As it should be. Bette always said “Disc jockeys are a dime a dozen.” She was right. In later years, I developed a great deal of respect for this lady. You see, she’s been at KNAB since it began in 1967. This was a time when very few women worked in radio. She purchased KNAB AM/FM in 1991 and has owned them ever since. Her stations make money, even during hard economic times. Through the endless waves of radio corporatization and consolidation, she has managed to hang on for 47 years and counting. A very impressive track record, to say the least.

At KNAB, I did a little bit of everything. I worked various on-air shifts, produced commercial announcements, gathered news, helped with sports, burned the trash, and occasionally shoveled the snow. All for the princely sum of $750 per month. The rent on my furnished 1BR apartment was just $180 per month, so this wasn’t too bad. Truth be told, I would have done it for free, just to be on-the-air! KNAB was a great little station. The equipment was in solid shape, good signals on both AM and FM, and we even got to play “rock” records after 6PM! I worked for Bette from August 22, 1983 to May 23, 1984. Mr. Kronforst strongly suggested we stay one year at that first job. I figured 9 months was close enough. For reasons that to this day I don’t completely understand, I wanted to return to Minnesota. So, at the conclusion of my last show, I packed up my U-Haul and headed back home. Little did I know that my next radio job would be at a POLKA station! More on that in Chapter 4.