I Built My Own Radio Station: WERD & KAVR 1974-83

April 9, 2020

When I was 10 years old, I determined that I needed an AM transmitter. But there was a slight problem: a 10-year-old kid can’t just walk into a store and buy a radio transmitter. You have to build it, either from scratch or from a kit. At my school library, there were books on how to build radios and related electronic devices. My favorite was a trilogy by Alfred Morgan: “The Boys’ (First, Second, Third) Book of Radio and Electronics.” The Second Book had plans for a small tube-type AM broadcast transmitter. I checked this book out several times. In fact, I was the only one who checked out this book! After studying the plans and parts list, I decided to go a different route. Radio Shack had recently introduced an inexpensive kit known as the Science Fair AM Broadcaster. Cost was a very reasonable $7.95, including all necessary parts and assembly instructions. I had never built anything before, but I decided to give it a try. Within a few evenings, my project was complete. I will NEVER forget the excitement of connecting that final wire, scanning the dial on my Wards Airline 6 Band portable, and hearing my own voice over the radio speaker. IT WORKS! IT WORKS! I ran down the stairs to show my parents, then outside to see how far the signal would carry. No longer did I need to use a walkie-talkie with a piece of tape over the button. Now, I had a REAL radio station!

The instructions supplied with my AM Broadcaster stated a range of “about 40 feet.” This proved to be accurate. I could transmit from one side of our house to the other or to the next-door neighbors. On a good day, I could make it to the street. This coverage was achieved by using the supplied antenna: a simple piece of green insulated wire, approximately 10 feet in length. It also assumed a standard 9-volt transistor radio battery would be used as the power source. I soon began to experiment with long wires of various lengths and heights. As I became more knowledgeable about antenna construction, the range of my little station improved. One day, I was staring at the unused telephone wall jack in my bedroom. What would happen if I were to open up the jack and connect the end of my green antenna wire to one of the telephone wires? I tried it and was initially disappointed since the signal level inside the house didn’t seem to change much. But then I went out and stood underneath the overhead phone lines on the street in front of my house. WOW! A solid 5 out of 5 on the Airline’s signal strength meter! I excitedly walked up and down the street, listening to the LP record that was playing back in my bedroom. To me, this was sheer magic!

For the next 9 years, I “played radio” every day for my neighbors. I would bring a tape recorder to school to “interview” kids and teachers on the playground. When I came home that afternoon, I would play the tape back over my station, complete with live narration of the day’s activities. The kids in my neighborhood and even their parents thought this was pretty cool! I even developed an ongoing program which I called “Interview the Playground Aid.” My call letters during this time were W-E-R-D. “That’s ‘Drew’ spelled backwards”, as I would proudly proclaim on-the-air!

By 1979, I was 15 and into that rebellious Album Rock music that my parents hated so much. The format was changed to reflect this. Being in Apple Valley, Minnesota, I also changed my calls to K-A-V-R, standing for either ‘Apple Valley Radio’ or ‘Apple Valley ROCKS!’ My belated apologies to the real KAVR-AM 960 in Apple Valley, California. I never heard from them, so I’m pretty sure they were unaware that I had pilfered their call letters! I also occasionally used K-A-A-R which stood for ‘Apple Valley AM Rock.’ By the fall of ’79, KAVR had established itself as the neighborhood rocker and I was well on my way to becoming a radio DJ!

KAVR signed off for the final time in August, 1983. It was hard to say ‘goodbye’, but I had a valid reason: Now 19, I had recently graduated from Brown Institute of Broadcasting and had accepted an on-air position with a Colorado station! Time to pack up my transmitters, take down all those antennas on my parents’ house, and make the big move to my first radio job, 750 miles and 4 states away. Finally, I get my chance to work for a REAL radio station AND get paid for it! I was headed for KNAB AM/FM in Burlington, Colorado. A very fun adventure which I will tell you all about in Chapter 4.