Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Hi-Line Living: KNMC revives the radio star


November 11, 2016

KNMC's Rock Lotto drew scores of music lovers to Town Square during this year's Havre Festival Day's celebration in September.

The event consisted of five bands whose members were chosen at random, each tasked with performing five cover songs that spanned from the '50s to the '90s.

Dave Martens, an organizer of the Rock Lotto and manager of KNMC, Montana State University-Northern's radio station, said at the time that the concert was both a means to promote local music and a celebration to mark the 15th anniversary of the station's resurrection.

The event was also a way for musicians to do what over the years the radio station has done for the Havre community: expose listeners to music they would otherwise likely not hear.

Rick Linie, a former KNMC manager who is now host of a weekly radio show, began his involvement with the station in 1979 when it was known by the call letters KNOG, and had "10 awesome watts of power."

"You couldn't even get it everywhere around town it was only 10 watts. So basically on the outskirts of town you couldn't get it, but you could get it within a one-mile radius." Linie said.

Nonetheless, despite its limited reach, the station, then housed in the tower of the campus's Cowan Hall, had a loyal core of listeners.

Every Tuesday Linie would host "Radio, Radio," a weekly show that aired 9 p.m. to midnight where he played new music. At the time he also worked at a record store.

"And there was a guy who was Lonnie Bitterman, who graduated with me, and he came in the next day to the record store and he said 'I loved everything you played last night, I want it all' and I sold him 30 albums, because he wanted everything I played," Linie said.

Back in those days, Linie said, he and other DJs would pump out the latest songs from groups and artists like the Buzzcocks, the Clash, the Dictators and Patti Smith.,

"It was all pretty much punk rock. There was a lot of that going on with the people who were DJs at the time," Linie said.

Some DJs even played tracks of what was then a genre of music still in it's infancy, hip hop, and it was likely the first time many in Havre ever heard it.

"So people got experienced to hip hop in Havre in 1979, which I think was pretty far ahead of the curve in Montana," he said.

Linie also had moments behind the microphone he still clearly remembers.

In 1979, when a lightning storm raged outside while Linie was broadcasting, lightning struck, knocking him off the air as he was playing "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash.

Martens said hearing Northern professor and DJ Trygve "Spike" Magelssen play a vinyl version of "Have You Ever Been Experienced" by Jimi Hendrix on the air sticks out for him.

"That was kind of like a jolt of lightning for me because I had never heard vinyl play over the air. I had records I had collected but the opportunity to play some of your own stuff or your own records over the air, it's a significant memory in my life," he said.

The history of Northern's radio station stretches back to 1951 when it was started by Bill Lisenby, an English and communications instructor at what was then Northern Montana College, as a way for his students to practice their public speaking, Martens said.

Lisenby soon began construction on a radio station in the back of his office in what was then the Student Union Building.

Eventually, the studio was moved to Cowan Hall room 224 and in 1953 a radio club was established by students, who, with Lisenby, managed the station, Martens said.

In 1954, the station that would become KNES AM 700 or Northern Education System was launched, airing music, news and student announcements.

The station changed their signal in the '70s and eventually became KNOG 90.1 FM, broadcasting to nearby parts of Havre by way of a 10-watt transmitter,

Martens said the station continued broadcasting live until 1989, when due to waning student interest it became a simulcast rebroadcasting National Public Radio and would not have on-air live DJs for the next decade.

The station's call letters were also changed to KNMC.

In the 1950s, the radio club sought to be issued the letters KNMC, as in Northern Montana College, but the letters were already used by a government-owned ship, Martens said.

By the 1980s that ship had been decommissioned, and Northern got its call letters.

It would be a decade, though, before live broadcasting would resume.

Then, in 2001, Magelssen, then a graduate student who is now a professor at Northern began taking steps to start broadcasting live again.

Martens said that through the Student Senate, Magelssen had a $10 radio fee included in charges to students that would be used for the station's operating budget.

He also updated the station's radio equipment.

Magelssen also talked with Linie about resuming live broadcast, and suggested that Linie make a return to airwaves, something Linie said he was thrilled to do so.

Throughout the summer of 2001, Linie said they would broadcast intermittently.

It didn't take long before, once again, Linie was bringing music to a new crop of listeners.

In September 2001, Linie, then the manager of Creative Leisure, a book and record store in downtown Havre, went on the air to promote a midnight sale of the "System of a Down" album by Toxicity, and became the first in the area to play the album before anyone could hear it.

The next day, KNMC was officially on the air.

Martens said that students took great interest in the reactivated station and soon had more than 50 students, staff and other community members acting as on-air hosts.

The station that once had a 10-watt transmitter now has about 400 watts, allowing people within a 20-mile radius to receive the signal and listen to the station, Linie said.

Then, in 2003 the station moved from its studio in Cowan Hall down into the Student Union Building. Martens said the move was meant to increase visibility and arouse more student interest in the station.

But in the 21st century the biggest challenge is getting young people interested in radio, they said. In an age of personalized entertainment and the internet, the radio no longer occupies the large place in popular culture that it once did.

"Radio means not a lot to kids growing up now," Linie said. "They are more likely to to get their music off of YouTube then a radio station."

Still, there are efforts afoot to capture the interest of students by offering them incentives to take part in it as well as ways to listen to it that goes beyond traditional radio, the two said.

This fall, KNMC began web streaming.

"If they are able to broadcast from their studio to Geraldine or wherever they live, they can do that, it's on the internet now," Martens said.

This fall, for the first time, COMX 291 Radio Station Participation appeared in the fall course catalog. Marten said the course gives course credit to those who produce and broadcast their own show on KNMC.

He also said that last year $2,500 worth of scholarship money was provided to student DJs.

Linie said that even in the age of the internet, a small public radio station offers a community something that a larger media outlet does not.

"No matter where you are these days, having a free voice in any community is pretty damn important," Linie said of the station. "We are actually able to have independent thinking and say some of the things we want on the air, and have opinions and play music that we think is important for people to hear instead of the mass pop crap that is pushed down everybody's throats."


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