Happy New Year! We hope that 2023 is starting well for everyone.
To start the new year, we have retitled the “Weekly Radio Readings” to “Historic Happenings.” Each week’s story will be posted in its entirety. The stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Looking Back in Time” program.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
Available recordings will also be linked to the Wild 102 “Looking Back in Time” page.
January 22, 2023
At the Roseau County Museum, I was looking for information about Bob Bergland for a story to read on the radio and found this in his file. It was an email he had written in 2011.
When I was a 5-year-old boy, living on our family farm along the river south of Roseau, we had a battery-powered Philco radio used sparingly because we had no electricity to recharge the battery. A makeshift radio station near Skime started up in the summer of 1934 carrying mostly local musicians. I’ll never forget those broadcasts with a car engine chugging along in the background. Such was the best technology of the time.
I recently learned about a new series on local art featuring music and musicians from the early days sponsored by the Roseau County Historical Society. I recalled the first Roseau County radio station and decided to find out more about the enterprise and learned that Russ Berger would be a valuable resource. I interviewed Wally and produced this narrative:
Russ and his brothers Dick and Wally along with Gene Sjoberg, Thief River Falls, and others, built and ran an illegal radio broadcast station at Herb Skime’s deer hunting camp deep in the jack pine forest about 6 miles NE from the present day Skime store. The Berger family moved to Minnesota in 1932 after several drought stricken lean years in Wild Rose, ND. They were a talented musical family urged on by their mother who led them on the family organ. Three sons, Russ, Dick, and Wally excelled on the guitar, mandolin and banjo. All played by ear and possibly couldn’t read music but never needed it because of their highly trained sense of sound.
Russ had training in radio repair and understood the science of radio, enabling him and Gene Sjoberg to build a broadcast station with very primitive equipment. They placed the antennae wire high in the jackpine trees. There was no electricity in rural places at the time so they rigged up an ingenious power supply. They had a Model T Ford car, jacked up the rear end, removed the rubber tire on one side and placed a flat belt to drive a generator. The generator had an electric output about the same as a flashlight bulb and it worked. Using parts and materials found locally, it had a broadcast range of 30 miles or more depending on the weather.
They started broadcasting in the summer of 1932. Programming was not scheduled much ahead of time. It was mostly local talent singing and playing music popular at the time. In nice weather they would play outside and when the weather was bad they would cram people into the hunting shack. A good time was had by all. They broadcast at 1600 Megahertz and had no license. They had a larger audience among local people with radios. Bob Bergland says, “My folks would never miss a broadcast and I remember hearing the exhaust of the Model T engine chugging along backgrounding the music.”
In the spring of 1933, they had a visitor from Canadian authorities complaining that their broadcasting was interfering with Canadian radio traffic. They made the necessary corrections to avoid that trouble. The Kittleson store at the time was located about two miles north of present day Skime Store. The radio station and the Kittlesons entered into an advertising agreement. The station would air advertising for Kittlesons and would get paid in groceries. No money changed hands but it didn’t matter. The agreement was well known in the community, but word of it got out and state authorities descended. An agreement was reached. The locals would shut down the broadcast station and the authorities would not press charges.
Thus ends a fascinating story of great importance to a very small poverty-stricken community in a remote rural place.
We’re grateful to Bob Bergland for documenting so many interesting things about our county.
Thank you to (www.roseauonline.com) for letting us share our county’s history with your listeners by donating air time, studio time, and production staff every week.