“Wouldn’t it be ‘KooL’ to start a radio station?” That innocent question was the spark needed to start what is now KRAM 96.7. It began as an idea of two Montevideo Middle School students Josiah Christoffer and Jacob Niemand on a lazy summer day in 1997. The two started playing with their tape cassette recorder and started taping live radio shows.
The duo featured music, talk, and of course tradio! They named their station TPRS or Today’s Popular Radio Station. It was a fun pastime and the two enjoyed joking around and using different voices to make their studio and phone lines sound full of listeners. Ultimately, Jake and Josiah wanted an audience than the crazy voices they could put on tape. They knew that they had to move beyond their cassette tapes to gain the listeners they desired. They started looking in science and kit supplier catalogs for ideas.
Jake and Josiah had friend / mentor / scientist, 7th grade science teach, James Gilley. Jim had a hobby of buying and fixing used test equipment. He would spend his summer vacations going to university auctions and come back with a truck full of discount equipment. Josiah and Jake rode their bikes in to town and found their way to Jim’s house. After telling him their ideas, Jim lead to the two to his garage/laboratory. Jim explained that the kits in the catalogs only transmit around 300 feet. He said that he had something better and more powerful. After a few minutes of searching, Jim hands the two boys a CB radio and antenna. He says that it is not AM or FM, but it is something. The two thanked their version of Doc Brown and loaded up their bikes with equipment. With headphones and wires hanging on the handlebars and their backpacks full of equipment, the two made the slow bike ride back to Josiah’s house.
The two had to move out of Josiah’s basement to somewhere they could put up their CB antenna. The duo started building their first radio studio in the upstairs grain room of Josiah’s barn. They worked at putting up a ceiling and a dividing wall in their unconventional studio. Their studio was decorated with some white shelving, a circular mirror and a crossword puzzle poster.
It was hot grueling work, but it was a labor of love for the two. Joe and Jake started acquiring equipment to playback music on their unconventional radio station. They also started building their own equipment and learned about audio electronics. Their teacher Jim Gilley taught them how to solder and general electronic theory. The studio ended up with their original cassette recorder along with a couple record players and some shabby microphones. The CB radio was powered by a computer power supply. The antenna was mounted on the side of the barn. They chose channel 2 on the CB radio to broadcast on. Their tag line was “KKCB 26.975 or channel 2 on your CB radio.” The duo transmitted for the first time on June 21st 1997. Very quickly they learned that being located in a barn had its advantages as well as its drawbacks. They liked the little privacy, but the heat and dust of the days was just too much stay there. Plus the heat and dust took its toll on the equipment. They consolidated their transmission gear into an old suitcase and were ready to transmit from other locations.
KKCB shut down at the end of summer and the two decided not to transmit again until they found a permanent location, winter in the barn would not work. After school started back up in the fall, their interest in radio peaked again. They wanted a new identity on the radio as KKCB was used by another station in Minnesota. They started brainstorming all kinds of call letter combinations. KYLT, KRAP, KARP, KKOK, and KCCB were a few of their options. However, none of them options really meant anything to the two and several of the options were already used by stations.
They started thinking about some of their favorite radio stations and what were called. Kool 108 from the Twin Cities came to mind. They liked how the call letters KQQL made the word Kool. The two started listing out possible combinations of call letter words. Very quickly they realized the list of four letter words beginning with K was short. They expanded their brainstorming to include words that started with C. After a pause, Josiah shouted out cram! Jake immediately said yes, but with a K.
Instantly they both loved it! They made the word KRAM into an acronym for Kool Radio And Music. Now that they had a new identity, they needed a new location. After consulting with his parents, Jake got them to let KRAM into their basement. The table for Lego’s got cleared and radio equipment started appearing.
In December of 1997, Jake surprised Josiah with an early Christmas present for KRAM. A five channel Radio Shack audio mixer was ready for action. The two also acquired KRAM’s first computer, a MacIntosh SE-30 with 16MHz of processing power!
After wiring and constructing equipment racks the two made it back on the air from Jake’s basement on January 12, 1998. They held a special show that included an interview with Jim Gilley, some comedy, and of course music. They were still on channel 2 of the CB radio, but enjoyed the more comfortable studio.
The station did not have any regular hours at the time. However, the two made efforts to broadcast special events.
The first remote broadcast was from the gym of the Montevideo Middle School where the 8th graders took on the teachers in a game of basketball on January 21, 1998. Jake did the play by play as Josiah played. In February, Jake broadcasted the annual middle school basketball tournament from the TACC, Old Armory and middle school. He was making the calls, as Josiah sunk the tournament winning free throws with 2 seconds left in the game. Another famous broadcast was a Friday The 13th Scare-a-thon show on March 13th, 1998. The duo featured their first 50 song countdown, with the Little Archies, Sugar, Sugar winning the top spot. The real scary part of the broadcast was the fact Josiah was sick with the flu and had a 103 degree temperature.
By the spring of 1998, the two were still operating their hobby radio station KRAM.
In the summer of 1998 a neighboring town’s radio station was sold and their local studio closed. Joe and Jake had connections and scored several pickup loads of old equipment. Most of the equipment was thought to be nonworking. After laying out and going through the equipment on Josiah’s basketball court, the two started planning what was going to the studio.
KRAM ended up with with cart machines, reel to reel players, phonograph players, a Marti remote broadcast transmitter and much more. Their studio “upgrade” also included a frequency change. The two agreed that they were not going to get many listeners on CB radio. The Marti transmitter that they received broadcasted on 161.760 Mhz which is close enough to receive with weather band radios and scanners.
During the summer of 1998, the two got hired by the local radio station to run syndicated programming on Saturdays. The two learned some good radio habits working at the local station. They brought their new information back to their own station KRAM. Jake and Josiah started getting a name for themselves in Montevideo.
Another KRAM upgrade happened in the late summer of 1998. The two built a very low powered AM transmitter from a kit. Finally they could hear their own station on a regular radio. The AM signal didn’t go far, but they had a signal on 1560 kHz AM. Now that regular radios could get KRAM, the two focused on programming. The AM version of KRAM had new programs like The Joke Bag with Sal Pidman, Elmo Hye with Chopper Grover and the traffic report, and Silver Stars. Of course all of this programming originated in the minds of Joe and Jake.
Around that time the duo headed to community access Channel 8 in Montevideo. With the help of Richard Gose, they recorded their first production work for KRAM, a CD of station identifiers and liners. The two where a hit in Montevideo and were asked to broadcast and assist with many community events. One memorable event was when Joe and Jake DJ’ed an all-night Girl Scout party in the high school gym. It started at midnight and lasted until 4am. The duo blew out every speaker they had, except one! The most popular song was Do Wah Ditty by Manfred Mann. By the end of the party, Joe and Jake were playing ball in the gym and ready for bed.
The two never stopped upgrading their equipment. They were regular customers at Radio Shack – Reed’s Music Center in Montevideo and became friends with its owner Dave Folkested. The two upgraded their studio to include a 5 disc CD player, a dual deck cassette tape player, a TV, a web-site (kramradio.ml.org and geocities.com/kramradio), and a new, more professional audio mixing console. Josiah also attempted to fix their televsion and learned very quickly not to touch certain electronics. They finally had the technology to do pretty much anything they wanted to, including the long held dream broadcasting Thunderhawks sports live.
In September of 1998, they build their remote studio. Using a telephone line, the duo broadcasted Montevideo ThunderHawk basketball and volleyball games live from the high school gym. The two became regulars at ThunderHawk sporting events throughout the 1998-99 school year.
In early 1999 the two were still working at the local radio station in addition to KRAM. One fateful Saturday, the two met the contract engineer who serviced the local station. Ken Bartz immediately saw the excitement that the two had for radio and became good friends with them. Ken was very generous in sharing his knowledge and love of radio with the two. Whenever he made it to town the three got together for supper. Ken inspired them to move to the FM band and was soon lending his equipment to KRAM.
After constructing a new 37 foot mast in May 1999, KRAM made the official change to the FM band at 98.3 Mhz.
Even though they were still unlicensed and very power, Joe and Jake had an official first day of FM broadcasting party on July 24, 1999. It included broadcasting from the front lawn of Jake’s parents’ house for 15 hours straight. It also included an unwanted visit from the general manager of the radio station Joe and Jake worked for. The duo decided it was best to concentrate on KRAM and find other part-time employment.
Later that same week, Joe and Jake broadcasted from the front lawn again as thousands of bikers with the The Ride Across Minnesota, an annual bike ride for Multiple Sclerosis awareness, rode right past the station.
The two spent the summer of 1999 broadcasting and learning more about radio. The duo remotely broadcasted from Java River for the cafe’s anniversary, as well as from the farm show Farmfest.
Joe and Jake also visited Ken as he worked on other radio stations during the summer. As the summer days passed by and the school year got closer, the two wondered what they would do with KRAM-FM while they were at school. A local community leader and friend Patrick Moore inspired the two to do some fundraising. During the month of August in 1999, the duo rode their bikes around to local businesses and sold sponsorships for their upcoming high school sports broadcasts. The two received support from 32 local business and over $2200 in donations. KRAM-FM got its first computer and automation system. KRAM was ready for when the two went to high school. The computer would play music and announcements during the day, and Joe and Jake would take over after school.
KRAM-FM’s sports broadcasts continued and had a cult following. The two became popular in Montevideo and beyond. Articles by the Montevideo American-News and the West Central Tribune brought the story of KRAM-FM to many regional readers. The articles also got picked up by many regional newspapers too! It also caught the eye several television stations.
In October of 1999 KRAM-FM was featured on a Jason Davis “On the Road” segment on KSTP-TV (St. Paul). The story also aired on Hubbard Broadcasting’s national All News Channel. Once again Joe and Jake got featured in the local newspaper.
Later that month, after Jo (sic) had his appendix removed, Jake and Joe were featured as hometown heroes on KCCO-TV (Alexandria).
The newfound attention was not all positive and some local residents were not supportive. After a series of setbacks, Joe and Jake had to regroup and rethink their unlicensed radio station. They kept broadcasting the high school sporting events, but ended their local shows. The two also hosted a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio doing a story on KRAM and a representative from Senator Paul Wellstone’s office.
During this time the FCC was considering a new type of FM license. In many countries around the world, lowered power FM stations were granted to community and civic organizations. Other underground and micropower radio stations were excited for the chance of LPFM in the USA.
The FCC actually approved a new LPFM (low powered FM) station license class. These 100 watt stations would be licensed to local non-profit organizations. Ken recommended that the two pursue getting a LPFM license for Montevideo. Joe and Jake agreed that this was their path forward for KRAM. To celebrate the creation of LPFM, they rang in the new millennium by doing a radio show on the night of December 31, 1999. They were on the air and watching the clocks flip from 1999 to 2000. The two started making progress in their pursuit of an LPFM license. With the help of Patrick Moore and another local teacher Butch Halterman, Joe and Jake formed the non-profit organization ThunderHawk Broadcasting, Inc., on January 29, 2000. The duo were inspired again to build their station, now this time with more power than they had dreamed. They spent a lot of time together at Jake’s house in the basement studio of KRAM planning their way forward. A winter full of blizzards meant many days off from school and many KRAM days in Jake’s basement improving the station and studio.
In August of 2000, ThunderHawk Broadcasting was one of the first organizations to apply for the newly minted LPFM class. The duo chose their frequency of 98.3 mHz. On December 15, 2000 Congress passed a bill that would prohibit certain frequencies to be used for LPFM. The rules changed from protecting 2 adjacent FM channels to 3 adjacent channels. 98.3 Mhz was then disqualified for LPFM. Joe and Jake had to wait to see if they could reapply for a license with a valid frequency. The two continued high school sports broadcasting and enjoying their high school years. They even made it into the yearbook! Joe and Jake also kept up with the state of radio with their friend Ken. Visits from Ken usually meant new equipment for the duo to try out!
Around this time, Dave Folkested decided to retire and close his Radio Shack store. He invited Joe and Jake to the once in a lifetime sale – everything was free! The duo showed up in Josiah’s Chevy S-10 pickup. Dave showed Jake and Josiah the back rooms full of used and returned merchandise. He made sure the two left with over four pickup loads of equipment. Some of Dave’s equipment is still used by KRAM today. Eventually, Montevideo got a new Radio Shack store and the two immediately became friends with its owner, Barry Corder. Jake had actually met Barry at his Redwood Falls Radio Shack in the summer of 1999. Barry was happy and very supportive to see the two were still doing radio.
As the process of becoming a licensed LPFM station was taking a long time, Joe and Jake started looking at alternatives like Internet broadcasting or streaming audio. They had another article in the West Central Tribune. Unfortunately, the timing and technology did not work out and the two were back to waiting for an LPFM license. KRAM 96.7 was still visible in the community and was on location when the Hollywood theater sign was relight. They were there when Governor Jesse Ventura visited Montevideo on September 6, 2001. Joe and Jake also recorded interviews of local residents in Montevideo on the night of September 11, 2001 at various gas stations. There were lines for gas that the town had never experienced before. Eventually in June of 2002, Josiah and Jake graduated from Montevideo Senior High School.
The two were off to college in Iowa the next fall. In October of 2002 the duo received some great news. ThunderHawk Broadcasting would be able to amend its original application and change frequencies to the available 96.7 MHz. Only a few short months later during their summer vacation, Joe and Jake received more good news. On May 22, 2003 the two read on NorthPine Broadcasting News that the FCC granted ThunderHawk Broadcasting Inc. a low power FM construction permit. The unusual story of the station spread quickly, even in Radio Trade Magazines! Their dream was ready to be built and had to be on the air within 18 months or by November 2004.
Within a month the call sign KKRM-LP was reserved for the station. KRAM had become unavailable year earlier because an AM station in Oregon requested the call letters. Joe and Jake were excited and ready to build. During the summer of 2003, Ken helped find and obtain equipment for the new station.
Ken and Jake made a trip up to Bottineau, ND to get a transmitter for the station. The transmitter, a 1962 Collins 830, serial number 62, was recently removed from KBTO. In an ironic twist of fate, the transmitter was being stored in a pig barn. Once again, the old adage of being born in a barn is true for KRAM 96.7. Making the trip together in a Ryder truck, Ken took the high powered portion of the transmitter and Jake took the lower powered portion back to Montevideo for 96.7 MHz. Even though the transmitter did retain the smell of pig barn, it worked flawlessly for 96.7 MHz.
Joe, Jake and Ken made adjustments to their original 37 foot mast and in August of 2003 they installed an OMB MP-1 circularly polarized FM transmitting antenna. They tested the transmitter and antenna, and both were ready to go on the air for KRAM at 96.7. The transmission part of the station was ready to go, however the studio and office could not be in Jake’s basement anymore. This left the station looking for space to originate from. At this point, Joe and Jake went back to Iowa for another year of college.
During that 2003-04 college year, the duo concentrated on other aspects of the radio station. Jake started doing production work for the sound of the station. Josiah started gathering music for KRAM’s music library.
By the time spring of 2004 came around 12 months had passed since ThunderHawk Broadcasting, Inc. received the construction permit for 96.7 in Montevideo. KKRM-LP needed to sign on within 6 months. When Jake got back to Montevideo from college, Patrick Moore assisted him in locating studio space. Jerry Ross, the owner of the Top Of The Mall building in downtown Montevideo offered to give KRAM studio and office space in exchange for a sponsorship.
After moving into the Top Of the Mall building, KRAM was helped by Alex, Pam, Kevin, Ben, Brittney, and many other friends to get ready to go on the air.
By the end of July, Ken and Jake had finalized the engineering portion of the station and equipment testing had concluded. Jerry Ross let the duo put a KRAM advertisement on the Hollywood Theater marquee.
KRAM 96.7 then started transmitting a teaser telling listeners to tune in at 7pm on Friday.
The duo finally signed on their dream radio station on Friday July 30, 2004 at 7pm. With 100 watts of effective radiated power, KRAM returned to the airwaves in Montevideo stronger than ever. Right before Jake went on the air for the first time at 7 pm, the on air computer playing the music froze while playing the very first the station identification. It was a produced liner saying “from the top, top, top, top of the mall this is KRAM 96 FM.” The liner started skipping when it gets to the top, top, top part and froze when it completed playing. After some nervous chatter on the air, Jake got the computer rebooted and was able to play the first song on KRAM, the Flaming Lips “Do You Realize?” The KRAM team hosted an open house from the newly finished studios located in the “Top of The Mall” building that weekend. Many people from the community stopped by to say hello. KRAM even hosted a boy scout troop. The format of KRAM 96.7 was something new that Montevideo never had before. It is mix of music called Adult Album Alternative. It features a lot of singer/songwriters and tends to be a bit more sophisticated mix for music lovers. There was nothing like KRAM on the dial and the listeners were very dedicated.
In April 2006, Jerry Ross sold the Top of The Mall building, and KRAM 96.7 relocated to 114 South 2nd Street in Montevideo.
KRAM’s popularity in Montevideo grew over time. With a heavy emphasis on Quality Music, more people tuned into 96.7 during their workday.
KRAM 96.7 received a van from Dave Mitlyng of Mitlyng Electric for remote broadcasting. This mobile studio was built and broadcasted that summer from the outdoor swimming pool, from Crazy Dayz in downtown Montevideo, from the newly finished playground at Smith Park, and from Lagoon Park for the Battle of the Bands. KRAM was again featured in the West Central Tribune.
After a few years KRAM outgrew the space and needed a new location. KRAM enthusiast Michael Groothuis generously offered studio space for KRAM at 109 North 1st Street. In late December 2008, KRAM 96.7 moved its studio and office one last time into this much larger space. This location has been KRAM’s home ever since.
Over the past few years, KRAM 96.7 has upgraded much equipment, added online audio streaming, and got custom produced Jam jingles.
On September 22, 2017 ThunderHawk Broadcasting, Inc. received a new and appropriate callsign! The AM station that had been using the KRAM call sign went off the air and its license was deleted. Finally after 13 years 96.7 is officially know as KRAM-LP to the FCC and radio nerds everywhere! The KRAM call sign ended up where it rightly belongs, in Montevideo, Minnesota.
The dream of KRAM 96.7 could not have happened with many generous people along the way. Josiah and Jake wish to thank everyone who helped them and would like to inspire people to follow their dreams. Everyday KRAM 96.7 is on the air, is a day their dream is fulfilled. Go after your dream, and as Joe and Jake would say “and remember keep smiling!”
If anyone would like to help KRAM 96.7 by sponsoring us or donating their talents to help us out, please contact us.
In memory of KRAM supporters: Dave Folkested, Jerry Ross, and Barry Corder – May They Rest In Peace