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Park Rapids broadcast group celebrates 50 years

After 50 years behind the microphone, Ed De La Hunt of Park Rapids, Minn., continues to engage audiences. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- The "voice of the nation's vacationland" debuted 50 years ago on Sunday when KPRM AM went on the air halfway into a Friday evening basketball between the local high school and Sebeka, Minn.

A long-anticipated telegram from the Federal Communication Commission had arrived at 7:30 p.m. that evening, giving the station the go ahead to go on air.

With just a 100 watt transmitter, KPRM's founder and chief engineer Ed De La Hunt re-called, "the sheriff had 150 more on his two-way radio."

It was the lowest broadcasting power that could put a station on the air, he said, but, like the business, it would grow over the years.

Ed would go on to add seven more stations in five markets, including Bemidji and Walker, Minn., under the De La Hunt Broadcasting Group. And one of those would go on to become the most powerful station in the state with 100,000 watts of broadcasting power.

It began with a labor dispute at Twin Cities radio station in 1959 that sent Ed and his wife Carol packing. "We were locked out," he said of his role as chief engineer at the station. "We had our first child and no job."

'Try our own'?

The family headed north after Ed learned a Thief River Falls station was looking for an engineer and announcer. He said he accepted a "major wage reduction" to do so.

Twenty-two dead mice in the transmitter greeted his arrival, but he said he "got things going."

The incident stirred the De La Hunt's entrepreneurial spirit.

"Maybe we should try our own," the couple decided. They bought a $25 used typewriter and drafted an FCC license application, naming Park Rapids as the site of their transmitter.

Ed, who'd spent summers on the Whitefish chain of lakes, determined that "pristine" Park Rapids to be "our kind of town."

Their first application was rejected, though, and he went to work repairing TVs at a local shop to earn extra cash to re-file. Ed would go on to take radio jobs in Sheldon, Iowa, and Brainerd, Minn., before getting word in September 1962 that their second application had been accepted.

They began building a 153-foot tower a mile west of Park Rapids. By mid-November, the station was ready, and the FCC sent its telegram to give the De La Hunts the green light.

"Ralph Nordquist, the owner of the hardware store walked around the corner and handed me the telegram," Ed said. "We were on the air."

State's most powerful

In 1966, with a new tower and building on Minnesota Highway 34, the De La Hunts applied for an FM permit, which was granted in 1967. KDKK FM -- Music for Adults -- went on air with a 100,000-watt transmitter.

"This is unbelievable for the size of the community," Ed said, noting his good friend Stan Hubbard came on at 100,000 watts two months later in the Twin Cities.

The FM station broadcasting "the best music ever made" is also home to "Coffeetime," "When Radio Was" and "Curiosity Time."

Family members have played key roles in the business evolution.

Carol was involved from the start, and Ed said that, "if it wasn't for her, we wouldn't be here."

Her father, Eugene Granse, was a partner when the station debuted.

Ed and Carol's sons David, Richard, Butch and his wife Tammy and daughters Bernie Schumacher, Gene Kanten and Cindy Jacobson -- working as a consulting engineer in Washington, D.C. -- have also played key roles in the stations' evolution.

And grandkids are now stepping up to the mic.

Still in the studio

In April, Ed was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular, autoimmune disorder that affects muscles and the nerves that control them.

It's manageable, but not curable, doctors told him.

"But I'm still on 'Coffeetime,' give or take a morning," he said of the venue for espousing his political views over the last 50 years. At 75, Ed said he has no intentions of turning off the microphone any time soon.

"What's most unique is every station, from bricks and mortar to the tower, we built and operate," Butch said of his father's legacy.

"Nine stations built, owned and operated by a single family -- and never been sold," Butch said. "This may be unique in the country -- definitely in Minnesota."

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