KOMA AM a hit with kids in 1960s, 1970s [UPDATED]Published 9:58am Monday, August 27, 2012 Updated 12:03pm Monday, August 27, 2012
Oklahoma City was home to the infamous KOMA AM radio station. Tuning in during the 1960s and 1970s during evening hours were teenagers all across the west central United States, including those in Otter Tail County.
One of those was Steve Rufer of Fergus Falls whose recollections of the 1960s are part of a display at the Otter Tail County Historical Society’s museum in Fergus Falls.
Rufer, a 1967 graduate of Fergus Falls High School who later became an attorney, joined thousands of other kids who tuned into KOMA AM.
With a big 50,000-watt signal, KOMA attracted rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts from a wide area. Another popular radio station was WLS in Chicago, where Fergus Falls native Chuck Knapp once worked as a disc jockey.
Many kids in this area, including me, listened to KOMA AM on small transistor radios that were battery operated. We oftentimes fell asleep with the radio next to our beds after listening to Chuck Berry, the Supremes, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Beatles and others.
Listening to KOMA AM provided a break from studying history for instructor Lillian Bechtel, working on chemistry problems for Earl Engan, writing a paper for English teacher Evangeline Quam or preparing for other classes at Fergus Falls High School.
KOMA, as noted on its website, was born on Christmas Eve, 1922, in Oklahoma City.
The future radio giant was then only 15 watts of power under the original call letters, KFJF. Dudley Shaw, an energetic businessman and an excellent engineer, was KFJF’s creator. During this time, the principal function of KFJF was to rebroadcast the programming of larger eastern stations.
In 1932, the KFJF call letters were retired and the station became known as KOMA. The future radio giant took on its familiar frequency when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved all AM radio stations 10 to 40 kilohertz up the dial. KOMA 1480 became KOMA 1520, and was operating at 50,000 watts by late 1946.
KOMA began the first mobile news coverage by a radio station in Oklahoma City in 1958, and also became a true rock ‘n’ roll radio station after it was purchased by the Storz Broadcasting Company.
In 1961, the KOMA studios and transmitter were permanently combined at one site on the south side of Oklahoma City. KOMA then became a totally automated station for a period of three years. In 1964, it was determined that KOMA could better serve the public by returning to live programming.
Rufer, me and others were hooked. It was a joy turning on the transistor radio and tuning into KOMA AM.
On Sept. 12, 1980, General Manager Woody Woodard introduced a recorded montage of the top hit records of the 50s, 60s and 70s, a signal that a new era was about to begin. A short while later DJ Gregg Lindahl played John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and KOMA Country was born.
This was the start of another chapter in the long and proud history of KOMA.
In 2004, after more than 12 years of airing on both AM and FM, the legendary call letters of KOMA and the programming history they represent officially completed the transition from AM to FM.
“And the beat goes on,” said Lindahl.