Dakota Datebook

Reineke/WDAY Radio

Thursday, November 13, 2003

On this date in 1943, Earl Charles Reineke married Jane Marie Early. He was a broadcaster, and she was a dancer and professional model. Before his death, Reineke established a foundation to establish an educational or scientific memorial in Fargo, and when she died, half of Mrs. Reineke’s estate was added to the foundation. Their shared dream materialized with the construction of the Reineke Fine Arts Center at NDSU in 1982.

Earl Reineke started out his illustrious career with a hobby – experimenting with crystal sets. In the earliest days of radio, these sets could be heard only through earphones and crackled with constant static. In the early 1900s, countless Americans assembled broadcasting sets and taught themselves how to operate them.

UND professor Hoyt Taylor had been broadcasting locally since 1916, using an arc transmitter he built in his physics lab. For a power supply, he had to connect his transmitter to the overhead wire of the city’s electric railway system, which was 550 volts DC. A negative ground posed some problems, plus the frequencies the Department of Commerce made him use were higher than he wanted and caused an unstable arc.

In the winter of 1916-17, Hoyt started broadcasting music from the station, reaching a radius of about 200 miles around Grand Forks. But his microphones kept shorting out, so the system had to be rebuilt every day for the next night’s program.

When UND secured a license for KFJM in 1923, they wanted to make the station profitable. So they installed remote facilities in area churches and hotels and charged them $3 an hour for broadcasts. H. J. Monley did the announcing for $1 per broadcast.

Meanwhile, back in Fargo, World War I had ended, and Reineke, along with Kenneth Hance and Lawrence Hamm, had taken their hobbies to the next level and had started selling radio equipment. In 1922, they decided that a broadcasting station would promote more sales, so they formed WDAY, the first licensed radio station in North Dakota and one of the first 100 stations in the country.

Reineke and his partners needed a high location for their transmitter, so they set up shop in a small room in the tower of Fargo’s Cass County courthouse. The “studio” contained a 50-watt broadcasting set, three chairs, a Victrola phonograph, a table, and the three men.

After a year of competing with the tower’s chimes and chattering sparrows, the men moved their station to a new location above the Topic Cigar Store. Here they added a piano and swathed the room with heavy drapery to soak up unwanted noise. On top of the building, they constructed a 30-foot antenna. Now their programs reached as far as Hillsboro, some forty miles away.

By the 1930s, WDAY boosted its power to 5000 watts and built a new transmitting station in West Fargo, maintaining studios in the Black Building downtown.

And in the early 1950s, a television station was added, and evenings on the prairie were soon changed forever.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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