Edited by Jenny Collins ’05 and Nancy Zugschwert
"The events leading up to that first day of broadcasting in February 1949 are varied and involved, and they constitute an historical narrative too lengthy for detailed recounting."
These words written by Jerry Beavan, former KTIS news announcer, Northwestern faculty member and honorary alumnus, appeared in a 1950 Pilot article marking the first anniversary of KTIS.
Today, 60 years after its launch, the historical narrative of KTIS is lengthier still, expanded to include stories of countless listeners who have experienced the impact of Christ-centered radio. There are stories, too, from those behind the microphone and at the control panel. Eight current and former staff members share perspectives and memories from their more than 230 years of combined history with KTIS and Northwestern Media.
CLAYTON: The student body raised a fabulous amount of money at that time to put the station on the air. We were averaging $1,000 a week.
PAUL R: There was a legal entanglement prior to getting on the air [related to a labor dispute]. The mayor of Minneapolis at that time stepped in and straightened it out and enabled us to get on the air. His name was Hubert Humphrey.
DON: Many people asked, “Why did you get the call letters [KTIS]? You’re west of the river. It should start with ‘W.’” George Wilson said when he went there [to the FCC], “They handed me KTIS and that was it.”
CLAYTON: They had a temporary studio so they could make it live. It was up behind the backboard of the gym. It was a room with glass windows that looked over the auditorium. Just a little dinky place.
PAUL R: The “temporary” studio lasted over 20 years! There were rooms within a room. There was a large room that was a lecture hall. We built studios within that large room. A control room studio, another studio. We just kept building—no rhyme or reason. They were not soundproof and were very fragile…and we used them for over 20 years until we came to Roseville.
CLAYTON: The equipment was so immense. You had a turntable that was large to play these [16-inch] discs. Then you had microphones that were enormous. Everywhere I went I had to mount that for a broadcast. You’d get four to five people on one microphone singing. Now you just have the little small mic, and each person has one. The equipment [today] is out of sight compared to what it was in those days.
DON: In Minneapolis, the station was really an extension of the college. Dr. Edwin Hartill used to come in and do his daily program [“Bible Nuggets”]. He would walk from his classroom and they would start his theme [on the air] and he would do his fifteen minutes live. It allowed the college to impact the community through Bible teaching, which blossomed into the evening school concept and helped the whole ministry.
CLAYTON: Everything was live in the early days, so you had to have scripts. We had it formatted to a fifteen-minute or a half-hour program.
DON: Now we use a mouse; then we used razor blades [to edit tape]. You had to be careful because if you were alone and accidentally sliced something, that’s not too good.
NEIL: Dan and I started back in ’76. That was sort of the initiation rite of passage if you could edit tapes with a razor blade. That would be your opportunity to show how capable you were as a broadcaster.
TRIPPED UP BY TECHNOLOGY
DON: I had the honor of trying to put the first automation system together. We had live tapes and discs. In the ’80s we decided, "Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a little walk-away time?" So we put together what was known as "Mr. Auto." It took us about two years to make it behave. We would tell it what to do and program it, but it didn’t always do that. Tapes would stop in the middle because we didn’t figure out how to deal with static. You would walk by and touch something and the whole thing stops.
LISA: Many times there would be a silence during say, Insight for Living, in which he [Chuck Swindoll] would often pause. The automation system, after so many seconds, would go to fill music. People were convinced that it was either Satan who was stopping the broadcast or that Chuck Swindoll had said something offensive and we were cutting him off. There were always hiccups in the system. And it was so creative, the things that people would come up with as to why that was happening.
PAUL R: The very first Sharathon [on-air fundraiser] was in June of 1967. We wanted to raise our power and go to a higher tower to do that. We weren’t doing an authentic Sharathon—we were talking in between programs. We made modest progress for the first three days. It was decided on the final day to drop everything and go with a complete Sharathon for the whole day, asking for funds. By the final day, $51,000 had come in for the tower for the project. That was quite a bit of money in 1967.
PAUL V: One of my most memorable moments was [in 2005] during Sharathon in the fall, we had some nasty weather in the area. Pretty soon the lights went out. Kathy Carey [longtime KTIS employee] herded all the Sharathon volunteers together and got them down in the tunnel because the tornado sirens were going off. We actually took the last two pledges by the light of a cell phone.
This was at the end of the second day of a three-day Sharathon. What were we going to do for the next day? We managed to find a generator, brought it over and at five o’clock in the morning we went back on the air. That last day of Sharathon, the Lord helped us raise over $1 million. It was a reminder that the Lord takes care of us and takes care of our needs. That is such an incredible testimony over the years of God’s provision over this station.
PAUL R: I can think of one illustration that I will never forget. On a winter Friday morning a woman in St. Paul was kidnapped...grabbed by an assailant and put in the trunk of her car and taken to a remote spot in Bloomington. Her husband was a banker. We found out about it; they were listeners to the station. We began asking people to pray for her release. This was on a Friday. There was a call for a ransom. Sunday came and we had finished our Sunday dinner and I sat down to read the newspaper. I thought, "Here I am in the comfort of my home, and [this woman] is who knows where and what kind of shape she’s in."
I called the station and asked them to put on another announcement praying for her release. They did, and she was listening. Her captors were listening. She heard the spot where I asked them to pray for her release and said, "See, they’re praying that I will be released." Just a short time after that, she got enough courage to say, "I’m leaving. I’m going to go." She got up and went out of the house. They let her go. She walked down the road to the 7-Eleven and called her husband. She escaped without any harm. I think that’s quite an amazing story of how God can intervene and how God can use radio in a very particular, interactive way.
HARV: I had put together a program playing a variety of music. I came to a point where I introduced Steve Gamble and the Gamble Folk. At that time Steve himself was driving down the Interstate and had fallen asleep. He told me later that he had heard me call out his name and woke up. He attributed that experience to saving his life.
DON: We’ve said many times that the Lord allows us to see enough to stay encouraged, but not too much that we get proud. So one person touched is a reminder to keep doing, get better, serve the Lord with excellence. I remember a feature we used to do for years that indicates how much we would touch people. It was called "A Cup of Cold Water." People would call us [with prayer requests]. We would ask our listeners to pray for this person or send a card. That was the beginning of this interactive stuff that now is so much bigger because of the Internet. At three o’clock in the morning, a lady called and said, "My daughter was killed on a bicycle and I was struggling with how I was going to go on and I heard this song [‘Because He Lives’]. Did you pick that for me?” We would say, “The Lord did." God ordains even the lyrics of a song to touch individual people one-on-one. And you stand back and say, "Wow."
PAUL R: I recall from the very beginning music was a controversial aspect, as it is up to this very day. The controversy rages on, but God has somehow worked and used all these different styles to meet the needs of many people.
LISA: I can remember one afternoon in the ’80s when I was working the phones. One person called in and said, "My word, this station has gone rock. I am not talking rock ’n roll, I am talking hard rock." Within five minutes somebody else called to say, "If your music gets any slower it is going to be like a funeral service." Listening to the exact same music…completely opposite responses to it.
DAN: When we first started doing live on-air shifts, we would walk into the record library and grab whatever we felt like playing that day. There was such inconsistency throughout the day. In the late ’80s and ’90s [we] recognized that we needed to focus better. If we wanted to broaden the audience, we needed to be more consistent. Neil and I were given the charge to do that, which was not an easy or popular process. When we first started we were trying to please everybody, so we had to do a quartet, a choir, a solo…. We had a formula where if you only liked solos, every fourth song you were going to like. We could make you happy twenty-five percent of the time.
EXTENDED IMPACT AND PARTNERSHIPS
PAUL V: I think from the outset as part of our DNA there has been that interest in what we can do to share the Gospel with people around the world.
PAUL R: Yes, I’m sure the first one was producing the Arabic version of “Unshackled” in our studios. I remember looking at a table full of letters from every Middle Eastern country, including Mecca, from people who were responding and wanted more information about the Gospel. That was a tremendous thrill.
PAUL R: It was a great blessing to be in the same area with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Because they were just a few blocks away, and there were people coming in from all over the country and all over the world, Christian leaders whom we had access to for interviews and programming. It was a wonderful partnership for 50 years.
NEIL: The Twin Cities is fairly unique in its make-up in the fact that there are more mega-churches in the area than any place in the country. There is a real church interest in the community already. I think KTIS played a nice role in terms of unifying. We became a rally point where people come together. KTIS wasn’t about one denomination.
SATELLITE AND SUNDAY NIGHT
PAUL R: I can tell you a little about the genesis of “Sunday Night.” We had just started Skylight Satellite Network. The format was totally music and short features. We felt we needed something that would add a spark or be unusual in the form of programming. So I picked a chapter out of “A Prairie Home Companion” and said, “Why don’t we have a more Christianized version of that format?” The Lord led us to these very talented people: Richard K. Allison, the Refreshment Committee, Jeff Miller, Brook Berry (now VP of Marketing & Enrollment for University of Northwestern). We put together this live show for an audience [in Maranatha Hall] which we hadn’t done before. It was risky and it was a challenge, it was controversial, and it was successful. “Music, mayhem, and some meaningful stuff,” we called it. It was a great experience of utilizing live radio.
LISA: You just want to find out what’s going on in life. It’s a matter of looking in the newspaper, reading blogs to find out what people are talking about. What are moms and dads thinking? What’s going on with families? What’s happening in the news that directly impacts us? To really get a slice of life of what’s going on, to figure out what I can say that will bring hope to [the listener]. I think in the olden days it used to be more devotional in a sense. Now it’s a little more doing life. I’m not on a pedestal as a radio announcer. We’re just friends and we’re talking about the things we’re going through in life. The songs are meeting a need and just being God’s Word to us. That’s probably the best way to describe it.
HARV: In all cases the person that’s behind the microphone is speaking to someone on the other side of the microphone. [Sometimes] a listener that I never conceived in my mind’s eye depends on the radio for their daily spiritual growth. That’s what we’re about here—to touch the hearts and lives of people out there. It’s through the work of the Holy Spirit that that gets done.
MINISTERING THROUGH THE UNTHINKABLE
NEIL: You realize in those moments…about how a song played at the right time impacts somebody, and that was probably scheduled weeks before. In those 9/11 moments you realize that we are just a channel and conduit that God is using in some pretty phenomenal ways. You are humbled and awed simply by the opportunity to be here and realize how many people are just hanging on for hope and life and a message from God. September 11th  had the opportunity to bring in some local pastors right away to get some response.
DAN: [After 9/11] we were going to be doing a series of worship concerts two weeks after that with Don Moen and other worship leaders in several of our markets. The airlines were shut down but all of these guys figured out how to get here and we did two sold-out concerts here and we did them in some other markets. That was the sweetest worship I’ve ever been to in my life, just after 9/11. Our radio stations had the opportunity to bring the community together for a time of corporate worship, calling on God to guide and direct us.
DON: The day the 35W bridge fell, they were calling us from all across the country. They asked, “What’s happening? What’s God doing? What’s going on?” We became the conduit. I did a number of interviews.
PAUL V: Other stations were interviewing an unending number of experts on the bridge and the safety. People just finally got sick of it. They needed some hope, some perspective. I think it came through in our programming. You hear again from people going, “Wow, that’s what we needed, we didn’t need another expert telling us why the bridge collapsed. We needed someone to say God is in the middle of all of this and He’s here to help you as you try to make sense of it.”
PAUL R: Immediacy, localism, and the ability to minister to people spontaneously in times of crisis. Radio can do that like no other medium. As long as it is aware of this and responds, I think [there] will always be a place for radio.
One of my favorite verses is Colossians 1:28. I paraphrase it: "So naturally we proclaim Christ. We warn everyone we meet, or everyone who will tune our way, and everyone who will stay tuned, everything that we know about Christ, so that if possible, we may bring everyone up to full maturity in Christ."
That’s our goal whether it’s on AM or FM. We’ll be a part of that process along with the local church. We can’t do it by ourselves. We are partners with the local church and other ministries.
Interviewed and edited by Jenny Collins ’05 and Nancy Zugschwert, co-editors for the Pilot and communications specialists in the Marketing & Communications office at University of Northwestern.
Clayton Pyche (Class of 1949)
Past Roles: Remote Engineer
Years of Service: 1949 to 1954
Paul Ramseyer (Class of 1955)
Vice President for Northwestern Radio (retired)
Past Roles: Announcer, traffic clerk, program director, manager, voice for Sugar Creek Gang stories, host of music programs "Sharing" and "Evensong"
Years of Service: 1953 to 1997 (continued with "Evensong" until 2003)
Vice President for Broadcast Operations
Past Roles: Manager at KUNW, network operations director, executive director for radio, interim senior vice president for radio
Years of Service: 1964 to 1985 (KUNW) and 1985 to present (KTIS)
Executive Director of Network News
Past Roles: Announcer, news director, operations director, KTIS manager
Years of Service: 1970 to present
Neil Stavem (FOCUS 1995, MATS 2008)
Director of Network Programming and Production for the Faith Radio Network/ Northwestern Media and Host of "New Day"
Past Roles: Morning and afternoon on-air host, host on the SkyLight Satellite Network, satellite programming director for SkyLight, public affairs director, news director
Years of Service: 1976 to present
Dan Wynia (Class of 1976)
Director of Concerts and Major Events for Northwestern Media
Past Roles: Weekend announcer/fill-in at KTIS, afternoon drive host and operations director with KUNW (10 years), on-air host for SkyLight Network, manager of Northwestern Productions, network music director
Years of Service: 1976 to present
Lisa Barry (Class of 1985)
KTIS Midday Program Host Past Roles: DJ, promotions coordinator, producer and network operator
Years of Service: 1984 to present
Senior Vice President for Media
Years of Service: 2002 to present