KAYL FM is celebrating 60 years this month. On Feb. 17, 1949 the FM station signed on to the air for the first time as 101.5. At this time the AM station 990 had already been on the air since November 14, 1948. According to staff when the FM station went on the air it was one of very few FM stations on the air at that time.
Sixty years later station staff say the biggest change they've seen occur in the radio industry was the move to computerize and automate the station, in fact staff say KAYL was one of the first stations to make this change. With tasks becoming more automatic came the elimination of some positions as well. The station which originally used to sign off by midnight and even occasionally at 10 p.m. was now able to stay on the air 24 hours a day. "If you don't stay on top of the wave and stay current with things, you're going to be left behind," says General Manager Buzz Paterson. "As much as things change, we will continue to give great radio."
The station which was originally owned by Oscar Grau (a former mayor of Storm Lake), Paul Dlugosh, Joe Kevane, Dr. R.E. Malliard and Z.Z. White - a company known as Cornbelt Broadcasting, occupied only a portion of the second floor of the Park Building on Lake Avenue. Over the years the station grew and now the station occupies the entire second floor.
Former KAYL employee Margaret Weber who worked at the station from 1953 to 1994 started out as a receptionist and became an operations manager and was also one of the first women radio broadcasters. The station went stereo in June 1979 and staff say this offered better fidelity. Northwest iowa Broadcasting Corporation purchased the business in 1972 and Paul Benson, Charles Ney, W.J. Hunzelman and Kenneth Putzier became the new owners. It was again sold to the Hedberg Broadcasting Group in September 1990 and sold again to Waitt Radio Inc. in the spring of 1999.
The station's tower, which is currently located on the east side of Storm Lake near the municipal golf course fell down in August 1969 due to stormy weather, the station was off the air for about several hours until a temporary antenna could be erected. In 1993 lightning struck the tower again and knocked the station off the air again for a short time.
Over the years daily programming included a "Matter of Opinion," program, a homemaker program that featured local businesswomen, call-in shows, reports from area celebrations, political candidate interviews and interviews with brides-to-be. The station has also supported numerous community events, some earlier events included hosting and sponsoring cookie festivals, fashion shows and cooking schools. They also hosted a few more "off the wall" activities including Jell-O jumps.
Weber says they would pour a liquid form of Jell-O into a large tank and then hide an item in the Jell-O mixture. Participants would have to "swim" around in the Jell-O and try to find it. "It was quite a bit of Jell-O," says Weber. Another event they helped sponsor was flag pole sitting. A participant would sit on top of a small platform connected to a flag pole until they reached a time goal. "Then they would hoist food and water up to him," says Weber.