THE HISTORY OF KVNI
The Voice of North Idaho
Started in the mid 1940s, History Tied to Spokane
From its inception in the 1940s, KVNI has been called the Voice of North Idaho. According to the best information available, KWAL, Wallace was the only station that was on the air north of Lewiston in Idaho when KVNI was founded. At the time, the Coeur d’Alene area had radio service from stations in Spokane, but local businessman Burl C. Hagadone thought Coeur d’Alene and the surrounding area should have their own local radio service. Because of its proximity to Spokane, the history of many Northern Idaho stations is intimately intertwined with the history of Spokane radio stations, and KVNI is no exception. It is noteworthy that, based on the way the FCC tracks station licenses, there are actually two KVNI's. The following is KVNI's story.
From the first FCC application FCC ARCHIVES
First Studio in Desert Hotel, First Transmitter on Blackwell Island
On 24 August 1944, Burl C. Hagadone, president of Coeur d’Alene Broadcasting Company, applied to build a radio station in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho which was to operate on 960 kHz with 250 watts non-directional. The application was later amended to 1430 kHz with 1,000 watts directional day and night. The first construction permit was issued to Coeur d’Alene Broadcasting Company on 9 January 1946 and states that the transmitter would be located about 2000 feet west of Forest Cemetery. This would place the transmitter site on Blackwell Island situated where Lake Coeur d’Alene empties into the Spokane River. The station’s first studio and business offices were located on the ground floor of the east wing in the Desert Hotel at 111-113 North 4th Street in downtown Coeur d’Alene. The Desert Hotel burned down in 1972 and no longer stands.
Desert Hotel – Home to KVNI’s first studios and offices – 1946-1948 Postcard in the possession of Bill Harms
A Western Electric 443A-1 transmitter was installed on Blackwell Island in October 1946. The station claims to have first signed on with regular programming on 1 November 1946. The FCC granted KVNI’s first license on 14 January 1947.
1430 kHz Coverage map from the first construction permit application FCC Archives
The records show that KVNI used a two-tower array, oriented at 151 degrees from true north, and operated with 1000 watts directional day and night. Both towers were 177 feet tall and 172 feet above the insulators. The towers were 172 feet apart and 120 172-foot long radials surrounded each tower. Part of the ground radial system extended into the Spokane River.
Letter head from the early 1950s FCC Archives
KVNI’s 1430 Allocation Moves to Spokane, Becomes KNEW
KVNI’s time on 1430 kHz in Couer d’Alene was short. In February 1947, Coeur d’Alene Broadcasting applied for construction permits to move KVNI’s Coeur d’Alene 1430 allocation to Spokane and to build another station in Coeur d’Alene, this time on 1240 kHz with 250 watts non-directional day and night. Coeur d’Alene Broadcasting was owned by Scripps Newspaper, Burl C. Hagadone was the president and Harry Henke, a lawyer from Seattle, was the vice president. The FCC granted Coeur d’Alene Broadcasting the above construction permits in mid-July. On the FCC records, the Spokane station was initially still called KVNI, but on 8 August 1947 before the Spokane station went on the air, the callsign was changed to KNEW and the callsign KVNI went back to Couer d’Alene for the new station on 1240 kHz. KNEW transmitted from Spokane’s Moran Prairie and was also owned by Coeur d’Alene Broadcasting Company, with Hagadone and Henke being the president and vice president. They later changed the name of the company connected with KNEW to Inland Empire Broadcasting. So KNEW and later KJRB actually descended from the first KVNI, based on the way the FCC tracks licenses. KNEW changed frequencies to 790 kHz in the early 1950s and changed to its current callsign KJRB in 1966.
Letterhead from the late 1950s FCC Archives
KVNI’s Second Iteration – This Time on 1240
The second KVNI was also built on Blackwell Island, on the same spot as the first KVNI. This time, KVNI’s 1240 transmitter was an RCA BTA-250-L. One of the original 1430 towers was used as the radiator and the existing 1430 ground system was left intact and used as well.
Initial equipment tests were conducted in late July 1947, and the FCC issued a license to cover the construction permit on 6 July 1948. The license issuance was apparently delayed by the holding of hearings to address concerns of other broadcasters about the move of 1430 allocation to Spokane.
In September 1948, KVNI moved its studios from its Desert Hotel home to Blackwell Island. Wayne Olsen was the station manager, Bernard V. “Bernie” Merriman was the program director, and Vincent L. Hoffart, Sr. was the chief engineer for KVNI. Hoffart also served as the chief engineer of KNEW/KJRB for many years. Bob Swartz, later an announcer at KHQ in Spokane and co-owner of KZUN in Opportunity, was an on-the-air personality in the early days of KVNI.
The station broadcast 111 hours per week in 1946 and increased the number of broadcast hours to 117 in 1953 and to 118 hours in 1958.
The Blackwell Island Studio and Transmitter Building
The Blackwell Island Studio and Transmitter Building – Pre-1950 Unknown origin
The one-story Blackwell Island studio and transmitter building was constructed in 1946 and measured 48 feet by 24 feet. In 1950, a 24-foot long extension was added to the west end of the building, making it 72 feet by 24 feet. It was a wood frame building with asbestos shingle siding. The gabled roof was covered with composite shingle roofing. There was a partial basement in the building.
The Yacht Club of Couer d’Alene maintained a light on the top of the Blackwell Island tower for several years after the move. The tower is long gone. As of this writing, all that remains of the Blackwell Island building is part of the foundation and the parking lot. The Blackwell RV Park now occupies the site. Mark Hall of Blackwell Island RV Park notes that they had to dig up a lot of copper ground wire when they built the RV park.
Several Ownership Changes in the mid and late 1950’s
On 9 November 1955, KVNI’s license was transferred to Alan Harper Pollock of California. Mr. Pollock became sole owner of KVNI, and Coeur d’Alene Broadcasting officially ceased to exist on 7 February 1956. Before owning KNVI, Mr. Pollock had been involved with film distribution at KTTV TV in Hollywood and was an operator at Sacramento Telecasters, Inc. Bernard Merriman continued as program director and the new owner hired Leo L. Billings as chief engineer.
Mr. Pollock sold the station to Northern Idaho Broadcasting Company on 8 May 1957. Herbert C. Rice of Stamford, Connecticut was 99% owner of the company as well president and general manager of the station. Mr. Rice, who had been vice president of the Mutual Broadcasting System from 1954, resigned from that position on 29 April 1957 to become associated with KVNI. The entire staff, except for Mr. Pollock, remained. Chet Rodell came to KVNI as vice president, after spending 1949 to 1957 as station manager at KNEW.
Letterhead from the mid-1970s FCC Archives
The license was then transferred on 22 October 1958 to the Rexard Company of Tarzana, California, which was owned by partners Rex Koury and Howard Flynn. The name of the company was a combination of one syllable from each of their first names. Koury owned 2/3 of the station and Flynn owned 1/3. Koury had been the music director for the American Broadcasting Company, and was a freelance composer. He was the composer for the well-known theme for the radio and television program, Gunsmoke. Flynn was the radio-TV director at KMPC for five years and chief announcer six years prior to that. Koury planned to devote his entire time to managing the station as president. Jack Simpson was the chief engineer and Bernard Merriman was the sales manager. Luin Dexter, Jerry McCumber, and Richard Peterson served as announcer-engineers. In 1962, Vernon James was named as station manager and Bill Demling as program director. Freda McCumber was the traffic manager. Jack Moyles, Bob Angel, and David Schmirer later worked as announcers
KVNI Returns to the Hagadone Family
Station founder Burl C. Hagadone passed away in December 1959 at the age of 49, but KVNI returned to the Hagadone family and the Scripps Newspaper Group three years later when in January 1963, Duane B. Hagadone, Burl Hagadone’s son, representing Lake City Printing, a subsidiary of Scripps, bought the station from Koury and Flynn. Duane Hagadone was the president of the station and Bradley F. Henke was the vice president. North Idaho Broadcasting Company was named the licensee on 20 June 1963.
Photo of Duane Hagadone signature from 1963 FCC archives
Studio and Transmitter Move From Blackwell Island - 1964
North Idaho Broadcasting received a construction permit on 6 March 1964 to move the transmitter site to Hattie and 15th Street in North Coeur d’Alene at the foot of Best Hill, and the studio to the Press Building on 2nd and Lakeside in Downtown Couer d’Alene. This transmitter site, which had been previously occupied by KZIN 1050, sported a 1000-watt Gates BC-1G thus allowing KVNI to operate with 1000 watts in the daytime. The antenna at the site, which had been used by KZIN, was 240 feet above the insulator and 245 feet tall overall. A license to cover the construction permit was granted on 27 August 1964.
Vernon James, who had been president and part-owner of KZIN, was named general manager and Bob Angel became the program director in 1962. Neil Arverschoug and later Charles Sweeney were employed as chief engineers.
On 26 March 1968, control of the license was transferred from Lake City Printing Company to Scripps-Hagadone Newspapers. North Idaho Broadcasting remained the licensee. The station was on the air for 119 hours per week according to its license.
KVNI Rate Card from 1972
Warren Brown became chief engineer in 1971
Studio Move From The Press Building
KVNI moved its studios from the Press Building to a building a block away at First and Lakeside on 2 February 1976. An open house was held on 4 April. KVNI’s programming included Earl Nightingale which was heard weekdays at 8 AM and 12:15 PM.
In 1979, the station was called the “Home of Entertainers.” The staff included Vernon James as general manager, Bob Angel as sports director, Bob Hough as news director, Bernie Merriman as sales manager, Mark Duclos and Leslie MacPherson as announcers, Helen James and Denise Hammerick in traffic, and Warren Brown as chief engineer.
In 1981, KVNI celebrated its 35 year anniversary. The general manager was Ron Grisham.
Major Change in 1979 – Increased Power and New Frequency
1979 brought a major change to KVNI, when the station moved its transmitter site to its current location that overlooks Moscow Bay on Lake Coeur d’Alene some five miles southeast of Coeur d’Alene proper, KVNI changed frequency to 1080 kHz and increased power to 10 kW non-directional daytime and 1 kW directional at night. The initial transmitter was a Continental 316F. The directional antenna array consists of four towers, all 220 feet above the insulator and 227 feet tall overall. A license to cover the above construction permit was granted on 27 February 1981.
The transmitter building is 90% underground according to Tim Anderson Director of Engineering/Operations for Morgan Murphy Stations West (the parent company of QueenB Radio). In an email to the author, Anderson said that he has been told that this site is the last FEMA-supported transmitter site. Vincent Hoffart noted in an article dated 1981 for the Early Days of Spokane Radio that the facility had its own power source and was hardened to be able to withstand a nuclear attack.
As of this writing, a 10 kW Harris DX-10 is the main transmitter with the Continental 316F being used as an alternate main transmitter.
QueenB Radio Buys KVNI in 1998
Control of the station was transferred to Burl Todd Hagadone, Duane Hagadone’s son, on 12 August 1991. On 11 November 1998, North Idaho Broadcasting sold the licenses of KVNI and its sister FM station KHTQ Hayden Lake to QueenB Radio of Spokane, the current licensee of KVNI. Soon after obtaining the licenses, QueenB moved the studio to 504 East Sherman Avenue.
In the 1940s and 1950s the station was a member of the Don Lee – Mutual Network and had many hours of local programming each week. KVNI stayed with the Mutual Network through the 1970s and in April 1988 joined the NBC Radio Network. In the mid-1960s, KVNI played standard pops in the daytime and current pops in at night. In the 1970s, the station broadcast what was called Middle of the Road. According to statements on KVNI’s license renewal applications in the 1960s and 1970s, the station tried to attract listeners of all age groups with its music selection. Since the 1970s the stations has played a combination of oldies or current popular music.
Some of the other on-the-air personalities not mentioned above include Bob “Bubblehead” Hough, Jeff McLean, Dennis Johnson, Larry Lassen, Kevin Hagen, Joe Rogers, Steve Sibulsky, and Dick Haugen.
Bob Hough was a longtime on-the-air personality on KVNI who did the morning show for many years. Bob has retired and is living with his wife in Coeur d’Alene. His granddaughter, Julianne Hough, together with Olympic speed skater, Anton Ono took first place on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars in 2007.
Unconfirmed information shows that Steve Sibulsky lives in Couer d’Alene and operates a voiceover production company called “Steve Sibulsky Productions."
Dick Haugen, Bob Hough’s successor, was the KVNI’s morning show host for 16 years. Mr. Haugen currently works as an announcer at KGA in Spokane.
As of this writing, the station calls itself the “Mighty 1080” and plays as”Doo Woppin’ Oldies.” KVNI’s current on-the-air personalities include Norm McBride, Bret Bowers, and Dave Walker.
Active in Community
Throughout its history, KVNI was a truly local radio station as exemplified by the way it actively participated in and promoted local community events. The following are but a few examples of this. On 21 October 1986, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Ray Stone proclaimed KVNI Week. According to Willhight Radio Research, KVNI was named the most listened to station in Kootenai County in 1987. Finally, in 1991, the station broadcast live from Silver Mountain for a week. Of course there are many more examples of this, but the above gives you a taste of what kind of impact KVNI had on the community.
Another way that KVNI demonstrated its dedication to the local community was its commitment to reporting news of the local Couer d’Alene area from the very beginning. Promotional material of 1985 states that KVNI broadcast “Local news every 30 minutes or as it happens.”
Additionally, sports coverage, especially of local sports, has been an important element in KVNI’s programming throughout its history. In addition to network feeds, the station has broadcast games of the Couer d’Alene High School Vikings, the University of Idaho Vandals, and North Idaho College (before 1971, the North Idaho Junior College). Jeff McLean, longtime sportscaster for KVNI, was named Idaho Sportscaster of the Year in 1983.
Although the transmitter site is now operated by remote control from QueenB’s main studios on 500 West Boone in Spokane, KVNI and its sister FM station broadcast local programming from the 504 East Sherman Avenue studios in downtown Couer d’Alene, and still strives to serve the Couer d’Alene area. It is still truly “The Voice of North Idaho.”
written by Bill Harms - updated on 11 August 2008