In 1963, a 13-year-old boy named Ron Schacht landed his first job at a small classical radio station in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He was paid $1.25 an hour, a reasonable amount of money for a 13-year-old at the time. But it wasn’t the money that kept him coming back. It was the love of the business. Today, 58 years later, Ron Schacht is still in radio. He owns the Redfield KQKD station 1380 AM and 99.9 FM with his wife, Denise. They operate the station from a small studio in Redfield’s Main Street Plaza. The new full-service station began operation in late April of 2021 and covers everything from local sports and news to talk shows and a wide range of music. It has four full-time staff: Denise and Ron Schacht; General Manager, James Shaman; and Sales Manager, Traci Samelson. The station also has several part-time staff: Ted Price, Ray Dunn and Allen Scott. This is the story of what the Redfield KQKD station offers, how it came to be, and those who made it happen.
Ron Schacht’s story
Ron’s interest in “all things radio” began at a very young age.
“My dad was a commercial artist. My mom was a house wife. I was always interested in electricity and electronics…I vaguely remember it, but my grandmother was deathly afraid of electricity. I would come to the house with light bulbs and extension cords when I was seven years old. She would say, ‘Oh, he is going to burn the place down! He is going to get electrocuted!’” said Schacht, with a chuckle. “My dad got me a crystal [radio] set. A little kit. There was an AM station across the river from where we lived, so no problem, the thing picked up the station from across the river. The crystal set is probably what got me into radio. I can still remember the day I got my first shock. It threw me against the wall. I was seven.”
Schacht went on to graduate with a four-year degree in electrical engineering from Penn State. His class started out with 400 students his freshman year. He was one of only 30 who graduated with a four-year degree.
Throughout college, his love for radio held strong.
“I was the only one that didn’t go into something [that was] ‘big money-making.’ I got all of these big job offers. You could work for AT&T in Design Engineering. You could work for Bell Labs as a Design Engineer. You could work for RCA. One of the fellas that graduated from Penn State with me is the guy that designed the VHS video tape machines. Big money. Big money,” said Schacht. “I said nope, I’m going to stay in radio. Everyone said ‘what, are you crazy?’ These guys were making $1,000 a week and I was making $70 a week. I said, ‘I’m not working. I haven’t worked a day in my life. I get payed for something I love doing.’ Well, it turned out that all of the guys I graduated with (other than one guy that got a job as an engineer with the local power company) lost their jobs. The guy that worked for RCA and designed video-tape machines…that all moved to Japan. Boom, he was out of work. The guy who worked for Bell Labs was told, ‘Well, we’re not going to do that here anymore.’ Boom, he was out of work. All of these guys that made a ton of money for about five or six or seven years had no jobs, and here is old, stupid Ron still making $70 a week. But I was still making $70 a week. I had a job. I have never not had a job. Never.”
Schacht married his wife, Denise, in 1983, and they made their home in eastern Pennsylvania. Schacht did a lot of “climbing towers and fixing transmitters” for various radio stations. He acquired an old transmitter from an FM station one day and set it out on his back porch.
“My wife kept saying ‘What are you going to do with that FM transmitter?’ I said, ‘Someday, I’m going to build a radio station around it.’ The opportunity came in 1989, and we built a radio station in northern Pennsylvania. We did a lot like we are doing here [in Redfield]. We did a lot of community service, public affairs and public service. We broadcast from Red Cross blood drives, fireman’s carnivals…everything. We had a great time and it was quite successful. It was a lot of fun up until 1994,” said Schacht. “In 1994, the FCC deregulated radio and said you could own up to six stations. It used to be you could own an AM and an FM and that was all. Now, they say you can own six. The big money guys came in and they bought up all of the big, high-powered stations. So there was my wife and I with this little radio station. It was doing okay. It was keeping it’s head above water and we were having fun. But once all of the big-money guys came in, we couldn’t compete with them. It was just impossible. We were giving away a sub for lunch every day and these guys were giving away $1,000 every day. So all of our sponsors started baling and going to the other stations. We actually gave the station away to a fellow that worked for us. We said, ‘Here, you can have it. That’s it. We’re done.’ My wife [became] a school bus driver. I went back into just working and doing engineering. Always, with a thought in my mind that, someday, I would find a little radio station in a small town and we would do the same thing with it. Some small town where nobody wants to compete. Where we wouldn’t have to worry about the big guys coming in and battling with us.”
Needless to say, Schacht found that small town dream in Redfield. He and his wife spent many summers riding their motorcycles throughout South Dakota and visiting friends. Denise, who had served in the Air Force and was formerly based at Ellsworth, had quite a few friends in the Rapid City area.
“We took every road across South Dakota,” said Schacht. “I fell in love with a little radio station up in Lemon. It has a little station that is just all by itself. I said I would love to own that. But it never happened…Then this one came up for sale. It was owned by the people in Aberdeen. He said, ‘We were going to shut the Redfield one down, but that town needs a station. We are an Aberdeen group and we are really not interested in spending a lot of time in Redfield. We have got enough to deal with in Aberdeen.’ So we bought it. We built the studio. And my wife and I decided we needed to find sales people and an announcer.”
Other fun facts about Schacht: He has one son who works as a chemist in Shanghai, China. Schacht has been struck by lightning twice in his life, both times on the top of the head. He has hit 14 deer over the years, and he fell through a burning roof while he was a volunteer firefighter.
James Shaman’s story
Shaman, who is now Schacht’s General Manager at KQKD, also grew up with an early interest in radio.
“For me, when I was a kid I used to make my own radio shows on my little tape recorder. I would make up fake ads and interview neighbors and siblings and friends,” said Shaman. “I had a very musical family and a very musical house. My grandfather was a professional drummer for years. My mom taught and directed children’s choirs. I was into music from very, very young. There was always music going on at our house. Always. And all kinds of music. Hard rock to classical to opera. You name it. We went to the ballet every year for Christmas. I was always exposed to that stuff.”
Shaman was also classically trained as a musician on the double bass. For a time in his life, he thought he might become a professional musician.
“Then I realized I didn’t want to sit in a room for eight hours a day by myself. But …now I sit in a room for eight hours a day by myself,” said Shaman, with a chuckle. “But I have always been amazed by radio. Ron would talk about this, too. As a kid, laying in bed at night listening to AM. You would just see what far-away stations you could find. I remember listening in Houston to stations from Mexico and St. Louis and Chicago and the Twin Cities. A kid who lives up in Texas. I thought it was really cool.”
Shaman didn’t think he could ever “get into it,” though. Later in life, he was in-between jobs and just “floating around, doing things.”
“I was working at a pallet factory of all things, just running a staple gun nonstop and listening to the radio. They were running these ads for a school up in Minneapolis. They were talking about trying radio. I thought it would be a hell of a lot better than running a staple gun,” said Schacht. “So I went and signed up and that was the rest. A year later, I got my degree in radio and television. That was in 1995. Ever since then, I’ve been in radio. I went all around Iowa and got to meet Ron. Ron and I became fast friends because we both have similar tastes in music. We are both bass players. We both love Weimaraner dogs. We get eachother’s humor. There are just so many things there. When Ron said, ‘Do you want to come run [the Redfield station]? I said yes. I really didn’t think twice. Then I decided I really should check out the town. I drove up here and talked to people and looked at the town and I thought yeah, this is where it’s going to be.”
Shaman had previously worked with Schacht for many years when both of them lived in Iowa.
“It’s our calling. This is what we were actually put on this earth to do. I believe that whole-heartedly. I could do a million other things. Ron could do a million other things. But we keep getting drawn back to radio. When it is done right, and you have a good time with it, there is nothing better,” said Shaman. “Every time I’ve stepped away from it…I felt like I had lost a limb. I was missing a huge part of myself because I was not doing what I was meant to do. We have our challenges, but I still get up at 4:15 every morning and I am not complaining about it. I still walk through the door energized and excited to put on a show and have fun. It’s been a blast.”
Other fun facts about Shaman: He has one daughter who is 20 years old. She is a junior at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa and she is aiming to become a teacher.
Samelson comes on board
Traci Samelson, a Redfield native, is the new Sales Manager at KQKD. Samelson grew up in Redfield, lived in Nashville for a time, and has now returned to Redfield. Shaman met Samelson through Stennett Junction, the local band she sings in.
“Before I came up here, we did a farewell gig with the band I was playing in down there,” said Shaman. “They said, ‘If you get a gig lined up up there, we’d be willing to go up and do one. So I talked my way into playing July 3rd at Roosters. In the mean time, Tim [Reinbold] found out. I had a conversation with Tim and knew that they were looking for a bass player [for Stennett Junction]. He said, ‘Just come and see the band play and then we can talk.”
Shaman did. After watching the band play at the Chicago and Northwestern Depot, he decided to join the band as their bass player.
“I started talking to them, hanging out, and rehearsing,” said Shaman. “Traci and I clicked really well as friends. I could just see that this is who we needed in the station.”
“He offered the sales position to me before, and I was kind of transitioning with my son being home for the whole summer,” said Samelson. “I finally got him in school, and I was like ‘okay, let’s do this.’ …If I’m going to commit, I’m going to really commit, so I have to make sure I’m making the right decision. And I am. So it’s good.”
Other fun facts about Samelson: She has a son named Weston who is nine years old. He loves to do anything she does, like singing. He also can’t wait for his turn to be on the radio.
What KQKD offers
“We didn’t come here to make a boat load of money. We are here to do what we love to do, and that is to do AM radio and to do it right. That is by servicing the community and focusing on Redfield and Spink County. This is our home. This is what we are doing,” said Shaman. “Ron is on from noon until 4:30 or 5p.m. You can call in and request anything. Anything goes. You want to hear a polka? He will play a polka. As long as it falls within FCC guidelines, like no profanity or obscene content, he’ll play it. Literally, he has played Roll out the Barrel and Black Sabbath from one guy. He wanted to hear both of those.”
As an affiliate of the Dakota News Network, KQKD provides local news through them. The station is also affiliated with the Town Hall Radio Network (for national and International news). Allen Scott announces play-by-play on KQKD for Redfield Pheasants football. Ted Price announces the play-by-play for local baseball. And Ray Dunn “runs the board during ball games,” in addition to working on the station’s computers.
“We are not a music intensive station. An ideal morning for me would be no music. But that is what we use as our fill. That is our fluff. So we put that between all of the news and information,” said Shaman. “They had me MC the Relay for Life event. Hotter than Hades, but it was still fun to do. So we get involved with stuff like that. The kids from 4-H come in. We have Sarah Lutter from the library come in and talk about her new arrivals and her ‘Book of the Week.’ We started out doing chats with her for ten minutes and now we have to cut them off so she can go and do her live[stream]. We just keep talking. To me, that’s good radio. Its just conversation. We had a great 20-plus minute conversation with John Thune when he stopped in. Most people are now commenting about the sour cream raisin pie at Leo’s, because we both have an affinity for that.”
Going forward, Shaman would like to incorporate a “Party Line,” for one hour during the day.
“People could call in and talk about whatever they wanted to talk about. I don’t care if someone calls in to talk about Old Bessy the cow…lets just talk,” said Shaman. “We are here for the community.”
For more information, stop in at KQKD in the Main Street Plaza (on Redfield’s Main Street), call 605-472-3001, or check out the KQKD Facebook page. KQKD also receives mail at P.O. Box 251 Redfield SD 57469.