Places in the Past

I have mentioned here many times that my first paying radio gig was at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa. I landed it in 1979, barely four months after I first sat down behind a live microphone at college, and I worked there on and off, part-time and full-time, for 4 1/2 years. It was a wonderful place for a young broadcaster to start his career, full of unforgettable characters who taught me a lot about how to act like a pro.

After I’d been there a couple of years, they decided to remodel the building, which had been home since the place went on the air in 1941. It was, like most old radio stations, cramped and utilitarian, so the goal was to make better use of the space. We learned to coexist with the construction crews. Sometimes you’d be in the middle of reading the weather forecast on the air and they’d start banging on the wall, so there was nothing you could do but acknowledge it. One day I had to play music for a solid half-hour because they were doing something nearby with what sounded like a chainsaw. (They were not, alas, cutting the door from the back hallway to the bar next door, although early in the remodeling a handwritten sign had appeared that said, “The door to Betty and Nick’s goes here.”) We had to use a temporary studio setup for a while, in close proximity to the newsroom, which often resulted in additional extraneous noises getting on the air. But after a period of months—shortly after I went full-time in the winter of 1982—the job was done, and our two stations, KDTH and FM sister D93, had all the technological comforts available 30 years ago, and a much more user-friendly space.

I am telling this story today because I learned yesterday that after 72 years at the corner of 8th and Bluff Streets in Dubuque, KDTH is spending its first full day in a new building today. There are four stations in the group now, so surely the old studios had become cramped and utilitarian again, and a new building provides all the technological comforts available today.

If I still worked at KDTH (and don’t laugh at the idea—back in 1981, two of us made up the station’s entire part-time crew, and the other guy is still there, doing mornings now), I’d be able to walk to the office. The new building is located only a couple of blocks from the last apartment The Mrs. and I lived in before we left town. It was one-quarter of a big old house on Alpine Street, with hardwood floors, lots of windows, and a big kitchen. It was a big improvement over our first place, and of all the homes we’ve ever had, it remains my favorite, though we were there only four months.

It’s no small thing for KDTH to leave such a venerable location behind. If ghosts there be, today they have the run of the old place, like never before.

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