Back in 1969, area AM radio stations pretty much focused on farmers, (WNAX) housewives (KSOO) and teens. (KISD).
No one had thought of..or dared to try..cashing-in on the fast growing popularity of country music. No one until John Breece, that is.
In February of that year, he exploded into the market with KXRB. It had a powerful signal, a powerful country-only format and a powerful team of disc jockeys that included Joe Morrison, Dale Thomas and, Ratt Reno.
So polished were these guys that from the very first day it sounded like the station had been on the air for years. Each had a distinctive voice, amazing knowledge of country music and a crazy sense of humor..the likes of which local radio listeners had never been exposed to before.
I listened to them all but liked Ratt Reno the best. Anyone who can go through life with the nickname of a universally despised rodent is okay in my book.
When I moved to Sioux Falls late in 1969, I bumped into Ratt during a break at a nightclub where he was playing drums with D.K. and the Coachmen.
“I’m a big fan of your show,” I said. “I also play drums.” That’s when his eyes lit up.
“Hey, D.K., say hello to Doug Lund..he plays the tubs with Ralph Lundquist and the Midwest Travelers over at the J&M..can he sit in?”
Sit in? I don’t want to sit in! But Ratt insisted and the next thing I know is I’m up on stage playing my radio idol’s drums on a Johnny Cash song.
A couple years later, I actually went to work for KXRB trying to sell radio advertising. I was terrible at it but did get a chance to hob nob with the on-air guys at the rural studio which at that time was a double-wide trailer parked by the radio towers just east of town.
The first time I delivered ad copy out to the trailer for them to record was nearly my last.
I’d always thought St.Bernard dogs were gentle giants. Indeed, when the KXRB announcers talked about their station mascot, Mama Cass, listeners imagined her to be this loveable lug ready to lick your face and give you a swig from the barrel of booze hung around her neck. But in real life..Cass was nothing like that and we were warned to call ahead and make sure she was tied up before going out to the studio. She had a reputation of treating strangers like chew toys.
As I was leaving and about to get into the car, I noticed Ratt standing at the trailer door with a big grin on his face. Then he said “SIC’EM!”
At that moment Cass came charging out of the building like a grizzly on a salmon.
It was like a scene out of the Cujo movie as this huge orange and white barking beast reared-up against the car with only an quarter inch piece of glass between his teeth and my head.
As I pulled away, I could see Ratt through my slobber-stained window, doubled over with laughter.
I was so glad that Ratt (Duane Kuntz) and I became friends back then..and have remained so for the last 51 years.
Of course, Ratt’s list of friends is long and varied. Many of them turned out at the American Legion Club in Sioux Falls Saturday to help celebrate his 80th birthday.
Ratt’s unique radio voice is still as distinct as ever..but it had been many years since he’d sat down to play the drums (“Tubs” as he prefers to call them.) like he did for so many years with D.K. and the Coachmen. I was lucky enough to sing a couple songs with him on “tubs” keeping perfect time as always.
It was so much fun to once again be a part of the Ratt Race.