By Bob Kerr
During my 42 years in the electronic media, including my last 33 years with Forum Communications, I experienced numerous changes. Obviously, with each of those changes both the TV viewers and staff had to make the appropriate adjustments. Now, with the recent announcement from Forum Communications regarding WDAZ TV, it will be time to adapt again.
With that announcement I couldn't help but to reminisce about what the young, dedicated and professional staff accomplished over the many years. Major news stories, sports broadcasts and daily local shows could not have happened without that staff's effort. That effort often surprised me, considering WDAZ TV was once one of the smallest TV stations in the country, based on potential audience size.
I think back to those days being able to broadcast both the UND Homecoming parade, as well as the Potato Bowl parades. Other local shows like Noon Day with Madelyn Camrud, the Exchange Club Telethon, the Santa Show live from the Grand Forks Armory with Ted Peterson, and several area high school choir Christmas concerts.
Live sports broadcasts were another very challenging but rewarding effort. WDAZ TV and WDAY TV were one of the few stations taking on the challenges of producing live sports broadcasts for each of their local universities and area high schools. When the UND women's basketball team made their mid 1990s championship runs, WDAZ produced the entire NCAA tournament from Pine Bluff, Ark., which included broadcasting all the UND games. There are still stories floating around about that Pine Bluff experience.
WDAZ had long broadcast many of the Fighting Sioux hockey games, both home and away, with Pat Sweeney doing the play-by-play. One of the most challenging efforts was in November of 2004 when the production and sports department broadcast the UND/St. Cloud hockey game on Friday night in Grand Forks and then hopped on a plane Saturday morning to Houghton, Mich., to produce and broadcast the NCAA football playoff with UND and Michigan Tech. After the game, the crew was back on the plane to return to Grand Forks and broadcast the Saturday night hockey game. I truly believe that very few, if any, TV stations with limited staffing could have pulled that off.
In 2001, with the cooperation of the UND Athletic Department and the management of the newly built Ralph Engelstad Arena, WDAZ TV created the Fighting Sioux hockey network. Ralph had wanted to try and get as many games as possible on satellite so he could watch from his hotel in Las Vegas. In total, during those times, WDAZ broadcast football, basketball and hockey in 15 states.
We can also be very proud of the WDAZ news efforts over the years. This included several trips and stories from the Grand Forks Air Force Base. I also recall the coverage of the tragic death of Dru Sjodin, covered by reporter Janel Klein, who established such a caring relationship with the family they allowed WDAZ the exclusive rights for broadcasting her funeral. Then, of course, who can't forget the Flood of 1997. WDAZ, with a very limited staff, was able to stay on the air broadcasting 24 hours a day for several days with reports to help people find places to stay, as well as getting families that were separated back together. Finally, on the news front, who can ever forget the Dullum File with longtime reporter/anchor Terry Dullum.
Changes in any business are always inevitable and not easy to accept, but life does go on.
Bob Kerr, of Grand Forks, was general manager of WDAZ from 1982 to 2009.