WIXK marks 50th anniversary
New Richmond's only radio station is celebrating its 50th birthday this month.
The first broadcast on WIXK 1590AM occurred on Sept. 27, 1960.
River Falls resident Bob Smith partnered with Minnesota radio pioneers Nick and Vic Tedesco, as well as Pinky and Zel Rice of Sparta, to open the new station. It's been an interesting ride since then.
Prior to starting the station, Smith caught the radio bug while serving in the Navy. While stationed at Key West, Fla., Smith met with the local radio station to see if they'd be interested in a regular military news program. The owner was thrilled.
After leaving the Navy, Smith worked for an advertising agency in Miami for a time but the job turned sour.
"I was working day and night, and my wife was at home alone a lot," he recalled. "She got fed up with it. She wanted to move back to Wisconsin."
Smith eventually went to work for the Tedesco brothers, who owned several radio stations in the Twin Cities region. Smith didn't last long at the station, getting fired by the station's general manager after just six months.
Smith eventually took a job with WAVN in Stillwater, Minn. While there, he received an unlikely call from Nick and Vic Tedesco.
"They asked if I'd be interested in building a station in New Richmond," Smith recalled. "I felt they treated me quite unfairly the first go around, so I said I would but with certain rules set down."
Smith said he was given the right to buy the station if the partners eventually decided to get out of the venture.
"They didn't run any station very long," Smith recalled. "That's the way they did things. I wanted first crack at it if they sold."
Sure enough, a year later, the Tedescos indicated that they wanted to sell their interest in WIXK.
"Everything was fine, except I couldn't borrow any money to buy it," Smith said.
Another year passed and the price of the station doubled. Smith decided he needed to act quickly. Smith negotiated with several local banks to raise the cash necessary to buy the station.
At the time, WIXK operated out of studios on the second floor of the Bank of New Richmond building downtown.
"I was the manager and the only sales person," he said with a laugh. "I was the newsman and I wrote all the copy ... and I swept the place out at night."
Smith said making a living was simpler back then, as New Richmond's downtown featured many retail businesses that wanted to advertise.
"There were three dry goods stores right on main street," he recalled. "And two active banks, two jewelry stores, four car dealers and three or four grocery stores. Now I hardly recognize the town."
Smith added an FM station to WIXK in 1968 and the business grew from there.
"Back then, it was a going town and there were a lot of great people," he said. "I liked radio because it was 'right now.' I loved it. I feel sorry for people who don't like their work. I've never been sorry I went into radio."
Smith eventually sold the two stations in 2000 to Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. out of the Twin Cities, owners of KSTP TV and radio stations and other operations. Hubbard eventually moved the FM station to the Twin Cities market, but the AM station has remained.
"It was not a tough decision to sell," Smith said. "I had some health issues and I was getting more tired by the minute."
Plus the offer from Hubbard Broadcasting was generous and it made sense to let it go, he added.
Smith said it's hard to believe it's been 50 years since WIXK began broadcasting in New Richmond.
"It seems like yesterday," he said.
Smith still has his hands in the radio business today. He owns WWIS AM 1260 and FM 99.7 in Black River Falls.
His son Daniel owns KLBB AM 1220 in Stillwater.
WIXK General Manager Dave Bestler said no special celebration is planned to mark the station's golden anniversary.
"But it's wonderful we've been in New Richmond for 50 years," said Bestler, who is also the general manager for KS95 radio. "It's my hometown."