The Keloland Gold Rush

Posted: Friday, July 6, 2007 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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When I used to go on CBS promotional junkets for Keloland TV to places like New York and Los Angeles, it gave me a chance to meet representatives of other network affiliate stations from around the country. Invariably the conversation would get around to ratings.
Most were delighted if  their local newscasts could muster a 15 to 20 percent share of the viewing audience. So, when I said Keloland’s numbers are more like 45 to 55, I don’t think many of my broadcasting peers believed me.
But it was true then and it’s still true today.Some of the thanks for that, I think, should go to Joe L. Floyd..the man who began Keloland way back in 1953.Whether it was movie theaters, radio or  television, Floyd had no equal when it came to promotion and making Keloland so familiar to us that its become part of our geographic vocabulary.
Even before the station first signed-on, he began coming up with clever ways to get people to first, buy television sets…and then remain glued to KELO after they made the purchase.
 
Floyd believed that, in addition to having the best talent and equipment,  to establish viewer loyalty, you had to get them involved in one way or another with contests, personal appearances by KELO personalities or sponsorship of local events.
He even convinced people in central and western South Dakota, who were starved for television in the 50’s, to chip-in to help buy the transmitter that would bring KELO’s TV signal out to them too.
But the granddaddy of all promotions was the mind-boggling enormity of an event called the Keloland Gold Rush.
It was an opportunity to tie-into the centennial of Dakota Territory in 1961.
Keloland Gold Rush program Floyd and his staff, especially promotion director, Jack Townsend, came up with the idea of an old fashioned treasure hunt.
People could register, at stores that advertised on KELO, for a chance to win a gold shovel. (GI fox hole shovels from the Army surplus store that had to be painted gold.)
Engraved shovels were used to promote the gold rush with politicians. That’s Joe Floyd on the left and Governor Archie Gubbrud seated.On the weekend of August 26th and 27th, all 1400 winners would gather at the J.C. Johnson farm near tiny Manchester, South Dakota to dig for buried capsules. They didn’t contain gold..but notes that said which one of the 35 thousand dollars in prizes they’d won. That was a lot of money back then. Prizes included everything from household appliances to a new Chevy and the big one: $10,000 cash.
The Can you imagine the mess if it would have rained? (sorry, not very good at this picture scanning thing.)The event included appearances by bandleader, Lawrence Welk, along with Clint Eastwood and Paul Brinegar who played Rowdy Yates and Wishbone, respectively, on the popular Rawhide TV show..plus Captain 11 and other Keloland stars.
There was a talent show, carnival, fireworks and Ed Pillar’s famous dancing horse, King of Diamonds from Scotland, SD.
Even though it was hot, it didn’t rain and well over 100 thousand people showed up in 40 thousand vehicles to be part of it…a promotional masterpiece that has never been equaled in the state.
“So many things could have gone wrong with that damn thing I hate to think about it,” Joe Floyd told me in a 1978 interview. “We were very lucky with the weather and that everybody with shovel got a prize,” He said.
 
Some of the lucky gold shovel winners waiting for the signal to dig for treasure in their assigned plotsMrs. Floyd Carlon won the ten grand. I looked her up in Sioux Falls a few years ago. She told me all the money went to pay for the college education of her five children.
“Was it enough?” I asked.
“Yup,” she said.
 
Four years ago, a huge tornado destroyed all that was left of little Manchester. But  there is a historic marker that survived and is again standing along highway 14.It recounts that memorable weekend so long ago when Manchester became the largest city in Dakota Territory thanks to the imagination and gumption of a TV pioneer named Joe Floyd.

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