Blizzard Of The Century

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm
By: Doug Lund
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I am a hoarder. 

Not to the extent that it could lead to an appearance on that television show with family members conducting a tearful intervention with me as trucks pull up to the back door to haul away room-clogging piles of useless junk that I’ve amassed from years of being a pack rat.  No not that kind of hoarder. I’m more like a squirrel stockpiling his nuts so he’ll have something to feed on during the cold winter months. Only instead of nuts, I hoard South Dakota magazines. Bernie Hunhoff’s wonderful chronicle of all things South Dakotan is now in its 26th year and I have nearly every one of the 150 issues safely tucked away in a couple boxes. I used to read each one from cover to cover as soon as it arrived. But then, like an intimate encounter with the one you love, I’ve found that it’s over far too quickly and you have to wait another two months for the next time. (Okay, maybe that analogy is a bit too revealing) So, for the last couple years I’ve intentionally set aside my South Dakota magazine (hoarding if you will) saving their reading for special occasions like long airplane rides or considerable stretches away from home..like now.

kelo tower sd magazineI have in my possession, well, actually in the porcelain library upstairs, pristine copies of both the November/December and January/February issues that I have been trying to ration out  to myself since we arrived; one story per visit. Only twice has Linda had to holler, “You gonna be in there all day?”  

I’m currently reading the fascinating accounts of infamous blizzards that have blasted across South Dakota over the decades. One in particular especially struck home with me.

In January of 1975, I had been anchoring the 10 O’clock news with Steve Hemmingsen for less than a year when I got a call from my boss, Tom Sheeley, on a Saturday telling me to get down to the station, bring your suit and prepare for a long stretch on the air.

The S.D. Magazine story tells of how Keloland’s chief engineer, Les Froke, was at his post in the control building at the site of our two thousand foot broadcast tower east of Sioux Falls when, what some have called, The Blizzard Of The Century” came barging in on the Midwest. Les recalled being jolted awake by what sounded to him like a giant pipe organ.

kelo tower downWhat he heard was the noise of three tower sections cascading towards the earth after 80 mile an hour winds snapped a guy wire; the air rushing through the severed pipes created an eerie harmony like a million people blowing across the top of coke bottles. One section crashed onto a garage but Les’ building was spared.

“The blizzard has knocked our main tower down,” Sheeley said,” but we’re switching over to our thousand foot back-up at Shindler and we need you to be ready when we return to the air.” Hemmingsen must have been on vacation or out of town because when they threw the switch and we were once again broadcasting, it was just me and Fred Ertz sitting at the news desk and our responsibility to let viewers know just the heck was going on. Before long every Keloland employee who could make it to the station was called to duty; answering phones and taking information about everything from cancelled events to missing persons. Fred and I would then pass along that info to our viewers. I don’t remember how many hours this went on without so much as a bathroom break but by the time we were relieved, I remember feeling tired, yes, but also exhilarated knowing we had been a beacon in the storm and actually able to help  people though a scary time. I’ll never forget it.  And even though losing that expensive tower was a huge financial blow to the owners of Keloland Television, the amazing feat of our engineers getting us back on the air within hours of the disaster was, in fact, our FINEST hour.

15 Comments

  1. Joe says:

    One of the surprising aspects of that tower coming down in the blizzard is how KELO came to the rescue of KSFY that January. KSFY was the NBC affiliate at the time and NBC had the Superbowl that year. When the 2000 ft. “Power” tower came tumbling down, viewers didn’t know that KSFY leased space on it for it’s broadcast operations. They were knocked off the air—no backup, nothing. This is where it gets fuzzy for me and maybe Doug can fill it in. KELO aired the Superbowl for KSFY but couldn’t air any of the national commercials during the broadcast. I remember it was something that the Floyds, Forum Communications, CBS and NBC arranged on the fly so we could watch the Superbowl.

  2. Doug Lund says:

    I’m not sure of the details either, Joe except..as SD Magazine reported, the Vikings lost the Superbowl to the Steelers. Some things are impossible to forget.

  3. Bud Sliiter says:

    DO YOU HAVE ANY INFO ON A BLIZZARD AT THE END OF JAN OR IST OF FEB 1947? I HAD JUST REENLISTED IN THE AIR FORCE AND WAS STUCK IN VOLGA FOR SEVERAL DAYS TRYING TO GET TO DENVER. I ALSO REMEMBER A NOV BLIZZARD IN 39 OR 40.

  4. Hemmingsen says:

    I was snowed in at Joe Cooper’s house near the VA. In those days, the city philosophy was to let the three sisters of spring…April, May and June…clear the streets.

  5. Joe says:

    The following winter, the promotion folks (or one person back then) at KELO did a little animation of Santa in a sled with 8 reindeer. I don’t know if it ever aired but it went something like…”Please Santa, don’t hit our tower, we need it at full power…your KELOLAND Stations”!

  6. grouse says:

    I was working at KSFY-TV at the time, and you’re right, there was no back up tower. We were off the air entirely, until they hoisted that ’58 Buick on top of the building and started shooting out a signal that reached all the way to 41st street when the wind blew from the north. The signal wasn’t much, but programming did continue. The advertisers were literally spending about a dollar a holler. To the station owner’s credit and to my everlasting gratitude we never missed a paycheck. When we were off the air entirely we did some painting, some filing, some spec. spots etc. I don’t think you would find a company today that would do that for their employees. Today, you would be laid off period.

  7. Crawford T. says:

    Yup, I was just thinking of the big blizzard of ’75 this past week. Couldn’t pick up any ABC shows out in the country for a whole year and a half after that.

  8. Doug Lund says:

    I received the following from Don Costine..a technical director at Keloland at the time
    Don wrote: “Another fond memory from the past! I remember working the sign-off shift that night. There was strong wind and blowing snow downtown. We were planning on spending the night at the Town House next door because our cars were drifted in. Dwight Wollman was the engineer on duty. When we went off the air, we thought that we had lost a microwave dish because of the wind. Dwight called the tower and talked to Les Froke. Dwight said that Les was sitting in the dark and that the tower had fallen. Having heard that, Dwight “fired up” the Suburban 4×4, took the sign-off crew home, then drove out to check on Les. The next day, Dwight was picking up the sign-on crew, news staff, and other station staff who came in to help with the broadcasts. Later, he picked up the sign-off crew, so that we could dig our cars out of the parking lot before reporting for work. I don’t think that Dwight had very much sleep that night. That was an exciting time!”

  9. Joel F says:

    The blizzard I best remember was a 3-dayer in November of 1975. There was too much ice and packed snow on the James River hill on hwy 42 for my truck to make the climb. I backed that semi a quarter mile to a driveway to get off the road and spent the next three days at a river bottom farmer’s house.

  10. Danny Schoffelman says:

    At that time in my life I was milking 30 cows in a drafty old barn and had 200 big springing holstien hiefers to feed. The cold and high wind made it unsafe for my dad to go out side with his asthma. Silage wouldn’t have stayed in the bunk even if you could have got it to come down the silo chute. There was a good tree break on the north and west sides and we had 15 big hay stacks lined up on the inside. These were stacks made the old fashioned way with a Dual and hay bucker. Electric wire seperated the cows from the hay. I got on top of the stacks and pitched hay to the ground so the cows could reach hay under the wire. Repete this task for three day. Its very exhausting working in -30 with 50mph winds. Thank God I was 22 at the time. Needless to say none of our cows died and neither did I. Instead of calling this the storm of the century I think I would call it the Appocolips. It was that scary.

  11. Doug Lund says:

    Love reading your storm memories, folks. Danny..a fascinating account!

  12. Gene says:

    I remember the night the tower came down. (the second time) I got snowed in at my cousin’s place in Sioux Falls. It was close to midnight and we were watching Paul Harvey. All of a sudden the screen went blank. I told my cousin, there went the tower. I was staying over night (same cousin) years prior when the plane hit the guy wire the first time. I lived less than a mile from the tower site growing up. I used to sit on the roof of my parents house and watch the sections being pulled up. Hope it never happens again.

  13. [...] blogger extraordinaire Doug Lund has some kind things to say about our magazine on his blog, Lund at Large. He also has something to add to a story about the 1975 blizzard in our current issue. Doug was [...]

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  15. Mike Marcotte says:

    It was fun reading your memories from that storm! I recall having our town in SW Minnesota (Slayton) being one of the only schools in the region not closed initially that Friday morning January 10th. Almost immediately we were alerted that we were being sent back home. Unfortunately, for the farm kids, most of them were unable to return home as the country roads were not safe for travel. My mom & I ventured uptown on foot around noon to buy groceries as we knew we would be housebound for the long run. Sidewalks were knee deep in snow already and we walked down the middle of the street to get there. Meanwhile, my dad was stranded at his work in Marshall for several days! That was a friday, and it wouldn’t be until the following Wednesday that we would finally go back to school!

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