Orin Friesen, popular area Bluegrass entertainer and promoter, has released a new book telling the KFDI story. The behind-the-scenes book offers a rare glimpse at the legendary radio station.
“I started this book about 20 years ago. I’d work on it awhile then put it aside. Last year, I decided that I needed to finish it,” Friesen said.
In “Goat Glands to Ranch Hands: The KFDI Story,” long-time KFDI Ranch Hand Friesen traces the Wichita radio station’s history back to its origins. WAAP began in Wichita’s College Hill around 1922 and then moved to Milford, Kan., and became KFKB, with the infamous “goat gland doctor” J.R. Brinkley becoming the owner. Soon after the controversial doctor lost his medical license, the Federal Radio Commission refused to renew his station’s broadcasting license.
Friesen explained, “At one point, the station moved to Abilene, then to Salina, and eventually in 1940, back to Wichita and was owned by Farmers and Bankers Insurance Co. and became KFBI.”
The station was located in the Farmers and Bankers building at First and Market with the transmitter also at that location.
In 1958 the station was purchased by Hollywood silent movie couple Mary Pickford and her third husband, Buddy Rogers, a Kansas native. The call letters were changed again - this time to KIRL, in honor of Pickford’s famous curls. The business folded after only four years.
In 1962 Frank Lynch and his son, Mike, purchased KIRL Pickford and Rogers. The name was changed to KFDI and the flagship station of Great Empire Broadcasting Inc. was born. In 1964 Mike Oatman arrived and became program director and on air personality for the station. Soon after, Mike Lynch partnered with Oatman and the two became co-owners of Great Empire Broadcasting Inc., the parent company of KFDI AM and FM radio.
“Those two men, Mike Lynch and Mike Oatman, created the most successful country music radio operation in America. Their strong determination, solid business sense and ‘good ole’ boy’ friendliness made them legendary,” Friesen shared.
KFDI became known as the Radio Ranch and drew thousands and thousands of listeners and fans.
Friesen’s “Bluegrass Country” radio show recently celebrated its 40th year. Now known as “Bluegrass from the Rockin’ Banjo Ranch with Orin Friesen,” it is heard every Sunday from 7 to 8 a.m. on KFDI-FM 101.3.
The show began on another station in 1973 and in 1977 at the request of then-owner and general manager Oatman, moved to KFDI AM & FM. It was placed into syndication and at one time it aired on 37 radio stations across the country.
Page 2 of 2 - Friesen began performing cowboy music at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper in 1999. In addition, he continues to do his radio show on KFDI. And now he can also be seen at book signings for the new book.
“I enjoyed writing the book. I hope everyone will enjoy it. I’m proud of the book cover. My son, Jesse, designed it,” Friesen advised.
The book’s publisher is Rowfant Press of Wichita and copies can be purchased at Watermark Books, Al’s Old & New Bookstore, Hat Man Jack’s, Cowtown Museum store and the Wichita-Sedgwick County Museum’s gift shop. For more information find Orin Friesen on Facebook.
Belinda Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.