By TIFFANY RONEY email@example.com
When a man from Nebraska moved to Kansas to study electrical engineering, he had no idea he would end up falling in love with a radio station that started in the early 1900s and spent 8 years airing music and news in Abilene.
While attending Bethel College in Newton, Orin Friesen worked at a TV repair shop. One day, a guy named Barefoot Bob and his boss, KFBI �head honcho� Ol� Mike, whose real name is Michael Oatman, came in to buy a record to play on their station. After they left, Friesen�s boss told him they worked for what the Wichita Eagle later referred to as �Kansas� pioneer radio station.�
That chance meeting in the TV repair shop changed the course of his life.
Friesen changed his major to radio and television and graduated from Wichita State with a degree in broadcasting. His fascination with radio � particularly the historical brand of KFDI � even led him to write a book, recently published by Rowfant Press of Wichita, called �Goat Glands to Ranch Hands.�
Friesen plans to host a book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26, at the Dickinson County Historical Society, 412 S. Campbell St.
Friesen has not only researched the station � he�s been involved with it himself. In the 70s, he started the first syndicated bluegrass radio show, �Bluegrass Country.� This year, the show, now titled, �Bluegrass from the Rockin� Banjo Ranch with Orin Friesen,� celebrated its 40th anniversary last year.
During his decades at the station, Friesen learned some history he decided was worth writing about.
A Wichita man, Wilbur Cooper, started the radio station, then called WAAP, in 1922. The following year, Dr. John R. Brinkley stepped into the station�s history. Brinkley, a well-known doctor who Friesen refers to as �quite a quack,� is the subject of other books and articles and the inspiration for Friesen�s book title. Brinkley bought the station and moved it to Milford.
In 1931, the Farmers and Bankers Life Insurance Company of Wichita bought the station and changed its name to KFBI. They constructed an art deco-style building to house the station in Abilene and moved the station into it the following year.
Three years into KFBI�s Abilene season, it birthed a satellite station in Salina at the Fox Watson Theatre, now known as the Stiefel Theatre.
When actress, producer and screenwriter Mary Pickford rose to fame and became known as �the girl with a golden curls,� the organization changed the name to KIRL to reflect Pickford�s well-known curls.
The next wave of owners wanted to change the stations� name back to KFBI, but the FBI wouldn�t let them.
�Part of it was because the previous KFBI kind of abused that,� Friesen said. �They had it on their business card, �KFBI,� but the �K� was very tiny, with big letters �FBI.�
So they took the next closest call letters and turned it to KFDI.�
While the �famous� Dr. Brinkley fascinates Friesen, he has garnered a bit of fame in his own right. Friesen has been playing bluegrass and country music for more than 50 years. In the 60s, his band, Prairie Rose Wranglers, partnered with special guests to play sellout concerts at Carnegie Hall.
Later on, they toured China in 2006. They took bluegrass Beijing and Shenghai and also performed on the Great Wall of China. He said the people of China loved their music. While bluegrass was not popular in China, a more famous musician had warmed them up to the genre with a tour in 1922.
Back in Kansas, Friesen works as a history teacher and stage performer at Prairie Rose Ranch. The ranch offers weekly chuck wagon events, which include a wagon ride, an old-fashioned movie with popcorn, a dinner with apple pie for dessert, a simple Kansas history class and live country and bluegrass music.
His position at the chuck wagon started with a group of tourists from France.
�There were some people in France who were coming to Wichita, and the City of Wichita was trying to find a place where they could take them to a ranch, so we all went over to the guy�s ranch,� Friesen said. �He had somehow called (Old Cowtown Museum), and they knew about me, so they got a hold of me and wondered if we could bring some cowboy music over there to his place. We had a little barbecue for the French people, and that�s how it all started.�
Shortly thereafter, the rancher started Prairie Rose Ranch and hired Friesen�s band as its chuck wagon staple. Friesen now speaks to and performs for thousands of Prairie Rose visitors every year.
�I�ve always had a love for history,� he said. �And I�ve always had a love for music.�