Former KCMT-TV team reminisces about moments both on and off the air

Take two former anchormen, a popular radio personality who was the last local TV anchor, a former weatherman turned familiar radio voice while owning and anchoring a new TV station, and a former local TV intern turned current Twin Cities-based news anchor… and what do you get? You get a unique TV family reunion, and lots of reminiscing.

Left to right: Mark Anthony, KXRA-Radio and KOOL-TV, Kevin Doran, KSAX-TV Twin Cities, John Froyd and Jon Haaven, KCMT-TV Channel 7 and Joe Korkowski, KXRA-Radio/Voice of Alexandria. Contributed photo

Thanks to the efforts of key organizers, a reunion of KCMT-TV Channel 7 employees last month resulted in many reconnections. 

John Froyd, who currently lives in California and was the KCMT-TV news anchor from 1971 – 1991, contacted Audrey Behrens (1974 -1990), who was the secretary for Tom Barnes Jr., owner and president of Central Minnesota Television (CMT) to get the reunion ball rolling. Behrens contacted Mari Luethner for assistance. Luethner (1978-2004), was hired by the station’s first general manager Glenn Flint and began employment with the station as his administrative assistant, later moving into sales and promotion. Becky Wilken-Nelson assisted with greeting guests at the reunion.  She began work at Channel 7 during high school and upon graduation, worked in a full-time position as a film and commercials director.

As the reunion day unfolded, the rich history of KCMT-TV Channel 7 was shared by some of the on-air and behind-the-scenes personalities as they made the rounds from KXRA-Radio’s Open Line show hosted by Joe Korkowski, to Mark Anthony’s KOOL-TV station on-air interviews. The entire “family” met for lunch at Alexandria’s Interlachen Inn and wrapped things up at Zorbaz on Lake LeHomme Dieu in the early evening.

Tom Barnes Sr. and Julius Hetland from Fargo were the founders/owners of Central Minnesota Television (CMT) and were part of the Board of Directors. KCMT-TV (Central Minnesota Television, plus the “K” indicating that the station was west of the Mississippi) was a dream come true for Ken Bechtel, who first conceived the idea in 1956. Bechtel was then associated with KXRA-Radio. He organized a group of Alexandria incorporators, including Joseph O. Perino, John J. McCarten, Ercel Aga, Harold Bartz, Sidney Carlson, Earl Drussell, Alan Graves, Lee Johnson Sr., Donald Kelly, Ken Tessmer and Everette Walters. Financing for CMT was accomplished by a stock sale. Joe Perino was president of the new station.

Glenn Flint was hired as general manager of the station in February 1958. The first studio was in the basement of the Rural Electric Association building at 124 Seventh Avenue West. Although Dennis Novotny was unable to attend the reunion, he wrote Behrens, “On April 28, 1958 I came to work at KCMT-TV from KBMB-TV in Bismarck. I walked into the basement of the REA building and was greeted by Glenn Flint, the manager. He said, ‘Do you see that pile of boxes, there’s a TV station in those boxes.’ He was right.” Dennis added, “I started to unpack the boxes and was joined by Bob Naegeli, Neil Hoag, and Arden Ramsey. The Chief Engineer was Ken Olson. (Olson attended the reunion. He is now 92 years old.) Mike Morgan was the engineer at Westport assembling the transmitter. I was a master control operator, which consisted of one person doing the video switching, audio control, shading the cameras, projection and director.  During my 42 ½ years as a broadcast engineer I worked at five stations. I will say without a doubt that working at KCMT-TV was the hardest job I ever had. There were too many commercials and not enough equipment.”

Natalie Johnson, Archie Viering and Jon Haaven, television personalities during the KCMT-TV Channel 7 days. Johnson and Haaven co-hosted the Welcome Inn show and Viering was a guest/co-host.

Jon Haaven, (1958 – 1969) former news director, was a new college graduate in 1958 when he was hired. He reflected on the first day they went on-the-air, October 8, 1958, “The first ‘lead story’ I ever wrote was about the death of Pope Pius XII. Channel 7 signed-on with the third game of the World Series.” Haaven wrote stories for anchorman Flint and two years later, in 1960, became the news anchor. He also did about 10 to 12 stand-up ‘live’ commercial advertisements a day, and became a talk-show host.

Natalie Johnson-Simpson was Haaven’s co-host on the daily Welcome Inn show. When she started in 1958 she was hired as Glenn Flint’s secretary. 18 months later, Flint asked her if she would like to do “on-air” work. In 1960 Welcome Inn hit the airwaves with Haaven and Johnson. The purpose of the show was to get local people to talk about their community or special events. Mainstreet businesses found that it was a perfect place to advertise. Ad-lib conversations were the norm. Johnson remembers trying to appear calm as a tiger layed at her feet while she talked with its trainer. The Osmond Brothers, Myron Floran of Lawrence Welk, Jerry Koosman were guests. Senators, governors, presidential candidates…were all eager to make an appearance on KCMT-TV, knowing that they would get exposure with rural Minnesota.

The station had a big economic impact on the growth of Alexandria. John Ginther, sales manager, from 1974 – 1990, who attended the reunion, mentioned that Alexandria was fortunate to have gotten the station, as it was designated to St. Cloud by the FCC. KNMT-TV Channel 12 out of Walker was designated to go to Bemidji. CMT had a profit every single year.

When Dwight Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System route first came up for discussion in Minnesota’s legislature there were three east-to-west routes from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Fargo, North Dakota that were proposed.

“I believe that KCMT-TV’s presence, the fact that Alexandria had a television station, greatly impacted the decision of the I-94 route through Alexandria. We had the envious position of being the only channel available for television viewers in this part of the state. KCMT put long pants on this area. Television put Alexandria on the map,” said Haaven.

In 1964 the station moved its offices to 720 Hawthorne Street. By 1968 Interstate-94 was under construction and KCMT-TV added color. By 1969, KCMT/KNMT 7/12 Television was serving more than 664,000 people in 33 counties. KCMT-FM Radio went on the air in October of  1970 and was sold in 1985 (Today it is KIKV-FM).

In 1982, KCMT switched affiliation from NBC to CBS. On-air personalities included John Froyd, Jim Rohn, Jim Roeser, Mark Vanderwerf, Sally Baltes-Lunsford, Gary Perkins to mention only a few. In 1988 KCMT was sold to WCCO and the local station became KCCO.

In 1990, KCCO became a satellite station. The format became local cut-in news during the Twin Cities’ news broadcasts. A new generation of Alexandria television began with Joe Korkowski (KCCO) and Mark Vanderwerf (KSAX), both influenced by Haaven, Froyd and Jim Rohn. The last newscast was in October of 2002. The sales department continued at KCCO until its official last day of July 7, 2004.

Channel 7 went on the air in 1958 with a staff of 16. Five years later there were 43. In the ‘80s there were close to 80 employees. It’s difficult to include a complete list of names, and to quote each one of their favorite memories. Here are just a few from the gathering at Interlachen Inn:

John Froyd, news director/anchor, 1971 – 1991: “We were communicating with people as we gave the news. We always remembered that was our goal, to communicate. In addition to the news, doing the Farm Today show was a great way to bring people of the area together with current farming issues.”

Audrey Behrens, secretary to one of the owners, Tom Barnes, Jr., 1974 – 1990:  “The 16 years I worked for CMT are filled with many great memories. We worked hard and took pride in what we did. We were a family. Our children always looked forward to the on-air family Christmas program and the gifts they would receive. The summer family picnics were enjoyed by all. Best of all, it was the people we worked for and with that made it the family that we still are. After all this time, we are still keeping in contact with each other. “

John Froyd, Jon Haaven and Kevin Doran appear on a radio talk show in Alexandria. The three were all members of KCMT-TV. Photo by Joe Korkowski

Greg Cabana, copy department/sales: “Glenn Flint asked me if I’d like to work in TV. He asked if I knew anything about shooting film and of course I said yes. I didn’t know a thing but I was determined to learn. I started at $675 a month. I learned the business, did a million commercials and voice-overs. I filled in for sports and worked with the station in sales through 1991.”

Doris Thompson, local sales secretary, 1967 – 2004: “I was hired by Jim Syrdal in 1967 and although I was a secretary, I did traffic occasionally, and back-up receptionist. You just did what you had to do.”

Kevin Doran, KCMT-TV college intern, currently KSTP-TV news anchor in the Twin Cities: “I grew up in Brainerd with KCMT-TV and so to get an internship with them was huge. John Froyd hired me (I begged him to hire me!). John was my ‘Walter Cronkite.’ Working in a newsroom you feel the respect of everyone who is working in an intense atmosphere to produce a good show. You expand your skill set as you learn. My folks in Brainerd watched my first show! I started in an era when women were getting in the television business and this was a great thing. Julie Howard Anderson was a producer, and she taught me so many things. Jim Roeser, who did sports, influenced me, he always looked for the positive in everyone. Everyone learned together.”

Mark Vanderwerf, reporter, sports director and news anchor, 1981 – 1989: “I was a St. Cloud State guy, graduating in 1981. John Froyd hired me and handed me a camera. I reported, I did sports, I even did weather once…I guess once was enough. I remember doing the Eel Fest in the ‘80s…Jim would walk into a room and people wanted his autograph. KCMT Channel 7 was the only station they had in northern Minnesota. He was a celebrity. He was more than that though. Like family, if you worked on a holiday, or whoever worked on a holiday, he invited you to his house. We took turns working on the holidays, but everyone was taken care of.”

Mark Anthony, hired by Vanderwerf in 1999 at KSAX-TV and now owner of KOOL-TV: “I grew up in Willmar watching the likes of Jim Rohn, John Froyd and Mark Vanderwerf on Channel 7/12. They were part of the reason I got into broadcasting. Who would have known that I would be hired by ‘Vandy’ and he would become one of my best friends. I was invited to Jim Rohn’s induction ceremony into the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame as we were two weatherguys in the area. He was a huge influence on me going into weather on TV.”

John Perino, 1958 Jefferson High School student-worker and son of original owner Joe Perino: “Everything was live back then. One time Glenn Flint was showcasing a freezer on-air, doing a commercial. I hid in the freezer. When he opened the door, out I came, and not missing a beat, Flint said, ‘I wondered where you were…’ He didn’t miss a beat.” Perino later was promotion manager, 1963 – 1982.

Dale Haugejordan was Vic the Viking, an afternoon kid’s show. He did weather and worked in the control room: “The best fun was when I did Vic the Viking for afternoon shows. We had fun, we did whatever we needed to do, and we worked together.”

Randy Berglund, 1969-70 Jefferson High School Training Program: “One day John Froyd told me Hubert Humphrey was arriving at the Alexandria airport. Froyd sent me out to pick him up. A 16-year-old kid in a 1954 Chevy. Six months later, Froyd sent me out to pick Humphrey up again! I pulled up, this time in a ’57 Chevy, and Humphrey said, ‘Hi Randy!’…it was amazing. He remembered my name and I will never forget it. And I’ll never forget how John Froyd trusted me.”   

Jon Haaven, who left the station in 1969 to pursue a newspaper career, wrote in the Lake Region Press in 1987, when WCCO officially took over KCMT-TV. “KCMT carved out a virgin territory that, if I’m not mistaken, gave it the distinction at one time of being the largest single-station market in the United States.” Joe Korkowski, last news anchor for KCCO, signing off on October 16, 2002 and currently KXRA-Radio news director, Voice of Alexandria, and Open Line talk show host: “After working for a few years as an anchor/reporter at KSAX (under former KCMT Sports Director Mark Vanderwerf), I eventually found my way to KCCO-TV in the copy department. After a few years, the draw to get back into a newsroom setting was too strong and I applied and was made the news director/anchor. It was a role that I enjoyed until October 16th, 2002 when I accepted a sales position at KXRA Radio. The following Monday KCCO announced that it was closing down the news department in Alexandria. Although not a title I’m proud of, it made me the last television news anchor at TV 7/12 after 44 years of the station delivering the local news to West-Central Minnesotans. The job provided me with so many great opportunities to meet many different types of people. From hanging out of an airplane covering a skydiving club, to interviews with Jesse Ventura, Chubby Checker and Tom Lehman, local TV 7/12 was a window to all that was happening in our part of the state. Given what I do for a living now, and my love for this part of Minnesota, I wish I would have paid more attention to John Froyd and the 7/12 newscasts in my youth growing up in Brandon. As an adult, I spent 12 years of my life working in TV and am so glad to have been privileged with the opportunity to be a part of it here in Alexandria.”