By Amalia P. Spagnolo
Tim “Edwards” Verthein fully admits to “being an electronics geek since I was a little kid.” It was his love of talking and “tinkering,” as he calls it, which has resulted in a 40-year career in broadcast radio. The 25-year veteran voice (as “Tim Edwards”) at KOZY/KMFY in Grand Rapids now has a new, very local venture: Iron Range Country (IRC) Radio, 1620 AM. Based in Bovey, IRC Radio specifically broadcasts within Bovey and to most of neighboring Coleraine.
Currently, listeners must physically be within the city limits of the two towns in order to receive the signal. Broadcasting directly from his home, he employs a fully equipped studio complete with computers and production gear.
“When the transmitter breaks, I’m the guy,” said the Bovey resident, a longtime radio host and engineer. Until this summer, Vertheim had just thought of himself as “a radio guy who’s going to do his own thing…someday.”
Then, he said, his wife Ronna went out of town to visit her mom for a week. Vertheim recalled thinking, “What should I do (to keep busy)? I know: I’ll start up this radio station.” Puttering around with his electronics in his son’s former bedroom, he set up IRC Radio as what he describes as a “full-blown” station and “turned it on, middle of July.”
Verthein’s fascination with broadcast radio began with his love of music and electronics when he was a boy growing up in the Twin Cities.
“My first job was as a part-time weekend announcer at WAYL (a “beautiful music” station) in 1973,” he said. “I was only 15 and I rode my bike to work.”
The teenager’s job was monitoring a wall of reel-to-reel tape recorders.
“I made sure all of the music tapes got played,” he recalled. Every few songs or so, he would announce WAYL’s call letters to identify the station.
Upon graduating from high school, Verthein enrolled at Concordia College. His plan was to major in music so he could “teach little kids to play instruments.” He noted, “I lasted only six months.”
A friend told the new college dropout, “God, you talk a lot. You should be on the radio.” Verthein followed up on the suggestion and auditioned for Brown Institute in pursuit of a career in broadcasting. “I went to Brown and graduated,” he said, “and I’ve been doing this ever since.”
After working in the Twin Cities market for a number of years, Verthein moved to Wadena after a visit to his parents’ home there.
“I never really lived small town life” and thought it was pretty cool, he said. In 1988, Verthein and his family moved to Grand Rapids to work for KOZY/KMFY, on-air and behind-the-scenes.
Since this summer, Verthein does radio from his home as well. IRC Radio is on “24/7,” even though he is “not on it talking the whole time.” The station is fully automated. “It’s all coming out of a computer,” Verthein said, “I have the same kind of broadcast software that a regular radio station would have.”
IRC Radio’s format is vintage country music. Vertheim describes it as “a mix of bluegrass, hillbilly and cowboy and country-and-western.” He noted, “My oldest is 1939, and I go to somewhere in the early ‘70s.” The repertoire includes classic country music pioneers such as Patsy Cline, Patsy Montana, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Red Foley. “I have Ernest Tubb and Tennessee Ernie Ford…up to Waylon Jennings and some Glen Campbell,” he said. “My concept is nothing of what they call ‘stadium country.’ I’ve got about 2,000 to 2,500 tunes in there, all of which have passed my scrutiny.”
Besides playing “Oldies Country,” Verthein airs commercials for local businesses.
“You’re here in Bovey or Coleraine, you can have free commercials. Just tell me when you see me or talk to me,” he said. For out-of-town businesses, Verthein calls his rates “cheap — really, really cheap” because while “regular radio stations have to make money, I don’t.” His biggest expense, he says, is the licensing fees for the music. “This doesn’t cost anybody anything, and I just enjoy doing it,” Verthein said. “I’m not competition for anybody.”
As much fun as he’s having, Verthein still takes care of business like updating announcements and playlists. He runs local advisories such as “Don’t forget to park your car on the other side of the street.” He makes public service announcements about issues like snowmobile safety.
“We do a five-minute newscast twice a day, but I make it very much about the music,” he said. “I’m tied in with National Weather Service and have backup power so that if there’s an emergency, the radio station stays on.”
What he does, Verthein says, is “community or hobby broadcasting” at a “micro radio station.” He noted, “Everybody who knows me knows that every hobby I have, I take extremely too seriously.” He operates IRC Radio “like a regular radio station.” Though “it takes care of itself” via its computers, Verthein tells of coming home from his radio day job “to just sit down, throw the switch and go live to BS with America.”
Local listeners can look forward to a holiday treat from IRC Radio. Starting on Thanksgiving Day, IRC Radio makes the seasonal switch to Christmas programming.
“It’s 100 percent regular Christmas music — no rock ‘n’ roll Christmas — but I’m going to play Christmas through Jan. 7,” Verthein said. “If you’re Orthodox or celebrate Serbian Christmas, that’s when your Christmas is.” He reckons that “no one else on the planet is going to do it — at least this programming is out there.”
On Jan. 6, Serbian Christmas Eve, IRC Radio will further fine-tune its holiday format to Serbian Christmas programming through the end of Serbian Christmas Day on Jan. 7.
“Going through the Serbian church in Chisholm, I was able to contact a whole load of Serbian churches across the country who had recorded their Christmas services over the years,” Verthein said. “They’ve all sent me about 15 hours’ worth of recordings.” He added, “We’ll have fresh programming when we come back after Christmas on Jan. 8.”
As to Vertheim’s future plans for IRC Radio, “I may end up live-streaming on the Internet,” he said. “I just gotta shove the plug in the jack and push the button – maybe upgrade my Internet bandwidth.”
Verthein says that although people around the towns tell him, “Hey, I listen and it’s pretty good,” he’d keep the station going even if there’s no one to hear it. “That’s the weird thing about radio — you don’t even know if anyone is even listening.”
He envisions himself as continuing to broadcast and to record his national and international radio voiceover and commercial work from his home studio. Vertheim says that he’ll keep doing radio as a profession and a hobby because he enjoys it.
“All I need is a computer and a transmitter,” he said. “I won’t even have to leave the house, except for getting more diet Pepsi and low-fat cinnamon Pop Tarts. I can survive on aspartame and caffeine.”
For more information, log onto www.ironrangecountry.com.