Black Hills Pioneer (Wendi Pitlick-10/19/22)-When Jim Kallas auditioned for broadcasting school at the start of his career in the early 1980s, the instructors told him he wasn’t cut out for the field.
Now, after 40 years of serving as the voice of the Northern Black Hills, Kallas was named the S.D. Public Broadcasting Association’s Broadcaster of the Year, an award that recognizes broadcasters for their community service and excellence in broadcasting. Kallas, who was completely unaware of the award, said when his family and entire staff showed up at the state broadcasting event, he knew something big was about to happen.
Kallas, who started his career in broadcasting in September 1982, said the award marked his 40th anniversary in broadcasting.
“Looking at a lot of the names that are on there leaves me in awe that I’m on the same list as all these people I’ve looked up to over the years,” he said.
That list includes many of Kallas’ former employers and people who taught him the ropes of the business. Bill Duhammel, Don Jorgensen, and even Riverfront Broadcasting owners Carolyn and Doyle Becker are on that long and distinguished list.
The way the award was presented to Kallas meant a great deal to him, too.
“The biggest thing is a lot of people went way out of their way to make sure that my family members and virtually my whole staff was there,” Kallas said. “When they were getting ready to announce the award, I knew nothing about it and then when my wife and daughter, and all the staff started walking into the room, that was the indication. It’s fitting because my family sacrificed a lot for me to be able to do this. Radio is a 24-hour proposition, whether it’s engineering work at 2 a.m. or coming in to fill a shift. The great staff we have, it’s probably more their award than it is mine as far as I’m concerned, just because they make everything run. To have them there was just perfect.”
Way back when he was rejected by his original school choice, Kallas turned his attention to Black Hills State University’s mass communications program, where KBHU Radio was alive and thriving. He studied under Art Prosper and Rick Boyd, and when he had worked hard to learn the ropes of the business he joined the KDSJ team in Deadwood. He later went on to work at KSQY, all the while remaining the popular, well known voice that the Northern Hills came to know and love.
“The BHSU broadcasting department has been a great resource for me,” he said. “Especially when we needed personnel. I always looked there first because I knew they were all trained and had experience on air.”
In 2019, Kallas became the general manager for the six stations that Riverfront Broadcasting owns — KZZI, KDDX, and KDSJ in Spearfish, and KOTA, KQRQ, AND KZLK in Rapid City. He feels fortunate to have been able to stay in the Northern Black Hills for his entire career.
“The one thing that is very rare in broadcasting is being able to stay in one place,” he said. “For a long time, so many are nomads, bouncing around all over the place. I’ve been in this market my entire career. I’ve been with this group for going on 25 years now. So that’s pretty rare that I’ve been able to stay in one place. There is no better place to live in the world than in the Black Hills and raising my family.”
While Kallas fell in love with the broadcasting field at an early age, he didn’t realize just how much of an impact broadcasters make on the community. This was especially evident during the Grizzly Gulch Fire of 2002, when Kallas’ radio stations substituted their regular programming for round-the-clock fire coverage.
“We had the constant contact with the fire and safety officials providing updates on evacuations and public safety issues,” he said.”This coverage went on for several days until the threat to life and property passed. It was some of the best radio I’ve ever been part of.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit just months after Kallas assumed his new position as general manager, the broadcasting company began to feel the financial crunch as many businesses that normally advertised on the radio began to tighten their budgets and pull out of advertising. It was during this time when Kallas forged partnerships with area Chambers of Commerce to try and support local business as much as possible. He also shifted his focus to a more service-centered mission.
“There was no playbook on how to handle that. That was really a key time as far as our commitment to public service and things like that. We just tried to support businesses and individuals whenever we could,” he said. “We just provided as much information as we could get on the pandemic numbers and whatever we could from the outside and from the Department of Health. That was really important. Mostly trying to keep people informed was a big thing.”
Now, in 2022 Kallas said the station is enjoying its best year in recent times. It looks forward to completing a full renovation of the Spearfish headquarters, and Kallas is making plans to move the Rapid City operation into a new space on Jackson Boulevard.
“This has been one of our busiest years as far as the radio business goes,” he said. “It’s been a crazy year and we’ll have a whole new look and a lot of improvements. There are a lot of things we’re excited about in the future.”