KNKL now broadcasting live worldwide

February 12, 2019

STURGIS — Retro rally radio has gone worldwide: Pirate radio station KNKL, which broadcasts from a windowed cubical inside The Knuckle Saloon, is sharing its commercial-free sound on smart phones, tablets and computers from Vale to Venezuela and Fairburn to France 24 hours a day.

The official worldwide launch was Feb. 4.

The radio station is the brainchild of owner Pete Torino and the station’s general manager Charlie O’Douglas who envisioned it broadcast to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees in downtown Sturgis during the Rally. The early years of the broadcast could be characterized as a public address system that played rock-n-roll music.

The station evolved, and with the digital age, began sharing its signal to other businesses in the downtown Sturgis area.

“When I first had this idea to be a PA system for the downtown, the first person I talked to was Jim Bush, the police chief at the time. He understood how important we could be to the community for the Rally. It has grown every year since,” Torino said.

People can’t listen to KNKL on cars radio just yet, but O’Douglas believes the day is coming when internet radio will be standard issue in vehicles.

“We listen in the car all the time. All you do is plug your phone into the auxiliary input on your radio, or through Blue Tooth. I’ve driven all the way across the state to Brookings and back and never lost the signal once, except maybe at Tilford,” Torino said.

He added that the fidelity of the digital sound being broadcast by KNKL is better than CD or FM quality.

Torino listed reasons why people listen to KNKL worldwide: “They like the music we are playing. They like Sturgis and the Black Hills. Or, they like motorcycles. Or, all of the above.”

They put out this quality music, with no commercials with a staff of five, so what is their source of income?

“The premise of KNKL was to serve the needs of the Sturgis community during the Rally. As we have expanded, we are taking some of our partners with us. We now have the ability for their marketing to reach the world,” O’Douglas said.

Although there are no paid commercials, there are segment “sponsors” such as Fisher Beverage (Coors and Coors Light) that sponsors the Six-pack at Six in the evenings. The segment features six songs from one artist.

“We don’t sell advertising, we have sponsorships. Similar to NPR,” O’Douglas said.

Torino said they invest what little they do make back into the broadcast system.

“We’re not getting rich by any means,” he said.

Those involved do it because they are all broadcast veterans who love what they do and want to continue doing it, Torino said.

“It’s a labor of love. This is truly our passion,” O’Douglas said.

Today’s technology allows Torino and staff to zero in on where people are listening from.

“Canada is right behind the United States in listeners, but France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, Malyasia are strong. We’ve had over 100 counties the last couple of weeks,” Torino said.

O’Douglas said they knew they would be expanding their reach after the 78th Rally this, so reminded people to continue listening.

“The biggest opportunity for us to market will be launching off this year’s Rally. We will be ready,” O’Douglas said.

KNKL’s rally broadcasts are much different than what listeners experience at other times of the year. The Rally broadcast is focused on events, weather, traffic, and other rally-centric matters. During the remainder of the year, KNKL is focused on music, Torino said.

KNKL staff will take more opportunities to spend time with artists who come to town to perform during the rally, O’Douglas said. Then, those interviews will be used throughout the year when featuring artists on the radio station.

Each Sunday morning, the radio station features Sister Sarah, a longtime “Knucklehead” personality who broadcasts six hours of positive music with meaning, Torino said.

O’Douglas characterizes KNKL’s music as the “evolution of rock-n-roll.”

“It’s the music you grew up with,” he said. “We concentrate on ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2K.”

Why should someone listen to KNKL online?

“It’s the best music of your life, no matter what age you are,” Torino said. “Anybody alive on this planet, we are playing the best music of your life.”

KNKL is a pirate radio station meaning they do not have a license to broadcast. And although they are not bound by FCC rules and regulations, they adhere to them, O’Douglas said.

Currently there are four personalities on air throughout the day.

From 6 a.m. to noon is Billy Burton, from noon to 6 p.m. is Bart Tender, O’Douglas from 6 p.m. to midnight and Torino from midnight to 6 a.m. Each has decades of experience in broadcasting.

“I have a studio at home I work out of for my voice-over work. We will be adapting it to where we will be capable of doing our shows from home in the future,” he said.

O’Douglas said KNKL is fortunate that the Knuckle Saloon has provided a home base for the operation for 19 years.

“We’re proud to be broadcasting from the Knuckle Saloon in world-famous Sturgis. This has been a mutual benefit to both,” he said.

Torino said the city of Sturgis has helped immensely also.

“We are the voice for law enforcement and emergency people in Sturgis,” Tornio said.

People in Sturgis can hear KNKL being broadcast on speakers throughout the downtown area and at several locations around town such as The Knuckle Saloon, the Sturgis Liquor Store, Sturgis Harley-Davidson, Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, Vets Club, Sturgis Community Center, and others on a business band network.

“It works so well. The engineers who made it, said they couldn’t believe how well it works around town. The reason it works so well is that the streets of Sturgis are literally paved with gold.,” Torino said.

O’Douglas explained that when the streets of Sturgis were built, the sand that they used had trace amounts of gold flecks. The metallic aspect of the sand used to pave the streets bounces the high-frequency signal even further.

Many who come for the Rally or stop in The Knuckle Saloon throughout the year ask how they can listen to KNKL.

“The number of people listening this year during the rally was astronomical, and they still continue to be listening in almost every country around the world every week,” Torino said. “For the entire Rally, we tell people to listen to us when they leave Sturgis because that’s when we go commercial free.”

O’Douglas said KNKL has been on year around before, but never really promoted it.

“Now we’re on around the clock and around the world,” he said. “There are internet stations on around the world, but we’re the only one from Sturgis, South Dakota, which happens to host the largest motorcycle rally and concert venue in the world every August.”

In a 14-day period from late January to early February, KNKL had 4,700 listeners in 140 countries. The average session length is 20 minutes.

Those international visitors enjoy the small-town quaintness of Sturgis, Torino said.

“We give the school lunch menu, the weather, and talk about things going on in the Hills,” he said. “Sturgis is kind of like Mayberry. We have an Aunt Bea, an Andy, and a Barney Fife. Our international listeners get a kick out of that.”

But most of all, the listeners enjoy the non-stop music, Torino said.

“Music has and always will be the common element that ties us all together,” he said.

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