by James Heine
Over KFUO’s eight decades of service to the LCMS, more than a few readers of The Lutheran Witness may have passed through its doors on a tour, observes Dennis Stortz, director of broadcast operations for the radio station. Many of those tours have been organized by LWML or LLL groups, other parish organizations, or by congregations sponsoring a confirmation-class excursion to LCMS sites in St. Louis, he explains.
“We still give many tours today. Sometimes they’re large groups and sometimes they’re just a few people, but they always find the tour interesting because few people get to see an operating broadcast facility.”
Today, he and his colleagues also conduct tours for schoolchildren, Stortz says. The school tours not only please the children, but they’re a favorite of KFUO’s staff.
“Kids between, say, kindergarten and fourth grade are the most fun,” he explains. “They are wide-eyed and uninhibited. They will listen to what you have to say and go with it, and they relish the idea of communication.”
For kids, a favorite stop is the museum with its collection of equipment from the early years of KFUO, Stortz adds. They have a hard time comprehending that anything connected with radio–or music or communications–could have ever been so big and bulky.
“There’s very little in here that you could stick in your pocket and walk around with,” Stortz reflects, smiling.
The museum’s old-fashioned manual typewriters also impress many kids, he adds. “For them, it’s a strange, ancient computer.”
Two other groups also prove rewarding, Stortz says. The first is small groups–sometimes simply individuals–who return to KFUO after many years; the second, residents from group homes where KFUO-FM is part of their daily life.
Regarding the first group, many seem to “be closing the circle” Stortz observes.
“They’ve come back to KFUO for a final time. They may have been here in the 1930s or 1940s. Now they’re in their last years. They might say, ‘I sang in that studio as a fifth-grader,’ or ‘I met Dr. Maier here.’ They will stand there [in front of Studio A] and remember. You don’t have to say much. They talk about what KFUO-AM meant to them, who they saw. It’s really touching that the experience has stayed with them all these years.”
The remaining group is both an extraordinary experience and an emotionally draining tour to conduct, Stortz reflects. It also highlights an aspect of mission seldom connected with broadcasting, he adds.
“These are tours that come from group homes and other resident facilities. Some of the residents are severely disabled. They need help to walk. They can’t talk, or they can’t express themselves. They have all kinds of issues. But in their homes, and in their facilities, they listen to the FM station because they connect with it.”
Often, Stortz says, the counselors and group leaders explain that CLASSIC99 is the only station their residents can relate to.
“When they come here, they know this is the home of what they listen to all day long. For whatever reason, they connect with the radio station.”
During such tours, the staff offers its normal presentation, Stortz says. “Sometimes you don’t know if you connect, but you do know the music connects. It’s incredible.”