FM 99 tunes in for 20th year

Photo by Kristan Apodaca The FM 99 The Mountain team, left to right, Wells Reitz, Jeff Oliphant, intern Nolan North Beilstein, Teresa Oliphant and Brent Oliphant.

It was 20 years ago on Jan. 24 that Jeff and Brent Oliphant signed on as FM 99 the Mountain, Red Lodge’s only station. The brothers bought ‘the Mountain’ back in 1989 when it was located above the Red Lodge School of Dance and it consisted of a “coat hanger for an antenna, two Radio Shack cassette decks, a ten watt transmitter and a microphone,” they both recall.

They upgraded the station and moved it to Two Mile Bridge Road as the studio would be in direct line of sight of the Com- Net Cellular Tower on Red Lodge Mountain. They got the approval for a Class A signal in 1993 and were on their way.

To mark the 20th anniversary, the station is holding a drawing, with a prize of $2,200, at Rock Creek Lumber, June 21 at noon. They will be broadcasting from there from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

The Mayor of Red Lodge, Ed Williams, has also declared a Proclamation that June 21 be the station’s Anniversary Appreciation Day, urging all FM 99 listeners to join him in “recognizing this truly outstanding radio station for its contribution in adding to the quality of life in our city.”

“FM 99 “The Mountain” has served Red Lodge and the surrounding area in an outstanding manner for 20 years with only great Rock and Roll,” said Williams. “And has performed its duties with pride and true professionalism during that time.”

Radio is in the Oliphant’s blood. Brent’s radio name is Les King and has been since he was 11 years old.

“Les is my real name, and King is my Great Grandmother ’s maiden name,” said Brent.

Their father Bruce kickstarted KDBM in Dillon in 1957 and ran it until 1978 when he sold it.

The brother ’s recall those early days, the time of the 16-inch diameter vinyl records used by advertisers, the old Gate’s turntables with the “40 lb arm” and the on-air tension of being live.

“It was like a circus,” said Jeff, the sales manager. “You’re answering the phones, cueing the records up, recording the news, receiving two or three live feeds. You always have to be a step ahead. Our dad would write up every thing.”

“And if you missed something, it was like a domino effect,” said Brent, the general manager.

Jeff remembers being just a kid and sitting on the lap of Dave Riley, a broadcaster who would do live play by plays while Jeff “pushed buttons” on the console.

Bruce Oliphant went on to become President of the Montana Broadcasting Association in 1977-78. He also won an award for being the first broadcaster to fly over Quake Lake in 1953 to report on the disaster.

In 1986 the Oliphants were running KDZN-FM in Glendive but as their we b s i t e s t a t e s “ t h e Beartooths were calling.” A chance remark in 1975 by an engineer working with their father suggested Red Lodge would be a “good place” for a station had never left them and so brings us back to today as FM 99 celebrates 20 years in the town.

Also working at the station is Brent’s wife, Teresa, who is the office manager and known to listeners as TJ, the ‘J’ standing for Jensen, her maiden name.

She, too, has radio in her blood, her hero being Paul Harvey and her brother once worked with the Oliphants at the Dillon station.

“I’ve enjoyed it. The people are the best thing. We have listeners call in and thank us for playing a song, that it brought back memories. And people just call in to say thanks. That makes it worth it,” she said.

In 20 years they’ve seen their wattage power increase from 1,000 to 30,000. They have the fourth highest transmitting site in the state and reach the ears of listeners as far away as Livingston, Hardin, Lovell, Powell, and Greybull. According to their website, it's a potential listenership of 175,000.

They also stream and have a following in the UK, J a p a n , Br a z i l , Ukraine, and the Caribbean.

“It surprises me where people will call from. It is fun to hear. A car guy in Billings told me all the cars he’s fixed were on our station. Those stories are the ones you like,” said Teresa.