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New space brings holiday sparkle to Fargo Christian radio station's history of uplifting music, messages

"Faith Conversations" writer Roxane B . Salonen explains what a new studio space for Life 97.9 FM has meant for the radio station and its mission to air positive messaging and music.

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Morning show host Allen Jones uses the studio Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in the new offices of KFNW, Life 97.9 FM, in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — A decade ago, Kim Rensch — searching for something uplifting — tuned into local Christian radio station Life 97.9 FM.

“I’d been listening to other radio stations, but was turned off by some of the messaging,” Rensch admits. “One DJ made a comment of how he saw some Christmas lights up early, and he wanted to shoot people who turn on their lights before Christmas.”

Her mom was battling cancer, and Rensch was groping for hope that Christmas, and had asked her husband, ahead of schedule, for help in decorating their home. “It just rubbed me the wrong way,” she says of the on-air comment.

So, when she came across a radio station promising only positive music and messaging, Rensch was relieved and ready.

“They really are what they say — positive and uplifting — from the commercials they play to messages and their on-air personalities,” Rensch says.

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Before long, her husband had joined her, and to this day, they listen to the station together while driving in the car, during walks through their app and even on camping trips. “It’s a way to carry worship with us.”

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Tim and Kim Rensch as seen in July 2020 in downtown Fargo. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Olsen Photography / Special to The Forum

Station’s new sparkles

Life 97.9 (KFNW) shines in a particular way this time of year, according to Jarrett Stevens, program director. “Being a Christian ministry here in the community, this is kind of like our holiday, remembering Jesus’ birth, and just the hope that entered the earth when he was born.”

But this year, the sparkles are a little brighter with new office space at 6120 53rd Ave. S., Fargo, making this the first Christmas the new station has been adorned with holiday lights and decor.

“There have been a lot of changes for us in these past six months, moving from our old building to this new space, but it’s been such a joy to see how God has worked all this out,” Stevens says.

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KFNW's new building is seen Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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Doug Smith, station manager, says the staff began moving in May.

“Our previous building had some roof leaks, and other issues. We knew we’d have to sell that location eventually. But the value of the land wouldn’t have been enough to buy or build a new home (for the station),” he says.

After beginning talks on a capital campaign fund to start fundraising for this effort, Smith says, a Realtor representing a local group that wanted to buy the property reached out, offering twice what the property was worth.

They gladly accepted and the payment covered the cost of buying the new building, renovating it for radio and purchasing a new plot of land for their towers, which were previously located in Kindred, N.D., and have now been moved to Fargo.

“We were able to do all of that without a special fundraiser,” Smith says. “We count this as an amazing blessing and provision from God.”

Renovations took all of last winter and into the spring. “This was just basically a metal warehouse,” Smith says.

But in order for it to be broadcast-ready, along with offices, two of the existing offices needed a major renovation to include wiring and other necessary equipment to be designated as studios.

“There’s now an office and workshop for our engineer, and what we call our rack room, which has six metal racks filled with broadcast equipment, transmitters and a variety of computers that help us transmit what we do in our studios out into the air,” he says, along with a new listener-engagement director.

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A state-of-the-art server room is part of KFNW's new location in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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Though most of the public won’t see the new space, Stevens says, he hopes they will feel it, in a sense, and recognize the continuing commitment it represents.

“There’s a kind of a freshness that comes with you anytime you move to a new space, and it’s also been good for us creatively.”

More than music

With the help of community input, Stevens guides what goes on the air throughout the year, but especially now, the station focuses on Christmas so listeners can truly embrace the season.

“We’ll continue to ramp up our Christmas music until it is all Christmas about a week before,” he says, noting that the station’s relationship with the Sertoma Club creates a nice pairing of holiday lights at Lindenwood Park in Fargo with Christmas music offered through 97.9 FM, so people can tune in as they’re driving by the lights.

But it’s really the message behind the music that provides the real gift.

“We know there are a lot of unknowns, hurts and frustrations. (Our world has) really been through the ringer in the last couple of years,” Stevens says. “If there’s one thing people are looking for, it’s peace and to be encouraged and uplifted.”

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A new building also means new offices for KFNW in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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Smith agrees, saying that behind-the-scenes things like new office space, while important, are, in the end, secondary to the message sent through the airwaves, and that inspiring people to service has been another important aspect of their ministry.

To that end, the station’s new Our Christmas Wish will present $500 gift cards, donated by Bell Bank, to three randomly selected people from the community who have been nominated by listeners the first three Fridays of December.

Other efforts include the Valley’s Largest Baby Shower in January benefiting the Women’s Care Center, along with listener-donated lamps, light bulbs and faith decor for Down Home, which assists families transitioning from homelessness, and collecting socks for the Hands and Feet initiative for the Salvation Army.

KFNW has been serving the Red River Valley since 1955. Life 97.9 is a part of the Northwestern Media network of University of Northwestern based in St. Paul, Minn., and their radio signals reach more than 1.25 million listeners each week.

Looking back — and forward

Smith, who will soon retire after 45 years in radio, says the new building project has helped give him a sense of grateful closure, and that he looks back on his nearly four years in Fargo positively.

“Everybody kind of has that stereotype of Fargo in their heads,” he said of moving here from Waterloo, Iowa, with his wife, Margie, in 2018. “The reality is nothing like that. This is an amazing city that is growing every day, and being in this vital, growing community has been a real thrill.”

He’s also found a dynamic and growing faith community, he says, adding, “We’re pleased to play a role in that as a radio station.”

Smith emphasizes that the station aims to appeal to people across the religious spectrum, and while individual churches have their distinctive messages, “as a radio ministry, we’re trying to bridge the gaps to focus on the main things,” like God’s love for us, and ours for him, along with his forgiveness, redemption, and our service to others. “Regardless of your personal tradition, you can see God at work in all of these things.”

Rensch says no matter what they might be going through personally, the DJs on KFNW are “relentlessly positive,” and challenges those seeking the same to “tune in during the Christmas season, and stick around in January,” to “fill your ears and heart with positive messages.”

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Kim Rensch (left) poses with Life 97.9's program manger, Jarrett Stevens, after she won a $1,000 mall gift card through a drawing for completing a listener survey. She ended up using it to do some shopping for the YWCA and Golden Drive Homeless Kids effort. Special to The Forum

Despite the challenges we all face in life, Stevens says, “if you can get a little bit of a respite from that, and fill up the hope tank, you can face the rest of your day.”

He adds, “We want to be a place of hope, where people can come and not worry about hearing something controversial; a place where we can strengthen, encourage, share the hope of Christ and let them know they’re loved, important and welcomed — and that we’re here walking right with them through all these hard things as well.”

Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at roxanebsalonen@gmail.com, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage, http://roxanesalonen.com/.

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Roxane Salonen, Forum columnist.

Related Topics: FAITHNORTH DAKOTARADIOFARGO
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