After a 75-year family legacy of broadcasting in the Black Hills, Bill Duhamel called the sale of his company and five radio stations to a Yankton company "bittersweet."
"Basically, I was getting tired, and I was getting too old," the 80-year-old said of the decision to sell Duhamel Broadcasting. The move comes five years after the company sold its KOTA TV station.
"We set the standard" and kick-started the careers of people who went on to create or work at other radio and TV stations in western Dakota," Duhamel said. "A lot of people trained here," including Tom Brokaw, the former longtime anchor of the NBC Nightly News who interned at KOTA TV when he was a student at the University of South Dakota.
On Jan. 1, Riverfront Broadcasting acquired Duhamel Broadcasting's five radio stations: its flagship KOTA station in Rapid City, KQRQ and KZLK in Rapid City, KDDX in Spearfish and KZZI in Belle Fourche, Duhamel said. He expects the $3.6 million sale, which must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission, to close in May.
Duhamel said five or six national corporations were interested, but he preferred to sell to a family-owned company.
"The price is going to be about the same. So, if I had a choice, (I'd rather choose) somebody with ties in South Dakota," he said. "When broadcasting started, it was basically families. That's the way the industry started. The television families, there's just a handful left ... radio, there might be a few more."
He said just two of his five children live in the Rapid City area and none were interested in taking over the family business.
Duhamel said he'll continue to own the KOTA building on St. Joseph Street in downtown Rapid City. Riverfront Broadcasting, he said, has pledged to rehire all current staff except the manager, who has already been replaced. He doesn't expect many changes in programming either, but he said Riverfront is considering replacing the Sean Hannity Show with a local program.
The Duhamel family has been involved in South Dakota business since 1857, when Bill's great-grandfather traveled from Quebec as a teenager to work as a fur trader. The family later became involved in cattle, banking, retail and eventually broadcasting when Helen Duhamel, Bill's mother, became a stockholder in the KOBH radio station — later renamed KOTA.
Helen later bought and saved the station from bankruptcy in 1953 and changed the company's name from Black Hills Broadcasting to Duhamel Broadcasting.
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Duhamel said his mother was inspired to create the KOTA TV station after attending an otherwise all-male business meeting in 1954. The men said they were forming a group to prevent TV from coming to Rapid City.
"And my mother looked around the room and said, 'if a group this distinguished is against television in Rapid City, it must be a damned good idea. I'm going to file for it' and walked out and left the meeting,'" Duhamel said.
A year later, she created KOTA TV, the second TV station in South Dakota.
He recalled attending a CBS affiliate event in New York City in the late 1950s with his mother, who he called a"pioneer" for being an early, woman leader in broadcasting.
During a closed business meeting his mother attended, Duhamel said the host clarified that the meeting was only for managers, not their spouses.
"He assumed my mother was a spouse, a wife," Duhamel said. "And finally Bill Paley, who founded CBS, he leaned over the guy and says, 'she belongs here, now shut up.'"
"She was the only woman in the group back in the '50s," he said.
Duhamel said his mother was discouraged from joining the National Association of Broadcasters in the early 1960s, but became the first woman president of the South Dakota Broadcasters Association and possibly the first woman leader of any state broadcasting organization around the same time.
As for his future, Duhamel said, he'll continue to manage his real estate company and is eventually looking forward to retirement. He says he'd like to spend his time swimming and working out in the water, and reading novels.