Thinking today about my broadcasting buddy, Grant Peterson, longtime radio personality at KBRK AM in Brookings and world famous spokesman for the NAANP ..the national association for the advancement of Norwegian people. (Okay, I might have made that up.) Grant has been an avid supporter of the South Dakota Rock and Roll music association hall of fame over the past five years; devoting air time each spring on his Friday edition of the “Great Afternoon Smorgasbord” radio program toward promoting our annual induction ceremony and concert. (April 13th Ramkota) In fact, it was shortly after our visit in the studio last week that Grant fell ill and had to be hospitalized for a couple days. I certainly hope we had nothing to do with it. Anyway, I’m sure Grant would appreciate all good thoughts and prayers for a quick recovery and a return to his proper place at the radio microphone where he belongs.
I got to thinking the other day about another former KBRK radio personality who went on to make a name for himself as an “owner” of radio stations in Sioux Falls and Sheldon, Iowa. But, E.C. Red Stangland, a native of tiny Hetland, South Dakota, became better known for another occupation; poking fun at Norwegians..in print.
It started quite by accident in 1973 when it was suggested by friends over coffee that he publish some of those corny Norsky jokes he kept testing on them. So, on a dare, he put together a small joke book, had five thousand of them published and managed to get them put on area news stands where they sold like crazy. Before long he’d published another..then another until at least a dozen Scandinavian joke books were in print and he’d opened a distribution warehouse filling orders for books and other Scandinavian humor items from Tee shirts and hats to bumper stickers.
I caught up with Red at his Norse Press office in Sioux Falls some 20 years ago where I asked about the phenomenal success of his books. (Over a million sold at that time) He said he really enjoyed doing it because, as a Norwegian himself, it was easy, didn’t require a lot of thought and involved no heavy lifting. He was concerned at first that Norskies might take offense at his profiting at their expense; so worried that he didn’t even put his name on the first book; just a post office address. But after he realized there were no lynch mobs after him, he included both his name and photograph. He told me that, instead of being offended, Norwegians loved them. In fact, most mail orders were to people with Scandinavian names. He felt that Norwegians were the only ones left with a sense of humor. I think that’s true because even when, in her later years, my mom wasn’t feeling too hot, I’d bring home the latest version of Red’s Norwegian joke book and read them aloud. She’d slap her leg and laugh out loud..proving Red’s theory. There was never any smut in Red’s books..but he’d push the envelope on occasion with a bit of bathroom and mild sex humor. The maybe-too-graphic barometer he used was a lady secretary who worked at a very conservative Lutheran church. Red told me that if she laughed..the joke was in.
Red Stangland’s entire life..which ended way too soon in 1995 at the age of 73..was filled with unplanned routes to notoriety. In 1975, he teamed up with Bob Johnson for a little comedy routine promoting the Nordland Fest. Johnson, sans his dentures and donning a crazy Norskie outfit, was a scream as Uncle Torvald.
People loved Red and Torvald which led to them putting together a 45 minute show and they wound up entertaining at events all over the area right up until Red passed away.
Stangland also gained fame for his establishment of..and involvement in..a community watchdog group called the Concerned Citizens Organization. A lot of folks, who may have appreciated his books and comedy, didn’t think much about his politics and those of his followers for being such outspoken naysayers on so many issues they felt promoted positive growth for Sioux Falls. In fact, Red told me, he was invited to leave town several times.
If the truth be known, I didn’t necessarily agree with Red’s political views back then either..but it was hard not to fall for the twinkle in his eye and his appreciation for all the joys life had to offer..especially the ability to laugh at yourself.
I hope my friend, Grant has a bunch of Red’s books handy as he recuperates because the old adage is true about laughter being the best medicine.
Oh, I asked Red if he had a favorite Norwegian joke. It was hard to pick just one but he shared this: On a plane ride to Minneapolis, a beautiful woman sat next to Ole who asked what she vas going to do in da Tvin Cities. She said she hoped to hook up with a guy.. adding that she’d heard Norwegians and Native Americans made the best lovers. What’s YOUR name she asked?
“Sigurd Red Feather” said Ole.