54th Annual Dakota Conference

Family listening to radio, courtesy the Library of Congress

Held every April, the Dakota Conference examines issues of contemporary significance to the Northern Plains region in their historical and cultural contexts. Religion and spirituality, geography and identity, the impact of global conflict, Hispanic/Latino influence, and the 1973 Wounded Knee Occupation have been examined in recent years.

54th Annual Dakota Conference

Radio Comes to the Northern Plains: From Wireless to Wi-Fi (1922-2022)

The conference will be held April 28-29, 2022, in the CWS Fantle Building on the Augustana University campus.

Conference Theme: The topic for the 2022 conference is “Radio Comes to the Northern Plains: From Wireless to Wi-Fi (1922-2022).”

For the 54th Dakota Conference, presentations about radio and other forms of electronic communication from the 1920s to the present day are welcome, as we consider how wireless technology changed, and continues to impact, the lives of residents of the Northern Plains.

According to the South Dakota Broadcasters Association, radio began in South Dakota as early as 1912 in Eureka, but the flowering of licensed radio stations in the state, and throughout the Northern Plains, started in 1922. Stations on the campuses of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion (WEAJ, later KUSD) and the School of Mines in Rapid City (WCAT) began broadcasting that year. In Minnesota, the first radio broadcasts originated from the sixth floor of the Oak Grove Hotel in Minneapolis in 1922 (WLAG). In Montana, the first radio broadcasts emanated from KFBB in Great Falls in 1922 and from Montana State University (KUOM) in Bozeman in 1925.

Radio vaudeville and theater and music of every imaginable style—from jazz, blues, and rock 'n roll to opera, symphonic, and chamber—found the airwaves an effective medium. Churches and other religious organizations discovered they could meet the spiritual needs and/or fill their coffers from radio audiences.

Beginning in the 1960s, public radio became an alternative to commercial radio. Licensed to non-profit organizations and universities, public radio enjoys a loyal following among those seeking a blend of public affairs and the arts. One of the earliest is Minnesota Public Radio, begun on the campus of St. John's University.

Radio audiences, along with ad revenue, were in decline in the 1970s and 1980s. With the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, an FCC policy requiring controversial viewpoints to be balanced by opposing opinions on air, and the institution of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, conservative-libertarian points of view began to dominate the airwaves.

The fireside chats of President Roosevelt, seeking to encourage the American people during the Great Depression, Dust Bowl, and World War II, gave way to "talk radio" and eventually "hate radio," a vehicle for appealing to the dark side of the American public by denigrating victims of rape, proponents of health insurance, and children who died in school shootings with the most vicious, vile pronouncements of so-called radio "personalities."

How have these changes in federal policy affected political discourse in the Great Plains? A great gulf separates the musings of a Paul Harvey (d. 2009) from the diatribe of a Rush Limbaugh (d. 2021). Drive anywhere in the plains and tune into an AM (or FM) station—and witness the spittle-laden denouncements of these deranged "hosts." Radio, which for generations was a primary source of information has, with the increase in society's penchant for lies and conspiracy theories, become a main source of disinformation, leading to sickness and even death among the general population and, ironically, among nationally recognized hosts. A direct line can be drawn from these broadcasts and social media, an outgrowth of radio, to the insurrection of January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol.

Paper and session proposals on these and other topics related to the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana are welcome. 

Submission Requirements: Presenters are encouraged to submit their proposals using our online submission form.

Alternatively, presenters may send a one-page paper, session, or panel proposal with title, brief description, short biographical sketch, and full contact information to dakotaconference@augie.edu.

Proposals (not completed papers) are due on or before Friday, February 25, 2022. Limit of one presentation per individual.

Registration: Speakers must register and pay for one-day or two-day conference attendance to participate as presenters. Registration will open in spring of 2022.

  • Through April 19, two-day registration is $60 and one-day registration is $40.
  • After April 19, two-day registration is $70 and one-day registration is $50.
  • CWS members receive conference registration discounts.
  • Registration is free for full-time undergraduate students of any college or university and for Augustana University faculty and staff, courtesy of the Mellon Fund Committee.

Book Authors: We will no longer be hosting book signings at the conference. Presenters who are authors of recent books about the Northern Plains are welcome to distribute order forms during their session and/or place copies of the forms on the literature table located near registration. 

Awards: Presenters are encouraged to submit their papers for cash award consideration in academic, non-academic, student, and women's history categories by May 13.

The Dakota Conference on the Northern Plains is a humanities-based public affairs program of the Center for Western Studies that explores topics specific to the region in their historical and cultural contexts. The Center’s Boe Forum on Public Affairs considers national and global issues of concern to the people of the Northern Plains. The CWS Public Affairs Series publishes books examining regional issues.

National Endowment for the Humanities Logo

The Dakota Conference is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.