If These Walls Could Talk: From pharmacy and soda fountain to radio broadcasts
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If These Walls Could Talk: From pharmacy and soda fountain to radio broadcasts

Aug 13, 2023

Editor's note: This is part of a 15-story series titled "If These Walls Could Talk" completed by Pioneer reporters with help from the Beltrami County Historical Society for our 2023 Annual Report.

When John “Jack” E. Quistgard, a young pharmacist from Warren, Minn., wanted to buy Bemidji’s Glass Block Drugstore in 1950, none of the local banks would give him a loan.

He was new to the community, the building was just a few years old, but, they asked him how could he make a go of it when the first two owners hadn’t been able to. He finally was approved through Northern Drug of Duluth.

Jack bought the drugstore, which had been built at 500 Beltrami Ave. NW in 1946 by Rod and Alice Johnson. The Johnsons had run the drugstore across the street at 424 Beltrami in Morris Kaplan’s Glass Block building.

Quistgard’s Glass Block Drug stocked Rexall products, Hallmark cards, Russell Stover candies (and later Fanny Farmer) and a variety of other products. The store also had a luncheonette and a soda fountain.


The drugstore was conveniently located for patient prescriptions, with Drs. John Hildebrand and Jason Hartje in offices above the drugstore and nine more doctors at the Bemidji Clinic just down the block at Sixth and Beltrami. At one point, Jack employed as many as five pharmacists.

Jon Quistgaard, Jack’s son, recalls moving freight at the store as a kid before getting his first “real job” as a dishwasher for the fountain. He remembers Minnesota Vikings — at Bemidji State for spring training in the early 1960s — coming to the store: Jim Marshall, to buy camera film, and Carl Eller, to order root beer floats from the fountain.

Cecelia McKeig worked at the fountain between 1955 and 1960. She remembers delicious chocolate malts and cherry phosphates.

“We were busy most of the day and always had a rush of business after the movies let out at 9 p.m.,” she said. The soda fountain, originally on the main floor, was moved downstairs around 1961.

Jon says his dad’s “Coffee Klutch,” an eclectic group of businessmen, met on weekdays for coffee at the fountain. The “Klutch” included Shelley McRae, Judge James Preece, Bud Larson, Bert Gaetke, Fran Saeger, Dr. Hildebrand, Superintendent of Schools J.W. Smith, Bob Wilson, who had Wilson's clothing, Sheriff John Cahill, Bill Schwartz from the funeral home, and others.

At the end of each coffee gathering, Jon said, “They played a game called High-Low to determine who would buy coffee for everyone that day.”

Jon also remembers a crazy night in April 1961 when the Hartz store in the first Glass Block building across the street burned down. Jon and his brother Skip were on top of their dad’s store, spraying water on the roof, hoping to deter fire.

After Jack sold the business in 1973 to Vern Schanilec, it continued to operate as a drugstore through 1981.


The most interesting things about Glass Block Drug were the people who worked there or who came in; the most memorable things about Paul Bunyan Broadcasting’s presence in the building are the sounds that come out: Sports broadcasts, music, news, and programs from legendary voices of Bemidji.

In October 1946, KBUN Radio started up in Bemidji, operating at 419½ Beltrami, 511½ Beltrami, and finally 502½ Beltrami, above the drugstore. As the company expanded, added stations and became Paul Bunyan Broadcasting, it filled the entire upstairs. Among the early legendary voices and reporting were Ned Goodwin, Cameron McMahon and Jim Carrington.

Goodwin was KBUN’s general manager and later vice president of PBB. His popular “Musical Memories” program ran for 23 years. He built KBHP-FM in 1972.

Carrington came aboard in 1954 as a sportscaster and disc jockey. He stayed just four years before moving to the Bemidji Pioneer where he reported news and sports for 52 years.

Cameron McMahon worked for KBUN for nearly two decades. She also served as Bemidji’s first city councilwoman from 1971 to 1978. Todd Haugen, who joined PBB in 1979, says Carrington credited McMahon with starting (and naming) KBUN’s long-running Chatabout program in 1956. After leaving KBUN, she frequently called into the program when Haugen and Mardy Karger were doing the show.

“She always had a curious way of speaking,” Haugen said. “She was just eccentric and fun to hear from.”

When Haugen started at KBUN, the entire operation was upstairs and the drugstore was still open. He says Ned Goodman made a deal to build new studios on the ground floor where the store had been.


Construction of studios, hallways and an office area took several months to complete, and production moved downstairs into the new studios in the summer of 1984. Today Hubbard Broadcasting owns and occupies the entire building.

Mardy Karger, news director for most of his 40 years with PBB, says everything about radio changed during his tenure. He remembers when Minnesota Twins’ broadcasts used to cut out later in the game because FCC regulations required stations to cut their wattage when the sun went down. In the studio, technology evolved dramatically.

Kev Jackson, the current long-timer at PBB, started in 1987 after the radio station had moved downstairs to the main floor. Like Karger, he recalls equipment that evolved from tapes to 8-tracks, all the way to today’s clean, compact computer-controlled soundboards.

When he started, Jackson says, one entire studio was dedicated to a huge automation system for five spinning cylinders, reel-to-reel tapes and record players.

Broadcasters often spend time outside the studio, too.

“You’ve got to do a lot of dog and pony show stuff — play donkey basketball, milk steers in a muddy pasture, crazy things like that,” Karger said. “Then try to get the news ready for the next day. My goal was (still) to be recognized as a journalist.”

Karger retired in 2015. Haugen retired in 2022 after 43 years. He brought the morning traffic report to KBUN.

“It started as a crazy idea to do something old style, something a bit absurd but with a storyline,” he said.


His character Olaf Olafson gave off-beat fictitious morning updates on the traffic in Bemidji. The cast of characters grew to include Olaf’s fisherman sidekick, Duffy, and tough guy helicopter pilot, Flint Westwood. Some listeners found it too silly, Haugen says, but most saw it for the local humor it was.

Jackson added that the most rewarding part of the job is being a positive wavelength for the community. He came to the station not long before their first Radiothon to End Child Abuse; in December, the station will host the 35th Annual Radiothon.