Verne Koenig was born and raised on a farm in northeast Iowa where
he learned to play the guitar and sing. Along about 1943, he moved
to Arizona to work on a government job, part of the crew that helped
build the U.S. Army Air base in Yuma, Arizona.
While in Yuma, he kept up with his music and one day he had the opportunity
to audition for a country music program that radio station KYUM was
considering to put on the air. The folks at the station liked what they heard
and gave Verne three shows a week, 15 minutes long, on Mondays, Wednesdays
and Friday mornings at 6:30am. He was known to the fans then as "The country Boy"
and his shows featured him playing and singing the old-time country songs.
The show had no sponsor, but did feature adverstising by the local merchants.
Verne tells us the announcer for his shows was subject to who was on duty
at that time.
Verne came back to Iowa in 1944, moving to Marshalltown. Radio station
KFJB hired him as an announcer and engineer after he had taken a course
at Brown Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota. He had a music show on KFJB
as well, 15 mintues a day that went on the air at 12:30pm.
The KFJB listeners came to know him as the "The Blue Ridge Mountaineer."
After about a year at KFJB, Verne added a couple of folks to his show. One
was a mandolin and dobro player, Al Burgess and the other
was a gal who sang duets with him, Hazel Schrafel. By this time, his show
had its own assigned announcer, Chuck Webb, who was on the staff and was
from New York.
In 1947, Verne's career saw him move to Dubuque, Iowa and taking on a job
at KDTH as announcer, newscaster as well as a program that featured his singing.
He first had a 15-minute show at 7:30am, then later one at 12:30pm. Handling
the announcing chores for his show was Gerald MacAleece, who was also
the KDTH's sports director. His show had two sponsors - the Northeast Iowa
John Deere Dealers and also Potosi Beer, a regional brewery that served the
tri-state area from Wisconsin.
Another event occurred in 1947 that would later play a part in Verne's career.
The owners of KDTH, The Telegraph Herald Newspaper, decided to start a radio
station in Decorah, Iowa. That station was KDEC, 1240 on the AM radio dial.
The station shared the frequency and broadcast hours with KWLC, a non-commercial
station that was owned by Luther College.
During 1950, Verne was assigned to work at KDEC, again as an announcer, newscaster
and musical talents. He again had his 15-minute singing program.
The Telegraph-Herald decided that it was time to sell KDEC. Verne expressed an
interest and started negotiating with the Dubuque owners. He knew many of them
personally and finally, they agreed to sell the station to him and worked out
a financial arrangement. The station owners agreed to sell the station to Verne
for $28,000, but the price did not include the building it was located in.
Verne relates that he didn't have that much money back then, but he arranged
some financing and set up a stock purchase plan and came up with the amount
and much more. Finally, the deal was complete and he took ownership of the station
in November 1951. He rented a building for the studios and leased the KWLC
tower and transmitting equipment. Verne's new career was off and running.
Mr. Koenig wrote of what the station was like back then, telling us it was an average
250 watt station that featured a variety of programming, including plenty
of country music for its listeners. He recalls he kept his daily singing
program for about ten years then made the decision to give that up and
concentrate on running a radio station. So, in the early 1960's, he put aside
While maybe the listening audience didn't get to hear Verne entertain them musically
anymore, he did have a disc jockey show that aired Monday through Friday from
8:30am to 10:00am. This experience allowed him to attend many of the disc jockey
conventions in Nashville, Tennessee that were sponsored by WSM and the Grand Ole Opry.
Those conventions enabled him to meet and eventaully become friends with many of the
entertainers he met.
Throughout the years at KDEC, he booked a number of the Grand Ole Opry stars for shows
in Decorah including Johnny and Jack, Kitty Wells, Del Reeves, the Wilburn Brothers,
Roy Acuff, Jim and Jesse and Little Jimmy Dickens.
Along about June of 1956, Country Song Roundup featured Verne in their
DeeJay Roundup column of that issue. At that time, they mentioned
"Mr. K." as fans sometimes called him, was on six hours a week.
The article also mentions he was quite a songwriter back then, having
written well over 100 tunes.
The guitar that Verne had set aside back in the early 1960's must have
caught his eye again for in 1985, he sold KDEC and decided to go back
to what he enjoyed the most, entertaining fans with old-time country
and bluegrass music at festivals, special events and other venues.
He sold the station and decided to retire in 1986. But not entirely
from the music. He returned to singing and playing Old-Time Country
and Bluegrass music with the "Bluegrass Breakdown."
He was also a part of the group, "The Nordic Players" and was part of a duet
team known as Verne & Sandy.
Verne recorded two albums for Old Homestead Records of Brighton, Michigan, one
being "Just Me And My Old Martin Guitar" The other one, "Memories of The Carter Family,"
fans will see a copy of it which was placed in the museum at the Carter Family Fold
at Hiltons, Virginia, when he was a featured guest of the Carters, playing
and singing their songs on stage at the Fold.
He has also recorded a number of cassettes as an artist on the Oak Hill
Verne was featured on a live radio broadcast from the Historic Bell Buckle
Cafe in Tennessee and at the Uncle Dave Macon Festival in
Just about a year before he retired, Verne had one of his songs, "Sweet Virginia," was
recorded by Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys, well know artists
of the WSM Grand Ole Opry.
He was inducted into the Old-Time Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
That 1956 article mentions that one of Verne's treasured mementos - a picture
taken with the legendary Hank Williams shortly before Hank's untimely passing.
That article also mentions that Verne had a family that included three sons
and a daughter.
Credits and Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its appreciation
to Verne Koenig himself for contacting us and providing us with information
and photos from his career.
- Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 44; June 1956;
American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT