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‘It’s been a heck of a ride and I’m not done yet’

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Jim Bartels stands outside the KNUJ Radio studios

Growing up on a farm between Winthrop and Brownton, Jim Bartels has fond memories of how he became interested in a radio career.

“In my senior year in (Brownton) high school, our English teacher said she’d be gone on Friday. We asked her why, and she said a good friend was getting married,” Bartels said. “We asked her some more questions and learned her fiancé works at an Alexandria radio station. Something clicked in my head. I read about radio in an encyclopedia that night, slept on it, and knew I wanted to go into it.”

A three-time high school district wrestling champion, Jim earned a liberal arts degree at Willmar Junior College and wrestled for the Warriors. Despite injuries, he was 17-5-5 and was a National Junior College Academic All-American.

He continued wrestling at Mankato State University before becoming injured again. That opened the door for what Jim is likely best known for in the “Wrestling World.” He began move-by-move college wrestling coverage, besides working country and symphony music shows for the college radio station. He majored in broadcasting at Mankato State.

Working at KNUJ Radio in 1975, Jim did broadcasts of area district, region and state wrestling tournaments. Known for his passion for radio wrestling coverage. Last year, he was inducted into the Minnesota Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

The public address voice of New Ulm High School home wrestling matches for 25 years, he also coached youth wrestlers and officiated high school and college wrestling for 17 seasons.

Jim has interviewed many VIPs in as a sportscaster and in the news world including record-setting former major league pitcher Bob Feller of Van Meter, Iowa and Waverly native and 38th vice president of the United States, Hubert Humphrey, at a Fairfax parade.

“Bob Feller was quite a guy,” Bartels said. “He was all about hard work, keeping your nose to the grindstone. He said young kids don’t have to lift weights, rather do things like climb trees and carry hay bales.”

Some of his other favorite sports gigs included covering the 1978 New Ulm American Legion World Series baseball team in Yakima, Wash., and covering Gaylord High School’s state champion football and volleyball teams one day after the other in 1979.

“New Ulm lost both games (in the Legion World Series) but had leads in the games against South Houston, Texas and Corvallis, Ore.

Submitted photo Jim Bartels is pictured with guest speaker Don Shelby, a former news anchor on WCCO-TV in Minneapolis at the New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year event. KNUJ Radio was named business of the year along with The Journal and New Ulm cable TV providers about 30 years ago.

“Harold Reynolds played for Corvallis, but we had Terry Steinbach (who played for the Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics for 14 seasons) and Doug Palmer, who hit more than .700 in some tournament games,” Jim said. “It was cool going out there and covering baseball games. I was 24, just a pup broadcaster.”

Jim recalled the explosion at Siem’s Bargain Center in Lafayette on July 30, 1983.

“I was coming to work on a Saturday morning. When I got to the office, Don Brand told me there was an explosion in Lafayette,” Jim said. “I went back out there, got my wife Konnie, who was pregnant with our son Adam, and we rode my motor scooter, carrying a tape recorder to the business. A deputy sheriff said I couldn’t get close but I told him I was part of the media and needed to, so he let me go.”

Covering Minnesota Twins spring training was among Jim’s most favorite things to do and he plans to continue doing so in semi-retirement.

“I interviewed (German-born Minnesota Twins player) Max Kepler, talking to him in German a little,” Bartels said.

Submitted photo In-training KNUJ Radio General Manager Paul Johnson and retiring GM Jim Bartels stand in the KNUJ Radio lobby.

Jim said radio has really changed since he began at KNUJ when it was located above The Journal office.

“We I began, we had an (Associated Press) AP teletype in the lobby. It would ding and type. The more dings that sounded, the more important the story was,” Bartels said. “Teletype became satellite, then internet. There are so many more things we can do now, broadcasting digitally. My phone app can sound just like I’m in a studio.”

Jim said some of his favorite KNUJ features included a moo-off contest, Patriotic Moment on the radio, the Player of the Week Show, Honor Student interviews and covering the Minnesota State and National FFA Conventions, county fairs and 4-H events.

“We’ve touched so many families, done so many interviews,” Jim said. “I still remember covering my first National FFA Convention with President Jimmy Carter in Kansas City.”

Bartels said KNUJ is much more than just a radio station now with many platforms including podcasts.

Bartels and KNUJ have won or placed high for many awards.

He cited KNUJ Program Director Brian Filzen and Sports Director Tom Wheeler for having a lot to do with the station’s success.

“Brian came to KNUJ in 1984. I asked him to be program director in 1986,” Jim said. “Brian is a hard worker. He’s very good on the air, quick witted, like a stand-up comic. Tom Wheeler has really helped us grow, including growing the KNUJ Player of the Year event.”

Bartels said KNUJ Radio has been a Marconi Small Market Radio Awards (aka the radio academy awards) finalist three times in the last ten years.

“I’m proud of that,” Jim said. “Omaha and Fargo are small market radio stations, so it’s a big deal for our station and staff.”

Bartels said KNUJ’s current location, next to the Glockenspiel, at 317 N. Minnesota St. “is a really nice location.”

“If I’m leaving a legacy, it’s that we’re a heritage station next to the Glockenspiel,” Jim said. “Prior to that we were always on the second floor of buildings within a half block of one another. First, in a building where the new Alliance Bank is now, then above The Journal, then in the Grand Hotel before moving in 2009.”

He was inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2013 along with the late Bob Christensen of Sleepy Eye.

Jim was named the 2017 Minnesota Farm Bureau Foundation Agriculture Communicator of the Year. He received the 2019 Minnesota State High School League Electronics Division Outstanding Media Service Award last year. KNUJ Radio was named the 2020 Minnesota Twins Radio Affiliate of the Year.

With a grandchild expected in late March, Jim said it’s time to do some other things too.

“My goal is to be a good grand parent,” he said. “I’ve still got good health. I enjoy what I’m doing to this day. If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I never didn’t want to come to work. I was very lucky. I was given a lot of opportunity here.”

Ohio native Paul Johnson will become the KNUJ general manager in January.

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