Radio Stations for the Navajo Nation in the United States

Historians suggest that that the ancestors of the Navajo Nation arrived in what is now the continental United States around 1500 years ago, and they settled in areas that are within the American states of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.  The Navajo people are the largest native tribe in the United States with a membership around 400,000 on a reservation measuring around 25,000 square miles.

The Navajo Nation. Map: Division of Economic Development, Navajo Nation website

Along with other waves of migration, the original Navajos came from Siberia, across the Bering Straits into Alaska, and subsequently south into the wide open spaces of North America.  When European migrants began to arrive in North America 500 years ago, it is estimated that the native population may have been as high as 4 million people.

North American linguists inform us that the Navajo language is very complicated and very irregular, and it is very difficult for people to learn who have not grown up in the tribal environment.  The language uses several consonant sounds that have no equivalent in English and there was no written form of the language until the late 1930s.  That is why Navajo Code Talkers served in the Pacific during World War 2.

With the use of code words in the Navajo language, they were able to communicate very quickly and very accurately by radio without anyone else understanding the content of the message.  War historians state that around 400 Code Talkers served in the American forces during the four years of the Pacific war, usually in pairs.

Navajo Code Talker. Audio: AWR Wavescan

The use of radio had an appeal to the Navajo in the pre-war years, and there were occasions when a tribal scene was enacted depicting the use of a receiver.  For example in October 1924, a photo was published in Radio News showing a Navajo mother with her baby at the rim of the Grand Canyon, listening to a broadcast on a radio receiver.  Two years later, another photo was shown in which the Navajo Princess Little Bluebird was listening to the family radio outside their simple family dwelling.

Radio News, October 1924. Image: WorldRadioHistory.com

In June 1937, the Indian Service of the Department of the Interior installed four radio transmitters in the Navajo Reservation.  Station KTGM with ½ kW on 2994 kHz was installed at Window Rock in Arizona. 

Three additional transmitters at 100 watts each were installed at Tuba City and Kayenta in Arizona, and at Shiprock in New Mexico, all apparently on the same channel 2994 kHz.  These transmitters, with accompanying receivers, were all in use for official communications.

However three years later, the local government authorities implemented a series of program broadcasts containing local information and news that were presented over the main station in this small shortwave network.  Station KTGM, on the subsequent channel 2852 kHz with ¼ kW, began the broadcast of this new programming in September 1940, in the Navajo language at 1 pm on Saturdays and in English on Tuesdays at 8 pm.  Receivers were set up at various locations throughout the Reservation for the benefit of nearby listeners. 

New Zealand DXer Laurie Boyer heard and verified KGAK in 1954. © Laurie Boyer Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

Soon afterwards, some of the nearby mediumwave stations began to include suitable programming into their regular scheduling for the benefit of the Navajo people, in the twin languages, English and Navajo.  Foremost among those mediumwave stations are three: Two in New Mexico and one in Arizona. 

Our brief Station Profile on each of these three stations, in chronological order, begins with KGAK in Gallup, New Mexico.  That station was inaugurated with 250 watts on 1230 kHz on February 9, 1945.  Subsequently their operating channel was modified to 1330 kHz, with an increase of daytime power to 5 kW.  Their main studios have been located at 401 East Coal Avenue in Gallup, New Mexico.

Station KNDN is located in Farmington, New Mexico, though it was inaugurated on August 1, 1957, initially under a different callsign, as KWYK with 1 kW on 960 kHz.  Over the years, their studios have been installed at three consecutive locations in Farmington; at 418 West Broadway, at 203 South Commercial, and then at 1515 West Main.

For nearly half a century, the power level at KNDN has been 5 kW, still on the same 960 kHz.  The station slogan is: All Navajo all the Time; and they are generally formatted with American country music with commercials in both Navajo and English.

KNDN news and advert, KNDN ID. Audio: AWR Wavescan

The third Navajo mediumwave station is KTNN which was inaugurated at Window Rock Arizona on 660 kHz with the maximum power of 50 kW on February 26, 1986.  This station is owned and operated by Navajo personnel, and the call letters TNN in KTNN indicate The Navajo Nation.

KTNN sticker © Keith Robinson Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

Clips of KTNN recorded in New Zealand (date unknown). © Chris Mackerell Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of March 27, 2022

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