In a Spartan broadcast studio, they shuffled through scripts and CDs. Then with a turn of the switch they were transported back to a farm in Norway, where Christmas meant ribbon-decked...

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In a Spartan broadcast studio, they shuffled through scripts and CDs. Then with a turn of the switch they were transported back to a farm in Norway, where Christmas meant ribbon-decked trees, oat-sheaves left out for the birds and visiting the neighbors.

Doug Warne and Ron Olsen leaned back in their chairs as a Ballard woman’s memories aired about her childhood in rural Norway. Then came the sounds of a choir from Stockholm.

For retirees Warne and Olsen, the annual “Sounds of a Scandinavian Christmas” is their favorite of all the weekly “Scandinavian Hour” programs, which they’ve hosted every Saturday morning at 9 for the past 45 years.

Both from Ballard and the sons of halibut fishermen, they grew up on boiled potatoes and cod, the Lutheran church, dances at the Sons of Norway lodge, and Ole and Lena jokes. They took over the program when it was in danger of going off the air for lack of a host.

One of the oldest Nordic radio programs of its kind in the nation, dating to the 1920s when Scandinavians were the area’s dominant ethnic group, the show “Scandinavian Hour” is now among dozens of local ethnic radio programs, many broadcast from the same studio in Bellevue where Warne and Olsen host their show.

Whether they are broadcast in Spanish, French, German, Filipino or Polish, the programs serve much the same function — giving immigrants or first-, second- or third-generation Americans information unique to their cultural group.

On KXPA-AM’s Multicultural Radio Broadcasting station the other day, a DJ announced in rapid-fire Spanish an advertisement for equal-employment opportunities and then switched to a slow Christmas song, “Solo en esta Navidad” — All by myself this Christmas.

Holiday radio programs

The Scandinavian Hour, KKNW 1150-AM, 9 to 10 a.m. every Saturday. Christmas music and programs noon to 2 p.m. Christmas Eve; 9 to 10 a.m. and noon to 2 p.m. Christmas Day for the “The Sounds of a Scandinavian Christmas.”

Gisella’s Original German Hour 9 to 10:30 Saturday on KXPA 1540-AM.

Radio Sol, KKMO 1360-AM, 24-hour Spanish music with intermittent holiday songs and news.

Hawaiian Radio Connection, 91.3 FM, noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays with special music Dec. 18 and KXPA, 1540-AM, 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Saturdays with holiday music Dec. 25.

Other ethnic programs can be found on AM stations KTFH (Spanish), KRPI (East Indian), KWYZ and KSUH (Korean), and KXPA (Russian and Chinese); and on FM stations KBRO (Filipino) and KBCS (Scottish/Celtic).

On the same channel at a different hour is “Hawaii Radio Connection” with host Stephen Gomes, who grew up in Hawaii and plays such Polynesian-themed songs as “The 12 Days of Christmas” with “three dried squids, two coconuts and a mynah bird in a papaya tree.”

“This time of year you drive around here and it’s wet and cold and you think of home in Hawaii and the people there,” he said. The music transports him home to where Christmas is not about snow but about luaus, leis, surf and sand.

In Tacoma, Gisela Rasmussen-Johnson, host of “Gisela’s Original German Hour” since 1958, plays carols that have earned her several generations of fans. Now in her 70s, she said the music helps quell the homesickness she’s felt since leaving Germany as a child. But keeping the German Hour going is a challenge because there are no ready-made successors — or a paycheck — for the job.

Olsen and Warne, both 66, can sympathize. Each has children who are unlikely to take over when they retire.

The “Scandinavian Hour” is one of the few remaining Nordic radio shows left in the country, others having died with their aging founders. In 1959, when they were faced with either taking over the program themselves or seeing it end, Olsen and Warne learned how to run a radio show.

Over the last 45 years, the two have taken time from their day jobs — Olsen is now a retired engineer and Warne a retired Kent School District English teacher — to prerecord interviews, find Scandinavian music, line up guests and plan programs that appeal to a wide age group.

They meet at the broadcast studio once a week to record.

“Welcome to the ‘Scandinavian Hour.’ This is Doug Warne … “

“And this is Ron Olsen … “

Then they list “our family of sponsors,” such as the Danish Brotherhood and the Norwegian Men’s Chorus, and give information about events that Olsen and Warne grew up with — lutefisk dinners, lodge meetings and dances.


“Scandinavian Hour,” dating to the 1920s, is one of the oldest Nordic programs in the nation.

In those days in Seattle, there was someplace to do Scandinavian dancing nearly every night, Olsen said. And young boys learned to dance “by dancing with all the mothers.”

They charted your progress by the condition of their toes at the end of the evening, he said.

Now you can still hear Scandinavian languages spoken on the streets in Ballard, but not as often. The Sons of Norway lodges still are active, but have few young members. And sometimes it seems the only window into the area’s once-distinct Nordic community is through the “Scandinavian Hour,” with guests such as retired TV personality Stan Boreson, whose “Yingle Bells” is played frequently this time of year.

Over the years Warne and Olsen have grown into the broadcast job, neither having prior experience, and both having to learn such things as how to read words in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Icelandic.

Warne loves to recall a time when Olsen fell asleep recording a program, and Olsen protests that Warne gives him the script with all the hard Finnish and Icelandic words.

“You rotten guy!” Olsen said, looking at the jumble of letters.

So as you surf the radio for holiday music, you may hear carols like “Noche de Paz,” descriptions of faraway peaks that tower above fjords, and tales of people longing for home.

It’s all about preserving heritage, Warne and Olsen say, story by story and song by song.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522