Arnold Christianson, was born on a farm north of Driscoll, North Dakota in 1908 to George and Elle Christianson. He taught himself to play the ukulele as a youth, graduated to a banjo “tuned like a uke,” and finally settled on the guitar after finding one that belonged to one of his brothers that wasn’t being used. His repertoire mainly consisted of old ballads especially suited to his guitar.
In 1927-28, he felt that there “wasn’t any music for local parties,” so he formed a band in the Driscoll-Wing area. In the fall of 1930, at a PTA meeting, he put on a mock radio program, after which, it was suggested that he try out for a regular radio program. Christainson wrote KFYR and described his talents.
On January 3, 1931, “I auditioned right after lunch, was on the air at 3:00, and there was so much response, that they scheduled me for 7:30 that same evening without even asking me.” Thus beginning his 15 year radio career. He appeared on KFYR regularly, “without a penny” until spring “when I realized my whole life had changed.” He then hired out the farm work and took on several odd jobs so he could concentrate on the radio.
For many years he sang a nostalgic tune from the Hills of Northern Norway on every radio program. “The phone calls and letters requesting norwegian songs amazed the radio stations as much as it did me.” Christianson stated, “One of the reasons I was on the air so long was because I included a scandinavian song, in Norwegian, on every program.”
He later became an Electrolux Corp. salesman and was with them for 31 years. Although Christianson held the distinction of having the highest sales in one month, he still devoted most of his spare time to music. He put together a record called 15 Friendly Tunes.
He personally felt the following were among his career highlights:
- He was honored by the Sioux in 1941 for writing a version of Silent Night, “Ha-He-Pi Wa-Ka-Ki” in their native tongue. “That was the toughest job of my life.”
- Copywriting “Friendly Songs and Vise” (Norwegian folk songs) into a book so he could play them over radio.
- Fulfilling a request for music of a popular song, south of Mandan, from 1880-1895 called the Memory of Custer. “After three years of looking for the music, I found Jim McCormich who was in his 80s, to sing it for me. I picked it out with the guitar as he kept singing it and finally was able to put the notes down on paper.”
He appeared over Bismarck, Mandan, and Fargo radio stations from 1931 through 1956. He was a member of the Masons and the United Commercial Travelers, and he served as president for both the Sons of Norway, and the Nordic Chorus.
Arnold Christianson was inducted into the North Dakota Music Hall of Fame in 2020.