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Angie Wieck, Published April 16 2013

Julie’s Radio Ranch still rocking after all these years

FARGO – Julie Cahoon has had buyers interested in purchasing her business, Julie’s Radio Ranch.

The catch is that only she knows the true value of the business: the 33 years of experience she has working on car stereos.

It all began with a stroke of bad luck back in 1977. A week after moving into a new Moorhead apartment, the single mother of two young daughters had her car die and lost her job, both in one day.

Someone suggested she contact the Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program to see if the organization could help with car repairs.

It couldn’t help with the repairs but instead offered to send Cahoon to college. After passing an entrance exam, she enrolled the following Monday in a land mobile radio technology program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Wadena.

She was one of four women in the initial class of 18, and two years later was the only female left in the graduating class of four.

At the encouragement of her instructor, Laurel Aasgaard, Cahoon applied for a job at Elders Communications in Fargo.

She was a female pioneer in a line of work mainly occupied by men. There were no benefits such as maternity leave in her early days at Elders. She delivered one of her daughters on a Saturday and was expected back at work on Tuesday.

While benefits for women evolved, the nature of her work at Elders also changed.

Cahoon was in charge of stereo warranty repairs for the company. In its heyday, she supervised a department of five technicians. When car manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler consolidated their warranty stations, they no longer needed smaller repair businesses like Elders.

By the late 1990s, Cahoon was operating the department alone and grew concerned Elders would decide to shut it down.

“I’d invested so much time into the work, and I liked it,” Cahoon said. “I was afraid that one day I’d walk in and they would have decided this was it.”

She took the leap in 2000 and opened Julie’s Radio Ranch at 2790 5th Ave. S. in Fargo. After 13 years, she believes hers is the only business left in the area that repairs after-warranty factory stereos.

From the introduction of CD players to navigation systems and options such as iPod docking stations, car stereos have changed a lot over the years.

Cahoon points out that today the diagnostics of a car all run through the radio, which controls oil pressure, tire pressure and fuel lights, and in some cases heated seats.

Except for her initial training in Wadena, everything Cahoon knows has been self-taught. She buys products to break them down and learn how to make repairs. She is also an expert at tracking down parts and learning what brands are interchangeable.

This kind of knowledge is valuable, so Cahoon keeps notes she can pass along to someone someday.

Until then, Cahoon appreciates working alone and the freedom of being her own boss.

“I like being able to go out and helping somebody without always having a dollar sign behind it,” she said. “It’s what you can’t do when you work for somebody, because then every moment in time is supposed to be billable.”

Cahoon offers free estimates and often helps people make their own repairs over the phone.

She especially advises customers to call before trying to do something like gouge out an iPod cord or dig out a stuck CD. In the end, it will make things worse.

“It doesn’t cost to call,” Cahoon said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501