“Who the Hell is Ken Dahlberg?”

President Richard M. Nixon asked this question to his Chief of Staff, H.R Haldeman on the “smoking gun tape” of the Watergate scandal , it was the Friday after the Watergate Burglary, June 23, 1972….and the beginning of the end.

The Tapes

Just prior to assuming office in January, 1969, President Nixon learned that his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, had installed a system to record his meetings and telephone calls. According to his Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, Nixon ordered that Johnson’s equipment be dismantled and removed, but during the first two years of his presidency, he came to the conclusion (after trying other means) that audio recordings were the only way to ensure a full and faithful account of important conversations and the decisions they created. At Nixon’s request, Haldeman and his staff worked with the United States Secret Service to install a recording system. On February 16, 1971, the infamous taping system was installed in the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room. The system worked so well that by May, 1971, microphones were added to President Nixon’s private office in the Old Executive Office Building and the following year microphones were installed in the presidential lodge at Camp David. The system was installed and monitored by the Secret Service, and the tapes were stored in a room in the White House basement. Significant phone lines were tapped as well, including those in the Oval Office and the Lincoln Sitting Room, which was Nixon’s favorite room in the White House. All of this sophisticated 1970s audio equipment was sound-activated, except in the Cabinet Room. When a Secret Service officer notified the system that the president was in the Oval Office, the equipment was switched on, ready to record when triggered by sound. The equipment was used to record nearly 3500 hours of conversations for important negotiations with China, visits to the Soviet union and other Nixon successes as well as the 200 hours of Watergate discussions that created his demise. The smoking gun tape records a conversation between Nixon and H.R. Haldeman June 23, 1972 from 10:04 AM to 11:39 AM and were the key to the historical sequence of events that unraveled the Watergate conspiracy, eventually leading directly to Nixon’s resignation. What we know now but what was still contested at the time, is that Nixon was thoroughly involved in the cover up more or less from the very start and the smoking-gun tape tells the general atmosphere within the Nixon presidency.


“Who the Hell is this Ken Dahlberg?”

In the 1970s during the Watergate scandal many of us “would be audiologists” were not much involved with the politics of the time. With studies to conduct, dissertations and articles to write, reputations to build, families to begin; we were working on our future. While we realized there was total political upheaval during this time there was much studying that needed to be done. As we began our careers, we were conducting evaluations, recommending hearing aids, and sometimes we would recommend a Dahlberg Electronics device. Dahlberg Electronics from the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area and the brain child of three time fighter ace and WWII hero, Kenneth H. Dahlberg.  Much has been written about Ken Dahlberg in the relative to his life, especially his hearing aid business and during WWII accomplishments, but also his role in connecting the Watergate Scandal to President Nixon.
Though he claimed he was “apolitical,” he had become involved in politics in 1964 because of a friendship with Barry Goldwater that dated back to WWII. He worked as a fundraiser for Goldwater. Even after Goldwater handily defeated in the 1964 election, he continued to fund raise for various political effort……that’s how he became part of Watergate.

Even though he was a close friend of Hubert Humphrey, Dahlberg raised money for Richard Nixon’s 1968 run against Humphrey in 1972 as the deputy national chairman and Midwest campaign chairman for Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, known widely as CREEP.
In that capacity, he solicited $25,000 from Dwayne Andreas, a few days before April 7, 1972. That date was significant because that was the day on which the law changed, requiring identification from all donors. Andreas wanted to be anonymous, likely because four years earlier he had been the finance chair for Humphrey. Andreas’ contribution came in cash and as a campaign chairman Dahlberg turned the cash into a cashier’s check, which he gave to Maurice Stans, the CREEP finance chairman. Stans turned the check over to G. Gordon Liddy, who passed it on to Bernard Barker, one of the Watergate Burglars who took it to his South Florida business and had it cashed. Barker, as it turned out, was the leader of the bungled Watergate burglary. When the FBI started checking out Barker, they found he had cashed a $25,000 check from Dahlberg. This turned out to be the first direct connection between the burglary and CREEP, and it led to Nixon asking that memorable question: “Who the hell is Ken Dahlberg?” In August 1972, Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward started asking the same question. They were calling Dahlberg at his Twin Cities suburban home asking about the check. He told them he didn’t have “the vaguest idea” how the check ended up in Barker’s hands. This, of course was the beginning of the end for President Nixon. As the Midwest finance chairmen of Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President, Dahlberg didn’t do anything wrong (he was cleared by a grand jury) when he accepted a donation to Nixon’s campaign, but the check eventually linked Nixon to the burglars in the Watergate break-in.
When asked if it bothered him to be remembered for those six words on the smoking gun tape, later in life, Dahlberg simply replied, “That’s life”. Ken Dahlberg died October 4, 2011 and is remembered among hearing professionals as a war hero that came home and helped develop the hearing aid industry, but to the rest of the US he was the key to Richard Nixon’s resignation.

….And Dick…wherever you are…That’s Who the Hell Ken Dahlberg was…..



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Walsh, P., von Sternberg, B. (2011). Obituary: Wartime ace Ken Dahlberg had a bit part in Watergate.  tar Tribune.  Retrieved July 27, 2017.

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About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.

1 Comment

  1. Loved your very accurate story about the Nixon connection to Ken Dahlberg. My first job in the industry, in 1970, was as company audiologist at Dahlberg, so I was there, front and center during the whole brouhaha.
    Ken had a very unique take regarding this and other similar occasions. He didn’t care what people said about him, he just sat back and enjoyed the publicity, for he wanted to look controversial , slightly mysterious and unpredictable in other’s eyes.

    The Nixon affair played right into this, and allowed him great notoriety with little downside. He cared little that others might be
    laughing, and just shrugged when the Nixon topic came up. A Comment he made once when asked was characteristic: ” A lot of good looking, sharp young guys at the White House got their butts caught in a crack because of this.” And that was all he said, and changed the subject.

    The notoriety rolled off his back because he considered it an unimportant issue when compared to the problems of running a large successful company which Dahlberg Electronics was during those years.

    He was a bona fide real life hero during WW2, twice escaping back to England after being shot down in France. And lived to fly again, shooting down five (not three) enemy planes. I had an interestingexposure to life working for a hearing aid manufacturer, and he and I fell out of love after a few years because his approach to selling hearing aids was totally different than mine. But life was never dull at the home of the “MiracleEar,” hearing aid , a name I totally loathed.

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