Minnesota Public Radio

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Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) is a regional public radio network based in the U.S. state of Minnesota that has been broadcasting since 1967. The network includes more than 50 FM transmitters ranging from low-power translators in small and hard-to-reach areas up to full-power stations serving large markets. The organization provides receive three different services in the state: "news and information," classical music, and another "eclectic" music service known as "The Current" that plays selections from a broad range of musical genres. The main studios for MPR are located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

MPR is affiliated with the National Public Radio network, but also uses content from Public Radio International. Through its production and distribution arm of American Public Media, MPR produces a host of programs for national distribution. Included is the signature show A Prairie Home Companion, hosted by Garrison Keillor. Following a 2004 decision to distribute programming itself, Minnesota Public Radio is now the second-most powerful public radio organization in the United States behind NPR, though the network is still in close contention with PRI for the spot (PRI produces a higher number of programs, but American Public Media shows have higher listenership).



Minnesota Public Radio began by broadcasting a mix of talk and music programming. Two dozen years later, a split was made where listeners had a choice between talk programs and classical programming (although one station in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan carries a mixture of those two services). A recent acquisition of a third powerful station covering the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area provided the opportunity to launch another musical service.

The network has claimed varying levels of membership between 2000 and 2004, ranging between 83,000 and 87,000 active contributors. It is reported that the ratio of listeners to members is very high—a fact sometimes attributed to "Minnesota nice"—though the overall listenership is still much higher. The network claims that about 15% of Minnesota residents over the age of 12 tune in each week, which results in somewhere around 650,000 to 700,000 regular listeners. The new third service is expected to add significantly to these levels, perhaps bringing the total membership level to 100,000.

News and information

Shows carried on MPR's talk stations are a mix of programs produced locally and national/international shows. Mornings are dominated by shows intended for a local audience such as Morning Edition, Midmorning, and Midday. MPR also adds two hours of local material to the National Public Radio show All Things Considered each day. Talk of the Nation from NPR is also played in the afternoon, and MPR carries The World (co-produced by the BBC and Public Radio International), As It Happens (from the CBC), and the BBC World Service in the evening and nighttime hours.

Weekend programming on MPR has shifted around with moderate frequency, though it includes national favorites such as Car Talk and This American Life. A great deal of MPR's exported programming airs on the weekends, so some listeners feel that it chokes out some good shows from other outlets. For instance, there have been complaints about Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! getting pre-empted for various reasons. Weekends also bring some music to MPR's talk listeners, as it seeps into A Prairie Home Companion, and is the main subject of shows like American Routes and The Jazz Image.

Twenty-two MPR transmitters carry the news and information service exclusively as of late 2004. The Twin Cities flagship station for the talk network is KNOW 91.1 FM.

Classical music

On the classical music stations of MPR, most of the day is devoted to orchestral tracks, though The Morning Show during morning drive time reaches outside the classical music genre to play a broader variety of music. This is carried on most classical stations, although two transmitters covering the Twin Cities and Rochester continue to carry classical music at this time. Another break from classical music comes when A Prairie Home Companion airs on the weekend. MPR claims to have a library of 60,000 discs available to the classical network.

At night, transmitters switch over to using MPR's Classical 24 service, which is also distributed nationally. Some have criticized MPR's classical selections, saying that they only play music by well-known composers and don't play music from lesser-known composers or more contemporary selections. MPR tends to avoid playing music with choral accompaniment during the day, and critics have complained that the network plays rather short selections (the tracks tend to be even shorter on the Classical 24 service).

There are 27 transmitters broadcasting the classical music service. This network's flagship station is KSJN 99.5 FM in the Twin Cities.

The Current

MPR's third service went on the air on at 9 AM on January 24, 2005, and is very free-form in the music that is played. No firm demarcations have been laid down as of yet, although the station will air a considerable amount of local music, which has seen decreasing airplay on area radio outlets since the 1990s. The station staff hope to eventually have a library of music comparable in size to that of MPR's classical service.

Several people on the initial staff are well-known in the area for previous work at stations that highlight music from Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. The music and program directors as well as some DJs spent time at REV-105 before it was bought out in 1997, and at 770 Radio K, the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities station. At least one had also worked for community station KFAI.

The service is carried on two transmitters. The main one is KCMP 89.3 FM, located near Rosemount, Minnesota on the southeastern periphery of the Twin Cities, though the signal covers most of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. A translator serves Rochester, Minnesota. The two should be receivable by roughly one-half of the state's population, which is mostly concentrated in the Twin Cities. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, this station carries The Morning Show, allowing KSJN to carry classical music for the entire day. Internet radio streams are available for "outstate" residents (people outside of the Twin Cities area) and others outside of Minnesota to listen to "The Current."

Sideband services

Radio sidebands are used to transmit a Minnesota version of the Radio Talking Book Network to disabled listeners around the state. Plans are in place to add the digital HD Radio system across all of MPR's transmitters, with rollout likely to happen in 2005. Special receivers are required to decode these broadcasts.


Minnesota Public Radio first began operating the station KSJR 90.1 FM in January 1967 after being spun off from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. That station still operates on the St. John's campus. That first station was headed by Bill Kling, who still heads the network today.

In 1969 and 1970, MPR assisted in formation of National Public Radio, and was a founding member of the organization. Four years later in 1974, the network began live broadcasting of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, perhaps the best-known program on public radio.

In 1980, MPR got into the network-building business again and assisted in the formation of American Public Radio (now known as Public Radio International), partly because NPR had declined to distribute Prairie Home nationally.

MPR began offering a full-time classical music service in 1991 after the purchase of WLOL 99.5 FM in the Twin Cities. In the following years, Minnesota Public Radio acquired enough stations across the state to offer both a news and classical music service to most of the state. A classical service is also provided to subscribing stations around the country as Classical 24.

In 2000, the network acquired Marketplace Productions, which produces Marketplace and The Savvy Traveler, from the University of Southern California. Also around that time, MPR put together Southern California Public Radio by purchasing KPCC from Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California.

2004 was a year of major transitions for the network. In mid-year, MPR severed ties with Minneapolis-based PRI as a distributor, citing [1] (http://access.minnesota.publicradio.org/press_releases/releases/20040629_apm.php) a desire to eliminate the middlemen and distribute its programs nationally under the banner of American Public Media. Along with the introduction of Weekend America into an already overflowing market of weekend NPR programming, this caused a major stir in the usually subdued reserved sphere of public radio production. Personal animosity grew between people who had known each other for years, and it was reported that some grew hot under the collar and got into shouting matches in some cases.

Another major controversy erupted when it was announced that MPR would take over a classical music station operated by St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. WCAL 89.3 FM (and a repeater station, KMSE near Rochester), were sold in a deal valued at $10.5 million, which was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 2004 2004. WCAL had about 80,000 regular listeners, who often considered the station to be an alternative to MPR's classical music programming and also appreciated some of the other special shows on the station such as weekend religious services.

St. Olaf, a Lutheran liberal arts college, reportedly turned down a significantly larger offer from a Christian radio company, preferring to keep the station in the hands of a public radio organization. Some public opposition appeared, and there were several attempts to stop the sale. MPR is expected to make certain changes to their classical music lineup to appeal to former WCAL listeners, but the station will be renamed to KCMP and will mostly carry non-classical music.

In recent years, the growth of MPR has disturbed some—even drawing comparisons with Clear Channel Communications. Because of the power of Bill Kling, the head of MPR, the network and related companies have occasionally been referred to as the "Klingon Empire" by critics (other nicknames in a similar vein have included "FrankenNet" and "Microsoft Public Radio"). While MPR is a big fish in the relatively small pond of public radio, the company remains tiny when compared with behemoths such as Clear Channel. Aside from being a nationwide company with 35 times as many stations as MPR in total, it owns seven radio stations in the Twin Cities alone, schedules entertainment at many area music and theater venues, and owns 1,700 outdoor billboards in the state as of 2005.


As a public radio network, MPR obtains much of the money it needs to operate by asking for donations from the listening public. The network claims that a greater percentage of its audience donates money than any other public radio audience in the country. In addition, other for-profit and non-profit organizations sponsor or underwrite MPR programming in exchange for small mentions of their contributions. Many of the stations in the radio network are also funded by colleges in the areas they cover. Listener contributions and underwriting account for about 60% of funding. Government funding, mostly through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, amounts to 11% of the network's budget.

Minnesota Public Radio also receives funding in a roundabout manner from its parent company, the American Public Media Group, another non-profit entity. APM Group partially funds two subsidiary companies with the profits taken from a third. MPR and Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) are both non-profit organizations, but the Greenspring Company is a taxable for-profit company. Greenspring gets its income from operating Minnesota Monthly Publications, which publishes the magazine Minnesota Monthly among others. Greenspring formerly had several other operations, but they have now been sold off.

Programs distributed by American Public Media

Several specials are also distributed by APM on a less frequent basis, including a number of Christmas programs and the BBC Proms.

Broadcast coverage

For the most part, Minnesota Public Radio behaves like two (soon three) very large radio stations (some other public radio and television networks operate in this manner, such as Wisconsin Public Radio and Prairie Public Broadcasting in North Dakota). In most markets across the state, two services can be received. In 2000, the company claimed to have radio coverage of 98% of Minnesota as well as some penetration into the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan as well as the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario.

Market Frequency/Call sign Power (Class) Service
Albert Lea 103.9 K280EB (KGAC) 10W (D) Classical
Alexandria 90.9 K215BL (KSJR) 18 (D) Classical
Appleton 88.5 KNCM 34,000 (C2) News
91.3 KRSU 75,000 (C) Classical
Austin 90.1 KNSE 6,000 (A) News
103.3 K277AD (KLSE) 100 (D) Classical
Bemidji 91.3 KNBJ 65,000 (C1) News
88.5 KCRB 83,000 (C1) Classical
Brainerd 88.3 KBPN 5,000 (C3) News
90.7 KBPR 34,000 (C1) Classical
Decorah, IA 88.7 KLNI 100 (A) News
89.5 KLCD 100 (A) Classical
Duluth-Superior 100.5 WSCN 97,000 (C1) News
92.9 WSCD 70,000 (C1) Classical
Ely 101.7 W269AC (WSCN) 31 (D) News
89.5 K208CR (WIRR) 23 (D) Classical
Fargo-Moorhead 90.3 KCCD 100,000 (C1) News
91.1 KCCM 67,000 (C1) Classical
Fergus Falls 91.5 KNWF 2,700 (A) News
89.7 KCMF 2,700 (A) Classical
Grand Marais 89.7 WLSN 6,000 (C3) News
88.7 WMLS 6,000 (C3) Classical
Grand Rapids 107.3 K297AD (WSCN) 250 (D) News
104.1 K281AB (KCRB) 250 (D) Classical
Hibbing-Virginia 92.5 WIRN 26,000 (C2) News
90.9 WIRR 21,000 (C2) Classical
Houghton, MI 91.1 WGGL 100,000 (C1) Mixed news/classical
92.7 W224AO (WGGL) 20 (D) Mixed news/classical
International Falls 88.1 K201CN (KNBJ) 7 (D) News
97.7 K249BK (KCRB) 8 (D) Classical
La Crosse-La Crescent 91.1 KXLC 230 (A) News
88.1 K201BW (KLSE) 18 (D) Classical
Minneapolis-St. Paul 91.1 KNOW 100,000 (C) News
99.5 KSJN 100,000 (C) Classical
89.3 KCMP 100,000 (C1) Third service
Owatonna 103.9 K280EC (KNGA) 205 (D) News
105.7 K289AE (KGAC) 170 (D) Classical
Rochester 90.7 KZSE 1,100 (C3) News
91.7 KLSE 94,000 (C1) Classical
88.7 KMSE (KCMP) 250 (A) Third service
Roseau 100.7 K264AR (KNTN) 250 (D) News
90.9 W215AI (KQMN) 37 (D) Classical
St. Cloud 88.9 KNSR 100,000 (C1) News
90.1 KSJR 100,000 (C1) Classical
St. Peter-Mankato 91.5 KNGA 8,500 (C2) News
90.5 KGAC 75,000 (C1) Classical
Sioux Falls, SD 88.1 KRSD 2,000 (A) Classical
Sun Valley, ID 91.9 KWRV 100 (A) Classical
Thief River Falls 102.7 KNTN 100,000 (C1) News
91.5 KQMN 84,000 (C1) Classical
Winona 107.3 K297AH (KZSE) 95 (D) News
101.9 K270AB (KLSE) 8 (D) Classical
Worthington-Marshall 91.7 KNSW 99,000 (C1) News
89.3 KRSW 100,000 (C1) Classical

See also

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