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|City of license||Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|Broadcast area||Twin Cities|
|Slogan||"Real College Radio"|
|Frequency||770 AM, 104.5 FM, 100.7 FM, 106.5 FM (part-time)|
|First air date||January 13, 1922 (experimental 1912-1922)|
|ERP||5,000 watts day 770 AM, 99 watts 104.5 FM, 99 watts 100.7 FM, 6 watts 106.5 FM|
|Class||D (AM), D (all FMs)|
|Callsign meaning||University of Minnesota|
|Former callsigns||WLB (1922-1945)|
|Owner||University of Minnesota|
KUOM, known as Radio K, is a college radio station operated by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. The oldest station in the state and the oldest licensed non-commercial radio station in the country, Radio K broadcasts an eclectic mix of music from its transmitters—a variety that has been praised by radio critics. Prior to the transition to a music radio format in the 1990s, KUOM was known as University of Minnesota Public Radio (independent of Minnesota Public Radio) and broadcast public affairs, arts, classical music, and a variety of other programming. Because of this, the station is operated by the university's College of Continuing Education, but receives funding from a number of sources including donations from the public.
The station has broadcast on the AM band at 770 kHz since the 1920s, but is subject to clear channel restrictions on that frequency and shuts down at night, in order to protect New York City's WABC and KKOB in Albuquerque. Radio K now has three small FM transmitters set up as translators to carry the signal. Due to their limited range, the station largely relies on Internet radio to reach listeners at night. As a side effect, these netcasts have given Radio K a small but loyal international following. KUOM is a member of Minnesota's Independent Public Radio network (previously known as AMPERS).
Radio K gives airplay to a wide range of new and old independent and alternative music during variety shifts. It also features specialty programming dedicated to ambient and post-rock, metal, hip hop, EDM, R&B, electronic, ska and reggae, punk, and world music, as well as an award-winning show for local Minneapolis music. Both in 2011 and 2012, Radio K's local Minnesota and Minneapolis music show, Off the Record was named the Best Local Music Broadcast of the Twin Cities by City Pages. In 2010, Radio K was named the Best Radio Station of the Twin Cities by City Pages editors.
In addition to the main station, KUOM is relayed by three additional frequencies to widen its broadcast area.
|City of license||ERP
|W264BR||100.7||Falcon Heights, Minnesota||99||D||FCC|
|KUOM-FM||106.5||St. Louis Park||8||D||KUOM-FM FCC|
Radio transmissions at the university date to 1912, when a professor named F. W. Springer began experimenting with broadcasts, though he probably just used a spark gap transmitter. Activities were suspended by World War I, but electrical engineering professor C. M. Jansky, Jr. (the older brother of Karl Jansky) was doing broadcasting again by 1920. He had previously been at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he had helped at station 9XM (soon to be called WHA). Jansky used the call sign 9XI and provided reports on farm markets and weather. In February 1922, when a heavy snowstorm knocked out newswire services into the region, personnel at the Minneapolis Tribune convinced operators to help them retrieve the day's news through a roundabout series of amateur radio relays.
Focus on education
The University received the first AM license in the state on January 13, 1922 for the call sign WLB (the same day as Wisconsin's WHA), and programming was extended to include lectures, concerts, and football games. In the 1930s and 1940s, the station broadcast a considerable amount of educational material and was used for distance learning—a practice that continued into the 1990s. The station had a paid staff, unlike a smaller campus-only station that emerged later. The call sign was changed to KUOM on June 1, 1945.
A polio epidemic in 1946 that resulted in temporary school closings and the cancellation of the Minnesota State Fair led the station to create programming for children who were homebound. Those programs, along with others broadcast in the 1940s, were recognized for their importance and led to several awards being given to the station.
For nearly 70 years, WLB and later KUOM time-shared the already daytime-restricted 770 kHz frequency with WCAL-AM of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, so each station averaged just about 6 hours of programming each day. The University of Minnesota eventually made an agreement with St. Olaf where WCAL would get land for a powerful FM transmitter on U of M land near Rosemount, Minnesota in exchange for the shutdown of WCAL's AM transmitter so that KUOM could transmit exclusively on the frequency during the day. The agreement came to fruition in 1991.
Another station, WMMR (for "Women's and Men's Minnesota Radio"), was created on campus in 1948, with studios in the Coffman Memorial Union. Focused on providing a service for the student body, it originally broadcast via carrier current on campus, using the frequency 730 A.M. (hence the oft-used tag-line "Radio 73"). Legend had it that the WMMR call sign was actually assigned to the station by the FCC, pre-dating the assignment of those same call letters to the well-known Philadelphia station WMMR. The legend continued that the FCC forgot that it had allowed carrier current stations to use a call sign, and gave away the sign to the Philly station. The Minnesota students stuck to their guns and never changed their call sign, and there were of course no legal repercussions given that carrier current stations do not actually go over the air. By the 1970s, this legend lived merely as a tale passed down from year to year in an oral tradition, and has never been documented enough to confirm.
The station's volunteer engineers famously talked themselves into the campus steam-tunnel system from time to time when they needed to maintain the cables that connected the station's studios to the small transmitters located in each of the dormitory buildings. Tales were told of singed eyebrows from coming too close to the hot steam pipes used to heat the buildings. Eventually the station added an FM signal to the Minneapolis cable television system.
This was an entirely student-run operation, relying on volunteers. By the mid-'60s through the end of its life, the station tried to emulate the management structure of a typical AM rocker of the day, with an appointed General Manager, Program Director, Music Director, and other management positions. From time to time, somebody actually sold an advertising slot, but the station more or less maintained itself using a small stipend from the Speech Communications department. Even then, the volunteers managed to put out programming for nearly 18 hours a day most days of the school year, and taught many a student the ins and outs of how to operate a studio. A news and sports operation broadcast daily reports, and the basketball, football and hockey programs were usually broadcast with live play-by-play. A number of live broadcasts from the Whole music club and the Great Hall at the union also took place, and the station served to promote other campus events such as the 'Campus Carny' held annually in the old field house.
Garrison Keillor, the well-known host of Minnesota Public Radio's A Prairie Home Companion, began his radio career broadcasting classical music on WMMR as a student in the early 1960s. He then worked at KUOM from 1963 to 1968.
In the early 1990s, after a great deal of lobbying by WMMR General Manager Jim Musil—who also designed the original Radio K logo—the university began to examine the idea of merging WMMR and KUOM. The university explained the transition to a music format by saying that most of the educational value of KUOM had been superseded by other media outlets by this time. To avoid the lack of direction found at some college music stations, the new "Radio K" had a small full-time staff to oversee operations and provide a certain level of continuity, while students would provide much of the on-air talent while going through their radio studies. The transition finally took place in 1993, and the station started broadcasting as "Radio K" on October 1 that year.
Radio K has received accolades from local newspapers and magazines, especially the weekly City Pages which has consistently ranked the station among the best for music in the region. Pitchfork Media founder Ryan Schreiber also commonly cites the station's influence as having been an integral factor in his decision to start an online publication dedicated to the coverage of independent music. The station receives about 120 new recordings each month which are filtered through a large group of reviewers and disc jockeys. Recordings that pass muster are added to a large playlist that is constantly updated, and on-air DJs use the list for about 60% of the music played while choosing the rest on their own.
One notable program in the first decade of Radio K was Cosmic Slop. The show, which first went on the air in the waning days of WMMR, searched through the station's considerable library of 1970s pop music, playing both the best and worst from that decade (with occasional forays into the recordings from the rest of the 20th century). The hosts of the program finally ended the show at the end of 2004, saying that their itch had been scratched.
A news program called Access Minnesota  began in 2004 and has already gained a reasonable following. It is carried on several dozen radio stations across the state, both commercial and non-commercial outlets. Focusing on politics and the media, the program is produced by Radio K and the Minnesota Broadcasters Association .
Radio K DJs have gone on to do various other projects. A few personalities from the station went on to work at REV-105, a short-lived but influential station that played a variety of music in the 1990s. Brian Oake, Steve Nelson, and Thorn all worked at Radio K and then Rev before going on to other things. Oake and Thorn continue to try to stretch the playlist at Cities 97, a Clear Channel Communications-owned station in the Twin Cities. The others eventually found their way to Minnesota Public Radio and started that company's new third service at KCMP in 2005 (KCMP had formerly been St. Olaf College's WCAL).
The sports department has recently grown and gained recognition. The department began a weekly podcast, the Radio K Sports Desk, in the fall of 2008, with episodes during the academic year. A series of stories about the Minnesota football team (by sports reporter Marco LaNave) received a national finalist honor in the 2008 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards, and also received two regional honors. Sports reporter Bobby Baumann made appearances as an analyst on Jayhawk Sports Talk on KUJH-TV in December 2008, and on the Sports Uncut podcast with Daymon Johnson in July 2009.
In 2008-2009, nine different sports reporters contributed multiple stories to the weekly news program, Minnesota Notebook. Several reporters also made appearances on Gopher Sports Update, a weekly program produced by the Minnesota Broadcasters Association. The department also covered the first two rounds of the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium (St. Paul), the NCAA Volleyball Tournament at the Sports Pavilion on the campus of the University of Minnesota, the NCAA Basketball Tournament at the HHH Metrodome (Minneapolis), the NCAA Hockey Tournament at Mariucci Arena (Minneapolis), and the NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships at the Sports Pavilion on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
Studio and transmitters
Initial broadcasts originated in the electrical engineering building on the Minneapolis campus, where a transmitter was mounted on the roof. The facilities were moved to Eddy Hall in 1936. Four decades later in 1974, the studios were moved again, this time to Rarig Center just across the Mississippi River.
The station's main AM non-directional signal operates at 5,000 watts. Like most 5,000-watt AM stations in the Midwest, it has comparable range to a full-power FM station due to the area's flat land and excellent soil conductivity. It can picked up across the Twin Cities region, with grade B coverage in St. Cloud and Mankato. It is broadcast in daylight hours from U of M's St. Paul/Falcon Heights campus, though it is licensed to Minneapolis. It shuts off at sundown to protect WABC in New York City and KKOB in Albuquerque. The exact time that the station goes off the air varies from month to month, ranging from 4:30 p.m. in the winter to 9:00 p.m. in the summer.
At night, on weekends, and during the summer, Radio K also broadcasts on the 8-watt KUOM-FM 106.5. This frequency is shared with KDXL, a station at St. Louis Park High School in St. Louis Park, which began broadcasts around 1978 (originally at 91.7 FM). While class is in session at the school, the transmitter is used for KDXL and at all other times KUOM-FM is on. Setting up KUOM-FM took several years of negotiations with the Federal Communications Commission. In 2004, the transmitter was moved from the high school to a location in southwest Minneapolis near Lake Calhoun, near the St. Louis Park city limits, and raised to a greater height on a high rise residential building, expanding the range of both KUOM-FM and KDXL. Even with the increased height, the station operates at such low power that it can only be heard clearly in Minneapolis itself. It has fringe coverage at best in St. Paul (subject to occasional interference from a 197-watt translator of CCM outlet "The Refuge" in the southern suburb of Elko New Market), and cannot be heard at all even in most of the inner-ring Twin Cities suburbs.
Radio K also transmits via a 99-watt translator W264BR 100.7 FM which is co-located with the main AM transmitter. When it went online in late July 2005 the original 10-watt transmitter limited the covered area to only the U of M's St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses with spotty coverage even within the inner-ring suburbs. In early July 2011 the transmitter was upgraded to 99 watts. This significantly expanded the covered area to include almost all inner ring suburbs and many outer ring suburbs with the potential for reception as far away as Hastings, MN or Hudson, WI under favorable conditions.
Radio K operates another 99-watt translator K283BG at 104.5 FM whose transmitter is located near Radio-K's studios in Rarig Center on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota. Before W264BR's transmitter was upgraded K283BG was important for offering at least secondary coverage to most of the inner-ring suburbs. Through these two translators KUOM is able to broadcast 24/7 all year. This substantially improves KUOM's ability to serve the entire metro area, especially between sunset and sunrise when the station's AM signal must sign off.
The station is partially supported by donations, and frequent listeners (of which there are about 25,000) are implored to "Become a Member" in fundraising drives known as "PowerSurges." Approximately 40% of the station's funding comes from this support, while the rest comes from money provided by the state and federal governments, along with the University of Minnesota. Radio K has put out a series of music compilations under the title Stuck on AM, featuring live recordings. The most recent version, volume 7, was released in 2011.
- "Call Letter Origins". Radio History on the Web.
- "Radio K : History". Retrieved 11-15-12.
- "Upper Midwest Broadcasting". NorthPine.com. Retrieved 2009-03-20.
- "Twin Cities Class D FM Stations". NorthPine.com. Retrieved 2009-03-20.
- Three-Letter Roll Call
- Society of Professional Journalists News: SPJ Announces 2008 Mark of Excellence Awards National Winners
- Society of Professional Journalists News: Announcing 2008 Region 6 Mark of Excellence Awards Winners
- Sports Uncut - No BS Sports Talk - Episode BTR014 07/01 by Sports Uncut | Blog Talk Radio
- (June 20, 2003). The History of University Radio. University of Minnesota Heritage Trail. Accessed November 22, 2004.
- Charles William Taussig (1922). Abstract from The Book of Radio (pp. 191–202). Accessed November 22, 2004.
- Brian Lambert (October 31, 2003). U station passes the test with 'real music-lovers'. St. Paul Pioneer Press. Accessed December 2, 2004.
- Jeff Miller (editor). A Chronology of AM Radio Broadcasting 1900-1960. Accessed January 5, 2005.
- Radio K Website
- Query the FCC's AM station database for KUOM
- Radio-Locator Information on KUOM
- Query Nielsen Audio's AM station database for KUOM
- Query the FCC's FM station database for KUOM
- Radio-Locator information on KUOM
- Query Nielsen Audio's FM station database for KUOM
- Cosmic Slop
- Hennepin County Public Library historical photos of WLB, 1939-40 search for "WLB"
- Minnesota Historical Society historical photos of KUOM, mid 1940s