|City||WKNO-FM: Memphis, Tennessee
WKNP: Jackson, Tennessee
|Broadcast area||Memphis / Jackson, Tennessee|
|Branding||NPR For the Mid South|
|Frequency||WKNO-FM: 91.1 MHz (also on HD Radio)
WKNP: 90.1 MHz (also on HD Radio)
|First air date||WKNO-FM: 1972
|Audience share||2.6 (FALL 2007, RRC)|
|ERP||WKNO-FM: 100,000 watts
WKNP: 18,000 watts
|HAAT||WKNO-FM: 175 meters
WKNP: 156.2 meters
|Facility ID||WKNO-FM: 41887
|Callsign meaning||W KNOwledge|
|Affiliations||American Public Media, National Public Radio, Public Radio International|
|Owner||Mid-South Public Communications Foundation|
The WKNO FM Stations is a pair of public radio stations based in Memphis, Tennessee, that serve the "Mid-South" region with local fine arts and classical music programs, as well as news and information programs from the National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and American Public Media networks.
The stations are owned and operated by the Mid-South Public Communications Foundation, a non-profit organization governed by a board of trustees composed of volunteers. This board also operates Memphis' public television station, WKNO-TV.
Two stations comprise the network:
WKNO-FM 91.1--Memphis (flagship). Signal reaches about a 50-mile radius from the city, covering the southwestern corner of Tennessee, eastern Arkansas, the extreme southern portions of the Missouri Bootheel, and northwestern Mississippi.
WKNP 90.1--Jackson, Tennessee. Signal covers much of the state between the Memphis area, the Tennessee River, and the Kentucky state line.
WKNO-FM began operations in 1972, with only the one station broadcasting at 40,000 watts. Its studios were first located on the main campus of Memphis State University (now University of Memphis); in 1979, along with the TV station, the studios were relocated a few blocks to the south, to the southern annex of MSU on Getwell Road. That facility served the television and radio stations for 30 years until November 2009, when they moved into custom-designed all-digital studios, located in the Memphis suburb of Cordova.
As with many public radio outlets started during that era, programming in the early years consisted almost entirely of classical music; NPR news broadcasts did not become a significant portion of the daily schedule until well into the 1980s. Still, the station increased its power during that period to a full 100,000 watts, thereby increasing its listenership with a stronger, clearer signal. As the popularity of public radio developed, the MSPCF decided to aggressively construct and acquire transmitters throughout the region, much of which had never been served by public radio before. It started by purchasing the broadcasting equipment of WNJC-FM, the defunct campus radio station (founded 1972) of Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, about 40 miles south of Memphis, in 1989. MSPCF kept that station's original callsign for a few years, before rechristening it to WKNA-FM, making it conform to the mother station's pattern. That station broadcast at 88.9 MHz.
Next, the board set its sights on Tennessee's largest city without any public radio service, Jackson, and started a repeater, WKNP, there in 1990. Finally, WKNO-FM solidified its coverage of West Tennessee with a repeater serving northwestern Tennessee and southeastern Missouri, WKNQ, in 1993. Situated in the town of Dyersburg, that station broadcast at 90.7 MHz.
For a few years, the stations broadcast identical programs, except for daytime coverage of Memphis city council meetings, which were heard only on the mother station, as they were, quite obviously, not pertinent to the rest of the territory. In some portions of the listening area, particularly that of WKNA-FM, competing stations such as Mississippi Public Broadcasting duplicated some network offerings as well.
Eventually, however, with the great expansion of public radio news and talk programming in the late 1990s, MSPCF decided to take advantage of it by splitting the network into two. With that, the Memphis and Jackson stations programmed classical music during the middle of the day and at night, news during rush hour, and weekly feature programs on the weekends. Meanwhile, the Dyersburg and Senatobia frequencies carried news, talk, and information shows from various public radio packagers and the BBC. On occasion, the four stations aired the same programming.
2007 translator sale
However, in early 2007, WKNO/MSPCF sold its alternate signals in Senatobia and Dyersburg, WKNA and WKNQ, to evangelical Christian broadcasters. The Tupelo, Mississippi-based American Family Association bought the broadcast license of WKNA, and the Rocklin, California-based Educational Media Foundation acquired the WKNQ frequency (even though it already owns two frequencies near Dyersburg). WKNO/MSPCF gave no official reason for the decision to liquidate two of its frequencies, though MSPCF president Michael LaBonia said that MSPCF had no luck expanding the stations' coverage area. For example, he claimed he could not hear WKNA even on his car radio, despite the transmitter being located only 40 miles south of Memphis. While WKNA's signal could be heard fairly well in car radios by listeners driving around Memphis (particularly in the Mississippi portion of the metropolitan area), it only provided grade B service to Memphis itself. The sale left the northwestern corner of Tennessee as one of the few areas in the country without a clear signal from an NPR station, the closest signal being Murray, Kentucky's WKMS.
The sale reflected a trend, disturbing to some public broadcasting advocates, of religious networks assuming control of a high percentage of frequencies on the reserved non-commercial portion of the FM band (87.7-91.9 MHz) in many U.S. markets, most pronounced in non-metropolitan areas of the Southern U.S. Further, it bucked a previous trend toward multiple public radio services offered to one market or region (contrasted with, for example, New York City's WNYC-FM or Nashville's WPLN-FM). In making the decision to sell, MSPCF probably took into account the predominantly-rural, lesser-income, lesser-educated, and highly religious demographics of the populations WKNA and WKNQ served—the complete opposites of those public radio stations usually target (generally, metropolitan residents with above-average incomes, college educations, and of a culturally tolerant, secular bent). In terms of the WKNO radio stations' financial operations, since relatively few listeners resided in those areas, the stations received very few monetary contributions from northwestern Tennessee or northern Mississippi. A leveling off of NPR's popularity (from a peak in the early 2000s (decade)) and a general decline in governmental and corporate support for public broadcasting (which became precipitous elsewhere in the U.S. around this time) were likely factors as well.
After the sale, WKNO/WKNP reconfigured its schedule into a combination more typical among NPR stations across the country. The new lineup features NPR newscasts throughout the day; NPR news magazines, such as All Things Considered and Morning Edition in morning and afternoon drive-time slots; Marketplace from American Public Media in the late afternoons; Fresh Air in the early evening; feature (local) programming during the daytime on weekends, as well as the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, and comedy shows from NPR, APM, and PRI; and classical music at other times.
In late 2007, WKNO/WKNP began broadcasting digitally, so listeners with an HD radio are presently able to receive three streams from WKNO. The first stream is a simulcast of the analog signal. A second stream alternates between NPR and American Public Media shows when classical music is broadcast on the first stream, and classical music when the first stream broadcasts NPR, PRI and APM spoken-word programming. The third stream offers 24/7 news from the BBC World Service, something previously available on WKNA and WKNQ.