KCMP (89.3 FM, 89.3 The Current), is a radio station owned by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) that broadcasts a AAA music format including a significant rotation of songs by local artists. Licensed to serve Northfield, Minnesota, the station's studios are located at the MPR Broadcast Center on Cedar Street in downtown St. Paul, while its transmitter is located atop the Vermillion Highlands near Coates. KCMP is rebroadcast on KMSE in Rochester at 88.7 MHz and on translators around the state. The station broadcasts worldwide via Internet radio streams in the MP3 and Windows Media Audio formats, and is carried on a digital subchannel of KPCC 89.3 FM in Pasadena, California.
The station was launched by St. Olaf College on October 1, 1967 as a sister to WCAL 770 AM, one of the first radio stations in the state. WCAL-FM was operated by St. Olaf for over 37 years and was known as "Classical 89.3" later in its history, playing what many considered to be "alternative" classical music along with a variety of sacred music and religious programming. MPR acquired the station in November 2004 during a drawn-out controversy and launched the new format at 9 a.m. on January 24, 2005, changing the call sign in the process. "Shhh", by the local hip-hop group Atmosphere, was the first song to air under the KCMP banner. The station had an immediate impact, and after just three months, was voted "Best Radio Station" by readers of the local City Pages alternative weekly newspaper. However, a March 2008 City Pages article criticized The Current for repetitious programming and losing touch with the format that endeared listeners during its first two years.
"The Current" service
The modern "third service" for MPR (the organization already operates "news and information" and classical music networks) programs a wide range of music. The KCMP "anti-format" was announced in mid-December 2004, along with the station's new program director Steve Nelson and music director Thorn Skroch. According to the Unofficial Current Playlist Archive, over 4,000 different songs have been played from around 2,000 different artists. KCMP is based on KCRW (Los Angeles), WXPN (Philadelphia) and KEXP-FM (Seattle), stations that pioneered noncommercial alternative radio, and the short-lived Twin Cities station REV-105, where some of The Current's on-air talent established themselves.
Weekend programming includes American Routes and a local music program simply called "The Local Show."
Additional staff members were hired in the weeks following December's announcement. Some, like Nelson, were already at Minnesota Public Radio. Steve Seel, for instance, had been a host on MPR's classical music service. Others, including Mary Lucia and Mark Wheat, were new to MPR, but already had long relationships with the region.
Thorn and Nelson had worked at Radio K in its early days, and remained on the station's advisory board until they were hired for "The Current" (they resigned from the board to dispel any perceived conflicts of interest). Mark Wheat was a well-known voice of Radio K (and before, KFAI), since he was K's program coach and one of the most frequently-heard DJs for six years. Lucia had worked with Nelson and Thorn at REV-105, and continued as an on-air host with Thorn at the short-lived REV successor Zone 105.
The Current is heard on 89.3 FM in the Twin Cities metro area, reaching into western Wisconsin. The associated station KMSE in Rochester broadcasts on 88.7 FM. In addition, it is carried on an MPR-managed station, KPCC in Pasadena, California via an HD Radio subchannel. Additional translators have been periodically added in other cities.
|Call sign||Frequency||City of license||ERP/Power|
|KNSR||88.9 FM (HD)||Collegeville, Minnesota||100,000 watts||HD2|
|KPCC||89.3 FM (HD)||Pasadena, California||600 watts||HD2|
|KMSE||88.7 FM||Rochester, Minnesota||850 watts|
|City of license||ERP|
|K280EF||88.9 FM||Austin, Minnesota||9 watts|
|W248AS||97.5 FM||Hinckley, Minnesota||55 watts|
|K286AW||105.1 FM||Mankato, Minnesota||10 watts|
|K237ET||95.3 FM||New Ulm, Minnesota||250 watts|
|K228XN||93.5 FM||St. Peter, Minnesota||60 watts|
The station began with physics experiments in 1918 when five students and a professor built a small radio transmitter at St. Olaf College. Using a wire antenna strung between the campus chapel and the college's "Old Main" (the tallest nearby building), signals from these experiments were picked up as far away as New Zealand. Eventually, the college gained the call sign 9YAJ for the experimental station. Later, on May 6, 1922, the college was granted an AM radio license and the WCAL call sign. They would broadcast two programs per week during the school year at 770 kc. in the AM band. One notable achievement by the station in the next few years was the broadcast of William Shakespeare's play As You Like It, apparently the first time a play had been broadcast on radio.
In 1924, a financial crunch meant that the station might be forced to close down. The St. Olaf senior class and local newspaper, The Northfield News, campaigned for donations. Money came in from across Minnesota and several nearby states. This made WCAL the first listener-supported station in the United States. From 1928-circa 1954, WCAL was entirely listener-supported and received no direct financial support from St. Olaf College. In 1949, the station's card file held the names and addresses of over 60,000 donors. The station's AM signal was heard as far as the western United States, Mexico, Florida, Alaska and Canada.
The station first experimented with FM broadcasts in 1948, but did not broadcast regularly until the 89.3 MHz signal was allocated in 1967. A few years later in 1971, WCAL became one of 90 founding members of National Public Radio organized by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Twenty-four-hour broadcasts began in 1984, and a new 100 kilowatt transmitter went online in 1991, meaning that the station could be picked up across most of the Twin Cities region (Northfield is on the southern edge of the area). The transmitter was placed on land owned by the University of Minnesota in exchange for WCAL turning over its 770 AM frequency, which had been shared with KUOM for many years. Because 770 is an FCC-defined clear-channel frequency occupied by full-time station WABC in New York City, it could not be used by other stations at night; as daytime-only stations, WCAL and KUOM each broadcast an average of about six hours per day. The shutdown of WCAL allowed KUOM to broadcast the maximum amount of time allowed by the license.
WCAL's radio format focused on European classical music radio programming and related musical genres. The "Christmas at St. Olaf" program was one of several annual events that were broadcast by the station. Over the years, the station regularly broadcast religious services, and expanded them into a number of different languages. Another first that WCAL takes credit for is the first play-by-play broadcast of a sporting event. The station eventually became affiliated with AMPERS, the independent public radio network in Minnesota.
On August 11, 2004, St. Olaf College announced that it had decided to sell WCAL in order to enhance the institution's endowment. At least eleven offers were reportedly received, but apparently only two were presented to the Board of Regents, including one from California-based EMF Broadcasting, a non-commercial religious broadcaster which originates the K-Love network.
St. Olaf announced in August that it had decided to sell WCAL to Minnesota Public Radio. MPR had made a bid for WCAL as early as 1971, shortly after NPR's formation. The station was now even more attractive to MPR, as it was the most powerful noncommercial signal in the state that wasn't a part of the MPR network. This prompted the formation of a group known as SaveWCAL that attempted to halt the sale to MPR. SaveWCAL argued that the station was a charitable trust held by St. Olaf, and the college should have at least asked a judge for permission to dissolve the trust before selling it to MPR. These efforts were unsuccessful.
The sale agreement for WCAL/KMSE was finalized by St. Olaf College and Minnesota Public Radio on Friday, November 19, 2004. The station ceased broadcasting from its Northfield studios at 10 p.m. two days later, and began simulcasting Minnesota Public Radio's classical music stream. The two-day delay allowed for final broadcasts of Sunday religious services. A few WCAL employees were hired by MPR and some changes were made to MPR's classical music service in an attempt to appeal to former WCAL listeners. On February 1, 2005, the WCAL call sign was sold by MPR to the student-run college radio station of California University of Pennsylvania.
Continued activism from SaveWCAL, however, resulted in a state district court judge characterizing the transaction as an illegal sale of a charitable trust by an irresponsible trustee . SaveWCAL has since requested that the Minnesota Attorney General's office to declare the sale void and filed a Petition To Redress Breach of Trust in Rice County District Court on September 24, 2008. However, in 2009, another court ruled that SaveWCAL had waited too long to go to court.