See end of article for access to related information including the response from MPR board of trustees.A Minnesota House committee voted this afternoon to withhold state money from Minnesota Public Radio unless the network sells its KSJN broadcast frequency to a group of minority broadcasters. Minnesota Public Radio's Bill Wareham reports:
MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO would get about $800,000 over the next two years as part of a public broadcasting provision in a bill to fund state agencies. Lake City Republican Mike Osskop would like to use that appropriation as leverage to get MPR to sell the 99.5 frequency to a group that's been trying to start a service aimed at the Twin Cities African American population. Osskop says encouraging the sale would right a wrong that occurred when both groups tried to buy what was then the WLOL frequency in 1990:
MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO WENT TO THE CITY OF ST. PAUL USING TAXPAYER-SUPPORTED BONDS AND RAISED THE PRICE OF POKER AND BOUGHT THIS RADIO STATION AWAY FROM THIS PRIVATE INVESTOR.
Thomas Ross represents the group trying to start the new radio service. He told lawmakers on the Government Operations Committee that KFAI, the low-power FM service out of Minneapolis, doesn't reach enough of the local African American population:
WE WANT TO EXPAND OUR LEVELS OF COMMUNICATION. WE ARE HAVING A HARD TIME STAYING ON TOP OF ISSUES IN THE MINORITY COMMUNITY BECAUSE WE LACK THE TOOLS AND THE VEHICLES TO DO JUST THAT. WE HAVE A 1000-WATT NEIGHBORHOOD RADIO STATION THAT HAS SERVED THE MINORITY COMMUNITY AND THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY IN MINNEAPOLIS FOR 20 YEARS. OUR POPULATION IN THIS STATION HAS GROWN 80%; 40% OF US LIVE IN THE SUBURBS.
Ross's investor group -- which reportedly includes record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis -- says it has offered $18,000,000 for the frequency MPR bought for about $11,000,000 seven years ago. The House bill doesn't say what price MPR would have to accept to get its appropriation, but MPR Vice President Tom Kigin says the frequency is probably worth $30,000,000 in today's market. He told lawmakers the network would give up the state money before giving up its place on the dial:
IF AS A RESULT OF THIS MPR HAS TO SELL 99.5 IN ORDER TO RECEIVE LEGISLATIVE FUNDS, WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO WALK AWAY FROM IT. THAT WILL MEAN A REDUCTION IN SERVICE THAT MPR PROVIDES; OUR BOARD WILL NOT LET US SELL THIS RADIO STATION.