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FCC approves St. Olaf sale of radio station to MPR
The grassroots group Save WCAL has lost its bid to prevent Minnesota Public Radio from buying St. Olaf's FM station. The Federal Communications Commission dismissed the group's petition, calling parts of it "frivolous and irrelevant."

St. Paul, Minn. — Save WCAL had argued that the sale would lead to unwarranted media consolidation. The FCC rejected the complaint, saying the group relied on personal beliefs, rather than proof. The commission also rejected the group's argument that the sale to MPR would deprive WCAL listeners of unique classical programming. The FCC says it doesn't get involved in "change of format" disputes.

The ruling clears the way for MPR to purchase the station. President Bill Kling says he's pleased with the decision.

"It verifies what we thought all the way through the process which was that St. Olaf had the right to sell the station and they did seek buyers from across the country. They decided in the end that we were the best buyer and we always felt that it was an appropriate purchase and we were pleased to see that the FCC agreed with us," Kling said.

A spokesman for Save WCAL says the group isn't prepared to comment on the ruling yet.

MPR is paying $10.5 million for WCAL and a repeat transmitter in Rochester. The sale will be finalized within 10 days. Once that happens, MPR will begin making changes to the station's format. MPR won't announce those details until December or January, but Kling says music will still be the main ingredient.

"We'll be able to try a format that doesn't exist now. We're serving classical music listeners well and in the future we'll be serving them even better. We're serving news listeners well. Now we'll be able to do something that is new and different and perhaps bring a whole new audience to public radio in a way that I'm not sure anybody else in public radio's yet tried to do. So that's exciting," Kling said.

Kling says MPR has received a lot of program suggestions from loyal WCAL fans and is trying to incorporate many of those elements into the station's new format.

Around the country, other public radio stations are watching MPR's expansion into a third format with interest. Tom Thomas, co-CEO of the Station Resource Group, an organization of more than 200 public radio stations including Minnesota Public Radio, says stations realize they can attract new public radio listeners by giving them more listening options. But it's not without risk.

"Depends on how good the format is that Minnesota Public Radio comes up with to do on a third service. Clearly MPR is putting some serious dollars on the table to make this station aquisition and it will take a successful program service if they are to recoup the investment, but Minnesota Public Radio is one of the premiere programmers in all of public radio and I'm reasonably confident that MPR will come up with a really creative and effective solution of what to put on this channel," he said.

MPR is planning to retain some WCAL staff members. Two employees have been hired so far. St. Olaf declined to comment for this story. The college has said that it plans to put the money from the sale of WCAL into its endowment.

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