Radio Radio

We search the airwaves for signs of intelligent life

The other emerging player nationwide is Salem Communications Corporation. The company now has 13 stations in major markets such as Los Angeles and Dallas with a contemporary Christian music format. Because Salem already operates three stations on the Twin Cities dial, including the Patriot (see "Red, White, & Green," p. 14), the area would seem like a natural fit. John Hunt, general manager of the three local Salem stations, avers that "if an FM signal ever became available, we might consider trying it here."

Isberner notes that if either of these two growing radio networks were to purchase an FM signal in the Twin Cities, KTIS would have to "batten down the hatches." The station has already made significant changes to keep pace with modern times. Started by students at Northwestern 53 years ago, KTIS first hit the airwaves with the voice of Rev. Billy Graham, then president of the college, who offered a prayer followed by organ music. Over the years KTIS refined its approach to conservative Christian-based radio, with a format long on Bible passages and short on on-air personalities. "Northwestern radio has a long tradition of being very proper, very dignified, having incredible integrity, being very trustworthy," says Isberner.

In 1998 KTIS put that stodgy reputation in the unlikely hands, or rather the voice, of Chuck Knapp. At the time Knapp hadn't worked in radio for four years. His path to KTIS was a tortured one: Knapp says that during his three-decade run on commercial radio he suffered from chronic depression. Several times a year he would be overcome by what he describes as a "tsunami of sadness," during which he would become obsessed with the thought of blowing his brains out in a cornfield. In December of 1991, as Knapp describes it, he hit bottom. "All alone. Sick and tired of being sick and tired. Having this message coming stronger and stronger: cornfield, cornfield, cornfield."

Knapp says he finally freed himself from depression not with a handgun or therapy, but through Jesus Christ. "Finally I just broke," he recounts. "I just screamed out, 'I give up. I surrender.'" He asked Jesus Christ to guide his life "and from that moment on changes started to occur."

Knapp continued working drive-time commercial radio, but he became increasingly disenchanted with the bathroom humor and juvenilia that had become a staple of the morning routine. "Radio in general started to gross me out," he says. "I heard people saying things on the air that I first heard in the locker room in about fourth grade, and I couldn't imagine going that way."

Knapp parted ways with KS95 when his contract expired in 1994. He went to work for the local chapter of Promise Keepers, an evangelical group for men, and waited for his chance to get back behind the microphone. "When I left radio in 1994, my prayer was that someday maybe God would bring me back and put me on the air with a pastor," Knapp says. "It only took four and a half years."

On this "no fear Friday," a moniker introduced in the wake of September 11, Knapp is joined in the booth by the Pastor at 6:30 a.m. They both don loud Hawaiian shirts. In many ways their shtick is little different from the patter heard on FM stations across the dial. Knapp plays the role of the naive boob, always on the verge of slipping back into sin. Reverend Engen is the voice of moral authority, keeping his cohort in check, ever ready with a passage of Scripture.

Following the weather report, Knapp cues up an Osama bin Laden parody song that concludes, "There's a cowboy in the White House and he's coming after you."

Near the end of the show there is what might be called a "teachable moment." According to one news item, 3,600 pounds of Jimmy Dean Maple Flavored Pork Sausage Links have been recalled. As the Knapper and the Pastor contemplate this delicious tidbit, Reverend Engen offers this proclamation: "My wife doesn't like sausage."

It's the kind of inadvertent confession that any self-respecting shock-jock would feed on for days. Knapp simply pauses, grins, and moves on to the sports report.


MPR: Money Public Radio
Taking the public out of public broadcasting

You've got to hand it to the folks over at Minnesota Public Radio's KNOW-FM (91.1) and KSJN-FM (99.5): Not only have they cultivated a highly educated, well-heeled audience, they have managed to convince those listeners that they are the sole reason the station stays on the air.

Take the network's tri-annual radio membership campaigns, one of which begins today. From a financial standpoint, there would seem to be no reason for the fund drives, which are pitched to listeners by on-air personalities as a civic duty. After all, the network has primary access to endowments and investments totaling more than $130 million that, in 2000 alone, generated $8.5 million in revenue. Throw in another $4.3 million in state and federal aid and MPR ends up with a whopping $12.8 million in annual income, just standing still. To top it all off, in fiscal year 2000 MPR took in $7.4 million more than it spent, which, coincidentally, is almost the exact amount it received from listeners. Yet MPR still comes around three times a year, hat in hand, begging for contributions.

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