Not everyone was happy when Minnesota Public Radio finalized the purchase of WCAL (89.3-FM) from St. Olaf College for $10.5 million in November. Classical music fans mourned the loss of their beloved station, while groups like savewcal.org tried to boycott MPR's takeover. And now that the station has announced its new call letters, KCMP, and a format change, some are still crying foul.
MPR named Steve Nelson, who helped found University of Minnesota's Radio K (KUOM 770-AM) more than 10 years ago, the program director for KCMP on December 9. Yet until the day after the announcement on December 16, Nelson was still serving on Radio K's advisory committee, along with KCMP's newly named music director, Thorn Skroch. Nelson offered his resignation to Radio K's station manager Andy Marlow the day after the announcement of the new station. Skroch had yet to resign as of that same afternoon.
"I wish they'd been a little more candid with me up front," Marlow says. "In essence, they were working for a station that has overlap with ours. Put it this way, if I were the person involved, I would've said, 'Maybe it's time to bow out.'"
Nelson, for his part, says he was asked to be on Radio K's advisory committee six months ago and that he was unable to attend the two meetings the group held due to scheduling conflicts. "There wasn't a lot of overlap," he insists. "I wasn't cribbing Radio K for ideas." (In a press release, Nelson said the station will have an "anti-format," but indications are that it will sound more like an "adult album alternative" or "Triple A" format--think U2, the Jayhawks--rather than an edgier college rock station.)
Despite appearances, Nelson insists KCMP's format was partly planned prior to his accepting the program director position. "I know everyone thinks this was happening behind the scenes, but I only got the job a week ago," he offers. And though the stations share programming similarities, he doesn't see them competing for the same slice of listeners and public funding. "There are plenty of things Radio K can offer that KCMP can't," Nelson says. Radio K's Marlow agrees: "In order to develop the kind of audience MPR needs, they're going to have to be a pretty typical, mainstream, white-bread suburban radio station."
Marlow does do his best to sound conciliatory, offering, "As long as they support local music, I think it's a good thing." Nelson says that he will continue to donate to Radio K, and would still serve on the board if they'd have him back. "There's a lot we can share," he says.