Bill Kling vs. KFAI: The paper trail

Did MPR's lawyers try to sabotage KFAI's funding in the 1970s?

Did MPR's lawyers try to sabotage KFAI's funding in the 1970s?

In 1973, a group of Minneapolis residents had an idea for a 10-watt radio station.

Instead of hiring experienced radio personalities to read news or play classical music, they would open up the airwaves to other community members to talk about whatever issues they wanted. They called it Fresh Air -- known better today as KFAI.

By late summer 1974, they were all but ready to go on the air. But to the surprise of those trying to launch the station, their licensing application had stalled.


Though they had yet to transmit a single broadcast, someone was already opposing the station's existence with a formal petition with the Federal Communications Commission. That man was Bill Kling, the tenacious founder and CEO of a burgeoning public radio empire, then called Minnesota Educational Radio.

The complaints from Kling and his lawyers stated that Fresh Air's signal would interfere with their signal and that KFAI wasn't financially sustainable.

Jeremy Nichols, then a Fresh Air board member and recent University of Minnesota grad, put his engineering degree to work. According to his analysis, the two signals would not interfere with one another. The Fresh Air crew also found donors and applied for community grants to prove to the FCC that they could sustain.


For the next three years, the legal letters and technical analyses went back and forth. Ultimately, the FCC sided with Fresh Air and approved its license. To this day, Nichols -- who is still on KFAI's board of directors -- stands by his analysis.

Kling maintains the dispute was not personal, and that the channels would have interfered if they had not found a way to reroute their signal after Fresh Air's license was approved.

"It would have taken us off the air," says Kling. "It was a legally legit objection."

In researching this part of the story, we came across a few interesting documents related to the FCC dispute.

Here are two typed depositions that claim Tom Kigin, one of MPR's lawyers, was calling donors who had committed to Fresh Air and trying to persuade them not to give money.

This first one comes from William Hatton, then the program director of Southside Community Enterprises:

Here's a similar letter from then Powderhorn Community Council Coordinator Michael Rothman, who believes Kigin was "trying to influence PCC decision-making by his phone conversation:"

And here's the full letter Kling wrote to Fresh Air after the FCC approved its license, warning he will appeal the decision all the way to Washington: