Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
770 Radio K (KUOM), "Real College Radio," is a college radio station operated by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Likely the oldest station in the state, Radio K broadcasts an eclectic mix of music from its transmitters—a variety that has been praised by radio critics. Prior to the transition to a music format in the 1990s, KUOM broadcast educational programming and a variety of other material. Because of this, the station is operated by the university's College of Continuing Education, but receives funding from a number of sources including donations from the public. The station has broadcast on the AM band at 770 kHz since the 1920s, but is subject to clear channel restrictions on that frequency and shuts down at night. Radio K uses a small FM transmitter at other times, though the University of Minnesota has made several applications for other translators to carry the signal. The station largely relies on Internet radio to reach listeners at night, and has gained an international following. KUOM is a member of Minnesota's Independent Public Radio network (previously known as AMPERS).
Radio transmissions at the university date to 1912, when a professor named F. W. Springer began experimenting with broadcasts, though he probably just used a spark gap transmitter. Activities were suspended by World War I, but electrical engineering professor C. M. Jansky, Jr. (the older brother of Karl Jansky) was doing broadcasting again by 1920. He had previously been at the University of Wisconsin, where he had helped at station 9XM (soon to be called WHA). Jansky used the call sign 9XI was used and provided reports on farm markets and weather. In February 1922, when a heavy snowstorm knocked out newswire services into the region, personnel at the Minneapolis Tribune convinced operators to help them retrieve the day's news through a roundabout series of amateur radio relays.
Focus on education
The University received the first AM license in the state on January 13, 1922 for the call sign WLB (the same day as Wisconsin's WHA), and programming was extended to include lectures, concerts, and football games. In the 1930s and 1940s, the station broadcast a considerable amount of educational material and was used for distance learning—a practice that continued into the 1990s. The call sign was changed to KUOM by 1945. The station had a paid staff, unlike a smaller campus-only station that emerged later.
A polio epidemic in 1946 that resulted in temporary school closings and the cancellation of the Minnesota State Fair led the station to create programming for children who where homebound. Those programs, along with others broadcast in the 1940s, were recognized for their importance and led to several awards being given to the station.
For nearly 70 years, WLB and later KUOM time-shared the already daytime-restricted 770 kHz frequency with WCAL of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, so each station averaged just about 6 hours of programming each day. The University of Minnesota eventually made an agreement with St. Olaf where WCAL would get land for a powerful FM transmitter on U of M land near Rosemount, Minnesota in exchange for the shutdown of WCAL's AM transmitter so that KUOM could transmit exclusively on the frequency during the day. The agreement came to fruition in 1991.
Another station, WMMR (for "Women's and Men's Minnesota Radio"), was created on campus in 1948, with studios in the Coffman Memorial Union . Focused on providing a service for the student body, it originally broadcast via carrier current on campus, and eventually added an FM signal to the Minneapolis cable television system. This was an entirely student-run operation, relying on volunteers. A number of live broadcasts from the Whole music club and the Great Hall at the union took place, and the station served to promote other campus events.
Garrison Keillor, the well-known host of Minnesota Public Radio's A Prairie Home Companion, began his radio career broadcasting classical music on WMMR as a student in the early 1960s. He then worked at KUOM from 1963 to 1968.
In the early 1990s, the university began to examine the idea of merging WMMR and KUOM. The university explained the transition to a music format by saying that Most of the educational value of KUOM had been superseded by other media outlets by this time. To avoid the lack of direction found at some college music stations, the new "Radio K" had a small full-time staff to oversee operations and provide a certain level of continuity, while students would provide much of the on-air talent while going through their radio studies. The transition finally took place in 1993, and the station started broadcasting as "Radio K" on October 1 that year.
Radio K has received accolades from local newspapers and magazines, especially from the weekly City Pages which has consistently ranked the station among the best for music in the region. The station receives about 120 new recordings each month which are filtered through a large group of reviewers and disc jockeys. Recordings that pass muster are added to a large playlist that is constantly updated, and on-air DJs use the list for about 60% of the music played while choosing the rest on their own.
One notable program in the first decade of Radio K was Cosmic Slop. The show, which first went on the air in the waning days of WMMR, searched through the station's considerable library of 1970s pop music, playing both the best and worst from that decade (with occasional forays into the recordings from the rest of the 20th century). The hosts of the program finally ended the show at the end of 2004, saying that their itch had been scratched.
A news program called Access Minnesota  began in 2004 and has already gained a reasonable following. It is carried on several dozen radio stations across the state, both commercial and non-commercial outlets. Focusing on politics and the media, the program is produced by Radio K and the Minnesota Broadcasters Association .
Radio K DJs have gone on to do various other projects. A few personalities from the station went on to work at REV-105, a shortlived but influential station that played a variety of music in the 1990s. Brian Oake , Steve Nelson, and Thorn Skroch all worked at Radio K and then Rev before going on to other things. Oake continues to try to stretch the playlist at Cities 97, a Clear Channel Communications-owned station in the Twin Cities. The others eventually found their way to Minnesota Public Radio and are starting that company's new third service at KCMP in 2005 (KCMP had formerly been St. Olaf College's WCAL).
Studio and transmitters
The AM signal, which can be picked up across the Twin Cities region and beyond, is broadcast in daylight hours from the St. Paul/Falcon Heights campus of the University. It shuts off at sundown to make way for WABC in New York City and KKOB in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The exact time that the station goes off the air varies from month to month, ranging from 4:30 PM in the winter to 9:00 PM in the summer. At night and on weekends, Radio K uses an 8 watt FM broadcast from a high school in St. Louis Park (during the day, the transmitter is used for that school's radio station, KDXL ).
Initial broadcasts originated in the electrical engineering building on the Minneapolis campus, where a transmitter was mounted on the roof. The facilities were moved to Eddy Hall in 1936. Four decades later in 1974 the studios were moved again, this time to Rarig Center just across the Mississippi River.
The University of Minnesota has applied to the Federal Communications Commission for several new transmitters in recent years in order to eventually gain a full-time FM signal that can cover the Twin Cities campus and beyond. A construction permit for a ten watt translator (W264BR 100.7 FM) at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights is valid through September 2007. Another permit to move the KDXL/KUOM transmitter a few miles and roughly triple its height above ground was also granted. An application for a 99 watt transmitter at 104.5 FM in Minneapolis was still under consideration as of December 2004. So far, all of Radio K's frequencies are broadcast by class D transmitters, the lowest grade in North America.
The station is partially supported by donations, and frequent listeners (of which there are about 25,000) are implored to "Buy a Watt" in fundraising drives known as "PowerSurges." Approximately 40% of the station's funding comes from this support, while the rest comes from money provided by the state and federal governments, along with the University of Minnesota. Radio K has put out a series of music compilations under the title Stuck on AM, featuring live recordings. The most recent version, volume 4, was released in 2003.
- (June 20, 2003). The History of University Radio. University of Minnesota Heritage Trail. Accessed November 22, 2004.
- Charles William Taussig (1922). Abstract from The Book of Radio (pp. 191–202). Accessed November 22, 2004.
- Brian Lambert (October 31, 2003). U station passes the test with 'real music-lovers'. St. Paul Pioneer Press. Accessed December 2, 2004.
- Jeff Miller (editor). A Chronology of AM Radio Broadcasting 1900-1960. Accesed January 5, 2005.
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