St. Paul Pioneer Press
October 25, 1999

Brian Lambert

Staff Columnist

With every new buyout or merger, the Twin Cities radio world shrinks a little bit more. Always one of the most ``under-radioed'' markets in the country -- meaning relatively few quality signals in relation to the size of its population -- the Twin Cities' air waves are now controlled, by and large, by four companies: Clear Channel/AMFM, ABC/Disney, Infinity/CBS and Hubbard Broadcasting. The first three are gigantic, out-of-state entities with dozens, if not hundreds, of other stations and businesses to manage and factor into their broadcast decisions.

With that scale in mind, maybe we should pay attention to, if not outright cheer on, the smaller players.

Take for example, KARP-FM (96.3) out of Glencoe, Minn., (with a tower located eight miles south of Hutchinson, or approximately 53 miles from the Interstate 94 river crossing in the middle of the Twin Cities). One of 13 stations owned by the Mankato-based Linder radio group, KARP recently received a permit to begin construction on a new 659-foot tower four miles west of Watertown, Minn. (about 30 miles from the Mississippi.) With a power increase from 50,000 to 100,000 watts, company president John Linder and KARP general manager John Mons have hopes of laying, as Linder says, ``A Kool 108-quality signal'' across``12,000 square kilometers'' and ``just under 2,000,000'' east-central Minnesotans.

``If everything goes well,'' Linder says, ``we should be on the air from the new tower by early next year.''

Engineering projections and reality are, of course, two different things. No one can know just how good a signal will be and how far it'll reach until a tower is actually up and connected to the juice. But Linder's effort is nothing less than to become some kind of a player in the metro market.

What he intends to do with that status, if he achieves it, remains to be seen. Given today's build-to-sell entrepreneurial frenzy, it's reasonable to assume Linder will be (wide) open to offers from any of the aforementioned monster sharks. He acknowledges that a Twin Cities-penetrating signal as good as he hopes it will be will ``significantly enhance the value'' of KARP (and you gotta love those call letters.)

For the moment, and privately, his big-city competitors are both unimpressed and uninterested. ``It's strictly a minor-league deal,'' sniffs one local general manager, ``and that's all it'll ever be. I seriously doubt they're going to be able to lay that good a signal across the entire metro, and if they don't, they're nothing better than a handful of other half-metro signals, including (ABC/Disney's) The Zone. The name of the game today is mass, and I don't see them having it."

Linder also says he's given no serious thought to changing KARP's format, currently an eclectic mix of country and '60s-through-'80s classics. He left open the possibility everything could change once the new tower is up and running.

The second example of a small(er) guy fighting the good, populist fight, is our old friend, Alan Freed, a.k.a. Mr. Beat Radio. Freed, a smart operator in the realms of both radio technology and free speech, was back in federal court last week fighting the Federal Communication Commission's enforcement of archaic prohibitions against low-power radio operators -- people broadcasting on 100 watts of power or less.

Some of you might remember the FCC seizing broadcast equipment from Freed's Loring Park apartment in the fall of 1996. Since then, Freed has become a leading advocate nationally for low-power ``micro-broadcasting,'' in part because ``normal'' commercial radio in large urban areas has become a game accessible only to mega-corporations and on a gargantuan scale.

Freed's immediate aim is to persuade the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to send his battle back to District Court. Beyond that is the problem of getting the ever-glacial FCC to finally decide on a proposal to wise up and offer 100-watt-or-less broadcast licenses to people like himself.

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