Facts and figures about Minnesota Public Radio:
-- MPR covers 98 percent of the state's geography, as well as bordering communities in seven states and Canadian provinces. The Minnesota-based network includes 32 stations and 19 translators, which repeat a station's signal.
-- With nearly 87,000 members, MPR has the largest listener membership of any community-supported public radio network in the United States.
-- Nearly 15 percent of Minnesotans over age 12 listen to MPR every week.
-- MPR's national broadcast programs form the largest group of nationally distributed programs of any public radio network in the United States.
-- Fourteen programs, including "A Prairie Home Companion," "Sound Money," "The Splendid Table" and "Saint Paul Sunday," make up MPR's national production unit. Together, these broadcasts reach an estimated 7.6 million listeners weekly.
-- MPR's news and entertainment programming has won more than 790 awards, including four Peabodys, two Edward R. Murrow Awards and a Gold Baton at this year's Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards.
-- MPR distributes Radio Talking Book, a closed-circuit reading network for the blind and vision-impaired. The signal is "piggy-backed" on MPR's frequency and reaches about 10,000 people in the Upper Midwest.
-- With a library of about 45,000 compact discs, MPR produces a 24-hour-a-day classical music stream for public radio stations that gets 1.5 million listeners every week.
(Source: Minnesota Public Radio)
BYLINE1:By JEFF BAENEN
ST. PAUL -- When Garrison Keillor gives the week's news from Lake Wobegon, he conjures up images of small-town Minnesota -- the Sidetrack Tap, the Chatterbox Cafe, Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery.
But Minnesota Public Radio, the producer of Keillor's popular "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show, is anything but a mom-and-pop operation.
Housed in a four-story building in downtown St. Paul with a wraparound news ticker, MPR has grown from one station in central Minnesota to a nearly $39 million network that blankets the state. It produces 14 national programs, including Keillor's show, that are heard by 7.6 million listeners each week.
And if you listen closely, you might hear a discordant note amid the Beethoven sonatas and polite discussions of current affairs: It's the sound of grumbling as MPR expands into Southern California and challenges National Public Radio as a purveyor of programming for the nation's noncommercial stations.
MPR moved into California in early 2000, taking over operation of Pasadena public station KPCC-FM. MPR announced plans to triple the station's budget and turn it into a major local news outlet.
A few months later, MPR acquired Marketplace Productions, producer of the popular business show "Marketplace," from the University of Southern California.
Some Los Angeles rivals, worried about competition for the same listeners and financial support, wonder why a St. Paul-based operation is expanding into an area 1,500 miles away.
"The problem is that Minnesota belongs in Minnesota, not in Los Angeles. That's the problem," said general manager Ruth Seymour of public radio station KCRW-FM in Santa Monica, Calif.
MPR is sensitive to the criticism.
Spokesman Will Haddeland contends that Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, was being underserved by radio. Before KPCC's makeover, he said, its audience was so small it was in danger of losing its funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Since the change, KPCC's audience has grown 37 percent to more than 300,000 listeners, he said.
And he points out that Southern California Public Radio, an entity created after MPR took over KPCC, has 11 of its 13 board members from California. (One of the other two is MPR founder and president Bill Kling.)
But Seymour, KCRW's general manager, questions why KPCC is competing head-to-head with her station by broadcasting such National Public Radio flagship programs as "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" at nearly the same time.
"And if you want to say that isn't competitive, two and two is also five," she said.
While the California stations are frank about the competition in that market, National Public Radio says it's not threatened by MPR's expansion even as Marketplace develops new programs that someday could be distributed nationally.
"We believe in strong public radio stations that service their communities," NPR President Kevin Klose said. And he had praise for Kling.
"I think Bill is very smart, very astute, very focused and has been extremely decent to both public radio and the state of Minnesota," Klose said.
While many states have public radio networks, and some have produced shows for national distribution, none have matched the growth of MPR or its membership base of nearly 87,000. For that, most industry people credit Kling, as well as Minnesotans' reputation for civic-mindedness and charitable giving.
Before National Public Radio even existed, Kling started MPR in 1967 as a single radio station at St. John's University in Collegeville, in central Minnesota. He's been president ever since and was a founding board member of National Public Radio three years later.
In 1980, when National Public Radio was reluctant to distribute "A Prairie Home Companion" nationally, Kling created American Public Radio (now known as Public Radio International) to distribute the show outside the region. And he set up lucrative, for-profit catalog companies to sell Powdermilk Biscuits T-shirts and other memorabilia from the show.
"Bill has set the model -- how to become rich in public broadcasting," KCRW's Seymour said. "The last thing we ever thought of was making a buck in public broadcasting."
Kling declined repeated interview requests for this story. But Haddeland, the MPR spokesman, said the network is bigger than any one person even if that person is Kling or Keillor.
And MPR is indeed big.
Keillor's show has a Saturday night audience of 3 million on more than 500 public stations. Marketplace Productions has an even larger audience -- about 3.7 million weekly -- for its programs.
MPR boasts of having the largest broadcast newsroom in the Upper Midwest, with more than 70 reporters, including 15 devoted to rural communities. The newsroom is headed by William Buzenberg, who once oversaw National Public Radio's news programs.
Haddeland notes that MPR has won every major broadcasting A history of Minnesota Public Radio:
1967 -- Minnesota Public Radio begins in Collegeville, Minn., after becoming a separate operation from St. John's University.
1969 -- MPR serves as incorporator and founding station for the startup of National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.
1969 -- Helps to establish Radio Talking Book, the nation's first closed-circuit reading network for the blind and vision-impaired.
1974 -- Begins Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion," now heard on 518 stations across the United States.
1980 -- Becomes the nation's importer for news broadcasts from the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
1987 -- MPR diversifies its revenue base under the leadership of the for-profit Greenspring Co., which leads to the creation of the Rivertown Trading Co. catalog company.
1998 -- Sells Rivertown Trading Co. to the Target Corp., allowing MPR to add $85.6 million to its permanent endowment. The endowment is now worth almost $106 million.
2000 -- Creates a new nonprofit organization, Southern California Public Radio, through a lease agreement with Pasadena City College, to operate KPCC-FM in Pasadena, which serves the Los Angeles basin.
2000 -- Acquires Marketplace Productions, producer of "The Savvy Traveler," "Marketplace Morning Report" and "Marketplace," giving MPR programs a total weekly listenership of about 7.6 million people.
2001 -- Two new MPR stations, WLSN-FM and WMLS-FM, go on the air in Grand Marais in northeastern Minnesota, bringing the number of stations in the MPR network to 32 stations and 19 translator stations.
(Source: Minnesota Public Radio)
award, including a Gold Baton this year at the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for an investigative documentary about Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. MPR developed the piece's producer, American RadioWorks, in partnership with National Public Radio to produce one-hour, in-depth news specials.
"The critics would say we shouldn't have sent reporters over to Kosovo. We shouldn't have sent reporters over to India to talk about genetically modified crops," Haddeland said. "But these things are important to do. ... And if we wouldn't do them, nobody else would."
Haddeland said MPR is trying to juggle more than one mission: Connecting all parts of Minnesota in a statewide radio system, for one, and producing national programming that benefits public radio listeners everywhere.
But even before its westward move, MPR was criticized at home by some commercial broadcasters and some lawmakers.
"MPR, in my opinion, is not as altruistic as people think it is," said Wayne Eddy, president, general manager and owner of 1,000-watt KYMN-AM in Northfield, about 40 miles south of Minneapolis.
Eddy sounds a familiar complaint among commercial broadcasters: that nonprofit MPR, with what he calls its "top-of-the-line bells and whistles and equipment," can outperform many for-profit stations.
Republican state Rep. Mike Osskopp, a commercial broadcaster from Lake City, said he's not envious of Minnesota Public Radio's success, but he does object to state subsidies for MPR.
"They're successful, but they keep coming to the taxpayers," Osskopp said.
Haddeland counters that state funding for Minnesota Public Radio does not go for salaries or operating expenses but for specific purposes, such as to build the new stations that recently went up in Grand Marais or to install backup generators for the statewide emergency alert system.
Gov. Jesse Ventura, shortly after his election, proposed eliminating state funding for public radio and television, saying at one point he wanted to see Keillor's W-2 form. He later backed off, citing fewer of what he considered "personal attacks" on him by public stations than other media.
In 1995, a state lawmaker questioned the use of station employees at MPR's for-profit sister company, the Rivertown Trading catalog business. MPR was cleared of any wrongdoing, and Rivertown was sold to Dayton Hudson Corp. -- now Target Corp. -- in 1998 to create an endowment for MPR that's now worth almost $106 million.
In an e-mail interview, Keillor recalled working for KUOM, the University of Minnesota public station, when MPR was founded and how MPR was doing "five times as much programming with half the staff" of KUOM.
"Now that it's (MPR) a big corporation with dozens of vice presidents, I'm waiting for some spunky little radio station to come riding into town and knock us off," Keillor said.
On the Net:
Minnesota Public Radio: http://www.mpr.org
National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org
A Prairie Home Companion: http://www.phc.mpr.org or http://www.prairiehome.org
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