MPR must revamp strategy to keep up

With changes in the studio and a new competitor, The Current will have to rethink its future.

Martha Pietruszewski

I dislike country music, I’m not a fan of talk shows and I’m sick of listening to the same songs over and over again. That leaves me with one radio station: 89.3 The Current.

The station is a local favorite among the indie college crowd and 52-year-old hipsters like my dad. But lately, its coolness has been falling through the cracks.

The cool factor of The Current has come into question with the recent firing of Barb Abney. Abney was beloved by many listeners of The Current, including Lizzo, a local favorite.

What I enjoy about The Current is its sense of community. Firing one of its own is a pretty harsh move for this local radio station.

The only explanation the station offered was that Abney was let go in a “programming decision.”

The Current needs to fight to regain that sense of community and to create an even more welcoming environment.

For example, it should hire DJs from all walks of life to relate more with its audience. I’m pretty sure there are more people interested in good music around the Twin Cities than just white, aging people.

The welcoming factor is not helped by a sense of exclusivity.

Minnesota Public Radio hosts events such as The Current’s annual “Birthday Party” and “Rock the Garden,” which are both great celebrations of music. However, getting early admission to these events requires a membership to Minnesota Public Radio.

Requiring a membership for these events makes The Current feel like an A-list club that listeners often can’t join. I often tune out during the membership drives because they’re simply annoying.

However, I understand that these membership drives are effective at raising money. The company needs to focus on making these membership drives more listener-friendly and accessible for those who want access into the coolest shows.

No one wants their daily dose of the Arctic Monkeys interrupted by a request for money.

The Current also needs to be wary of its competitors. For years, it was the go-to music station for discovering new, alternative hit songs. Now, K-TWIN has rebranded as 96.3 and is loading its on-air playlist with Current listener favorites.

Starting in February, Go 96.3 is also allowing its on-air personalities to choose what they are going to play — something Joe Pohlad, executive vice president of Northern Lights Broadcasting, claims will contribute to the station’s originality.

Luckily for Minnesota Public Radio, change is not always a bad thing. These trouble spots for 89.3 and the shakeup with Abney’s firing have opened up an opportunity for them to grow and change their strategy.

The Current needs to continue interacting with its listener base as much as possible. It should hold events right here at the University of Minnesota campus to increase awareness of the station among college students and to show that being a member isn’t always a bad thing.

Let’s hope 89.3 takes the initiative to be creative and “Bangarang” instead of heading in the direction of “Closing Time.”