Radio K broadcasts valuable to listeners

The University’s more than 37,000 students have a low-power AM radio station that must go off the air at sundown. Radio K is facing a difficult situation in the Twin Cities market, but it is doing an admirable job of serving the needs of students and the greater community. With luck, this service will be even better in the near future.
Radio K is not a 24-hour station because years ago the Board of Regents declined to purchase a 24-hour license. Unfortunately, an East Coast station operating at the same amplitude jumped on the opportunity. Since AM radio waves travel much farther at night, Radio K must stop broadcasting after sundown to avoid interfering with the licensed signal.
Radio K is not an FM station for the same reason. The University had the opportunity years ago to buy an affordable FM license. However, the regents thought FM would not succeed, so they again declined. Now all Federal Communications Commission sanctioned frequencies in the Twin Cities are taken.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 further complicated the situation, making it almost impossible for the University to acquire an FM license. The act deregulated the industry, which allowed companies to own up to eight stations in a market. It also made the cost of a station skyrocket. Currently an FM license in the area would cost $3 million to $5 million.
In the Twin Cities, three media conglomerates own 16 stations. While this concentration of stations into the hands of a few corporations hurts musical variety a great deal, it dramatically increases the importance of Radio K to the area. These corporate stations are unwilling to risk much in the way of playing music not produced by a major recording label. Radio K, on the other hand, revels in playing obscure music. While their style is not for everyone, there is no denying the importance of an outlet for new artists. If Radio K and other college stations like it did not exist, many artists now considered mainstream, like REM, might never have become popular. The Backstreet Boys may have their place, but so do Long Hind Legs and Belle and Sebastian.
Radio K is on the verge of improving its situation dramatically. According to program director Michael Helget, Radio K is completing a deal with an FM station that does not broadcast at night. If the deal goes through, Radio K will use this signal at night, enabling a 24-hour broadcast. This kind of willingness to cooperate is the hallmark of not-for-profit radio.
The Board of Regents and the rest of the University community should support Radio K in its effort to become a 24-hour station. It is a good way to build community and will cost the University little to nothing, as the station has been saving money to fund the endeavor for a few years.
Radio K is the kind of institution that colleges should promote. It welcomes all voices and gives those voices an opportunity to speak. The $1.02 every student pays to Radio K per quarter this year goes to one of the best organizations student services fees support.