Wednesday, September 24, 2008

AMPERS—A Brief History and a New Subsidiary

By Maggie Montgomery

The man in that photo is Jim Gullickson. “Gully” is president of AMPERS (which also calls itself “Independent Public Radio”) and general manager of KMSU in Mankato.

91.7 KAXE is one of 12 member stations of AMPERS, the Association of MN Public Educational Radio Stations. One of KAXE’s founders, Rich McClear, was one of the organization’s original board members.

According to a personal history of AMPERS written by founding member and current manager of the University of MN’s Radio K in the Twin Cities, Andy Marlow, the AMPERS stations originally came together to address issues related to unfair distribution of NTIA money in Minnesota. In the early ‘70s, the MN Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) was channeling all federal funds for public radio infrastructure improvements to MPR (then called MER—Minnesota Educational Radio) and Twin Cities Public Television (TCPT).

Several other stations statewide were pulled together as an advisory board to the HECB in an attempt to address this inequity, but the effort eventually failed because MER and TCPT refused to participate.

The group continued to meet in order to address MER’s monopoly on NTIA funds for radio in MN. Eventually the group found other common interests, formalized, and became AMPERS.

Andy’s history addresses an interesting facet of Northern Community Radio’s history: “Early on, we worked hard to differentiate ourselves from Minnesota Public Radio. Few people knew we existed as an organization. There was a lot of anger at MPR's behavior, particularly attempts to take over some of our stations by MPR (those included KUOM, KUMD, KMSU and others), MPR's efforts to prevent KAXE and KFAI from being licensed, and MPR's devious "theft" of the name Minnesota Public Radio from Rich McClear's effort to establish a station in Grand Rapids. The not-for-profit corporation created by McClear and his community supporters was originally incorporated as Minnesota Public Radio. Bill Kling of Minnesota Educational Radio and Marion Watson of KUOM convinced McClear to give up the name so it could be used generically by all public stations in Minnesota. McClear changed the name of the corporation to Northern Community Radio. Less than three months later, Kling changed to name Minnesota Educational Radio to Minnesota Public Radio.”

Andy, who is retiring from Radio K in early 2009, described several phases in AMPERS history. He does not describe the most recent phase—AMPERS has changed its name to Independent Public Radio. The stations are working together on a joint underwriting project that has led to the formation of a for-profit subsidiary called Independent Community Media, or ICM.

ICM was envisioned as a marketing and ad agency run for the benefit of AMPERS/IPR stations. It was formed because IPR’s joint underwriting ventures were so strong that they jeopardized the organization’s nonprofit status. Through ICM, potential underwriters can contract with any AMPERS/IPR station or stations. ICM can also make ad placements for other media. At the end of the year, all profits are distributed to the AMPERS/IPR stations. Jim Lowe is the vice president of statewide underwriting for ICM. If your business is interested in marketing through ICM, his phone number is 651/293-0077.

The concept is brand new! All of the AMPERS/IPR member stations will be monitoring ICM to see how the concept works in the coming months.

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