You might remember WCAL-FM, St. Olaf College’s classical music station. It was sold to Minnesota Public Radio four years ago and turned into hipster heaven, The Current.
Then again, you might not remember it. But some of WCAL’s listeners will apparently never forget their station and never give up the fight to have its sale overturned.
In this case, Beethoven refuses to roll over. Save WCAL, a group dedicated to reversing the transaction, is asking a Rice County District Court to rescind the $10.5 million sale and turn the proceeds over to a charitable trust.
“The resolution our organization has always preferred, and we have never wavered from this position, is that the sale would be voided,” said Ruth Sylte, director of Save WCAL.
She said it’s now clear that St. Olaf never really wanted to run the station and can no longer be depended on to run the charitable trust that once funded the station’s operations.
“We are asking St. Olaf to be removed as trustee,” she said.
The case is expected to be heard in October.
“The problem is that WCAL radio station, which was a National Public Radio station … was a charitable trust built over the course of 80-plus years with literally the donations of tens of thousands of donors and millions and millions of dollars,” Sylte said.
The response from management at The Current and St. Olaf to this latest legal maneuver by Save WCAL is, essentially, a sigh. Years have passed since the sale — years in which The Current has established itself as yet another successful arm of noncommercial MPR’s empire.
Save WCAL’s efforts to overturn the sale were bolstered this past June when a Rice County District judge stated in a ruling on the disposal of some WCAL funds that the station was, as Save WCAL has long maintained, part of a charitable trust and that St. Olaf was the trustee of that trust.
The judge wrote that he was “absolutely mystified as to why the State Attorney General did not become involved in a sale of trust assets valued at $12 million when it is its statutory obligation to do so. Let’s hope this type of activity never happens again.”
Steve Blodgett, director of marketing and communications for St. Olaf, said “St. Olaf has from Day One maintained that this was not a charitable trust situation.”
He said the judge was expressing a nonbinding opinion in that ruling and that the final determination of whether or not WCAL was a charitable trust asset has yet to be determined.
MPR Senior Communications Specialist Christina Schmitt likewise speaks with a bit of a patient, long-suffering tone as she again discusses the saga of WCAL. “The sale, everything about it was transparent. All the facts, all the funding — everything was completely transparent. We applied to the FCC, and they approved it. Everything was completely on the up and up.”
Schmitt says MPR has no intention of seeing The Current’s license or property returned to St. Olaf or any other entity.
“We believe the sale is completely valid and there will be no reason for the sale not to be valid.”
An official statement from the school is dismissive: “We have every reason to expect that Save WCAL will not be any more successful in their efforts now than in the past and that the merits of their complaints will be found to be baseless.”
Passionate about classical music
Schmitt isn’t entirely indifferent to thorny Save WCAL, however. “They’re very passionate about classical music and they didn’t want to lose their station,” she said. “We understand that. We love classical music, too.”
Sylte refuses to listen to MPR’s classical music station. She now avoids the radio, preferring to load up her iPod with classical music, as well as reggae, jazz and other genres.
“Believe me, I never planned on being involved in this for four years,” the Northfield resident and St. Olaf alum said with a laugh. A minute later, though, she discusses the emotion fueling her group.
“Angry? Are we angry at what has happened? Yes. Is it a kind of a rabid anger that is driving us? Absolutely not. It is a sense of a justice,” she said.