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Jazz station KBEM: ‘We’re good’ even if North High closes

MinnPost readers have asked me what will happen to KBEM-FM if Minneapolis officials close North High School as planned in 2014.

MinnPost readers have asked me what will happen to KBEM-FM if Minneapolis officials close North High School as planned in 2014. The jazz station is housed in the North building.

“What I’ve gotten from communications is, we’re good,” station manager Michele Jansen says.

That seems to confirm comments Minneapolis schools superintendent Bernadeia Johnson made earlier this week on MPR. Johnson will be a guest on KBEM Thursday at 7:30 a.m., so I’m sure she’ll provide more details then, but Jansen has some strong arguments about why KBEM fans can probably exhale.

Most importantly, the station gets zero money from the district. “We’re self-sufficient, and right now we support two instructor salaries,” Jansen says. “It behooves the district to support us.”

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That’s not to say the school system’s relationship with the station is unimportant. The district charges no rent, and provides students for KBEM’s training programs.

Jansen acknowledges that since North High’s enrollment cratered a few years ago, the student population has dropped from 150 a year to 30. “But we’re now recruiting more students through our online class, after-school programs and summer internships,” she says.

KBEM would face a problem if the district sells or closes North High’s building, which currently houses a charter high school among other non-school district programs. Jansen admits moving the three-studio, four-control-room operation would be “a pretty significant task,” but adds, “I’d be totally surprised if that happens.”

KBEM’s $950,000-a-year budget pays 10 staffers. Half the support comes from 9,000 members, 5,000 of whom donate annually. The station, by the way, has a big fundraiser planned for Saturday-Sunday Oct. 23-24, with food-and-music events and International Market Square and Vic’s Restaurant.

KBEM gets another $200,000 from the state Department of Transportation for running traffic reports every 10 minutes 6-9 a.m. and 3:30-7 p.m. The rest comes from foundations, the state-supported AMPERS community-radio network, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and a bit of state Legacy Fund dough.

Another reason the district ties are important: KBEM’s educational component provides a “very attractive area for philanthropy,” Jansen notes, though the station fears it could lose CPB funding due to low listenership. CPB recently pulled $50,000 from University of Minnesota music station KUOM.

KBEM’s ratings are higher than KUOM’s — a 0.5 share of the Twin Cities listening audience between 6 a.m. and midnight. That’s way above AMPERS member KFAI, a couple of tenths behind KMOJ and about a quarter of KSJN, MPR’s Classical station. “We have between 27,000 and 29,000 people who listen daily,” Jansen says. “A lot of listeners are not donating.”

But the CPB formula doesn’t just depend on listenership; it also takes into account community support (excluding government grants), one reason KBEM is making next weekend’s fundraising push. If you listen, you should pony up.