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New radio station aimed at Somali-Americans

The low-power FM station KALY opened its doors in September, making it the first Somali-American station licensed by the Federal Communication Commission. 

Minneapolis-based Somali radio station KALY 101.7-FM aired its first news segment on Tuesday.
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi

Minnesota’s youngest radio station, KALY 101.7-FM, aired its first news segment this week for thousands of Somali-speaking audience members in the Minneapolis area.

The low-power FM station — which is operated by the nonprofit Somali American Community — opened its doors in September, making KALY the first Somali-American station licensed by the Federal Communication Commission

“Media is a powerful tool … and we need to be part of that power,” said KALY Executive Director Mahamed Cali. “You’ll be respected when you’re able to tell your own stories.” 

Cali and his team of volunteers operate from a tiny south Minneapolis studio, but their service is making a mark on local community programming: The station broadcasts a daily mix of Somali music, Islamic lectures and Somali language talk programming throughout the day.

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KALY’s mission, Cali explained, is to provide Somali-Americans with information about weather, important announcements, new laws that affect them and discussions about social issues. 

Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based media justice advocate group, helped set up KALY station, which rebroadcasts the daytime programing at night.

Other community radio

KALY isn’t the only local station that has recently hit the airwaves in the name of community service. According to the Prometheus Radio Project, St. Paul-based WEQY 104.7-FM was also established this summer.

“WEQY envisions a socially, economically and politically powerful East Side by capitalizing on its rich immigrant history and diverse communities,” states the station’s website.

It adds: “WEQY will serve the East Side as a community anchor, connecting and sparking dialogue across cultures and generations, educating the public, and broadcasting the voices of the East Side.”

Next year, two more community radio stations are expected to join the airwaves in the Twin Cities. The Frogtown Neighborhood Association of St. Paul and Pillsbury United Communities of Minneapolis will separately operate the two radio stations.

The increase of such radio operations comes as a result of the Local Community Radio Act, a change in the federal law that went into effect four years ago.

The law allowed hundreds of low-power radio stations across the country to join the airwaves, providing underrepresented communities a platform to amplify their voices.   

Building bridges

KALY’s current talk programming is in Somali, but the head of the station is planning to also air conversations in English. He said he hopes the station will become a bridge across cultures and languages.

“There is a gap between our community and the American community,” he added. And we will find ways to close it through our programs on the radio.”

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Through the first news segment, Cali has shown that he’s also bridging a gap between Minneapolis Somali-Americans and their homeland by airing news updates about their country. 

On Tuesday, for example, KALY radio — which has several correspondents contributing from major regions in Somalia — aired a story about regional leaders in Somalia who reached a peace deal after a deadly clash that claimed the lives of dozens of people.

Budget and training 

Cali explained that he’s still working on recruiting more volunteers to fill airtimes at the station. He’s also collaborating with KFAI, the longtime community volunteer station, to help train current and prospective KALY volunteers. 

“I am knocking on every door to make sure the station succeeds,” Cali said. “We are asking for grants. We are asking for training and support. Everything.”

In August, the station obtained $26,000 from the city of Minneapolis’ Community Innovation Fund through the Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Association and the Somali American Community.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi