Now that KMOJ-FM (89.9) has gone Uptown, that doesn’t mean the longtime noncommercial station has forsaken its original roots.
In its temporary studios on the third floor of the Rainbow Building, located on the always-busy northwest corner of Lake Street and Hennepin, the station still serves the community, and KMOJ Station Manager Kelvin Quarles wants to quickly set the record straight amid rumors to the contrary.
“We do want to move back to North Minneapolis,” Quarles reaffirmed. “That is where our roots are [and where] the majority of our listeners are.”
Since its debut in the late 1970s and until early this year, KMOJ has been based in North Minneapolis as the Twin Cities’ first and only Black noncommercial station. The station had to move from its Girard Avenue North headquarters after Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) officials informed them last year that the building was deemed unsafe due to structural damage.
Originally believing that they had at least a year to leave, Quarles said KMOJ’s planned move last October to another Northside location fell through when the building owner reconsidered his decision. Then, around Christmastime last year, KMOJ found themselves in another set of unplanned circumstances.
Quarles recalled, “On Thursday prior to Christmas Eve, we got a phone call from Minneapolis Public Housing saying that the building was in structurally worse shape than they thought, and that we had to move.” Originally given 60 days to move out, “though that would have been inconvenient, we said okay. But the very next day, I get a call and was told at that point that we had to get out that day. That’s virtually impossible for anybody who has to move from an apartment or a home to move in a day, let alone talking about a radio station or any business.
“We knew that it would be very difficult to find [a new location] in the next two weeks,” said Quarles.
As KMOJ requested more time in vain, according to Quarles, “We decided at that point that we should have had at least 30 days notice, [but] we were being told by [MPHA] to hurry up and get out of the building.” MPHA officials did agree to extend the station extra time to vacate the building.
“How much more?” asked Quarles, who then was told, “‘One more week.’ I got on the horn and called moving companies. We got out that Friday [January 5].”
KMOJ’s “state of flux,” which began “from January fifth when we actually moved out of our location until we got back sometime in early April,” noted Quarles, coincided with several untruths that quickly ran through the community. Rumors circulated such as “We didn’t pay the rent” to “problems with the board” to “getting kicked out” to “KMOJ went off the air.”
“That was not the case at all,” reaffirmed Quarles. “One of the things that I was really proud of was the fact that we didn’t actually go off the air because of the move. The move was legit. The structural damage was legit.”
During the interim, station listeners heard music played via automation. “Some listeners like it [without air personalities] because we were playing all music and less talk. Some say they missed the air personalities,” said Quarles.
Still, such negativity bothered him at times. “There are people who say they love [KMOJ], but they constantly try to tear it down,” he continued.
“They are out there in the papers spitting out untruths about it. If KMOJ goes away because people are throwing out these untruths, there may not be another radio station like this here in the Cities that services our community.”
However, he was encouraged that “the majority of our listeners really love this radio station,” a degree of loyalty not often seen in commercial radio, Quarles pointed out.
KMOJ is now leasing space from the Ackerburg Group, which owns other area properties and is working with station officials on finding a permanent location. “They really were a godsend for us,” said Quarles, who added that the station signed a two-year lease that will give the station enough to time to work on finding the right location.
“We have big dreams for the Center for Communication and Development (which operates KMOJ),” Quarles, a 20-year broadcasting veteran, pledged. “We need to change the perception of this organization. For so long, KMOJ has been a great station for the community but a stepchild as a business. We want to service the community, but we also want to be respected in the business world.”
Since being hired as station manager in 2004, Quarles said he has seen both internal and external changes. “The biggest thing is that we have increased our revenue,” he noted.
“I think that not only the people who are involved with the radio station, but also the community as a whole now are beginning to understand that ‘nonprofit’ does not means ‘broke.’ We got bills just like any other organization.
“The second thing is that I’m extremely proud of my staff,” Quarles said. “We have been very focused [not only] on cleaning up our sound, but also on our public service programs. If anyone in our community does something that is not beneficial to our community, we are going to report on it, but we are going to be accurate. We are not going to have biased perspectives. We are very conscious of what we are trying to do for our people.”
He also wants new station equipment, such as new computers and CD players, and even a station vehicle. “That is our goal,” he said. “We want KMOJ to operate like a legit radio station. I think we have been legit for 30 years, but the things that we haven’t had, for whatever reasons, I want to start getting those things in place.”
As KMOJ grows, Quarles believes, so does the community. “With KMOJ in this market, the NorthPoints could grow, the Southside Community Center can grow, and all the other nonprofit organizations that are here to help people could grow. But without KMOJ, it is going to be very difficult for that to happen.”
Quarles added that community support is also needed to make it happen. “We are going to need help from businesses and corporations to help make this thing fly. This isn’t Kelvin Quarles’ campaign. There are too many listeners out here that depend on this station for their information. Too many people out here depend on this radio station for their news and all the things that help them in their lives.
“It don’t matter who is in charge or who is on the board,” Quarles surmised. “Let’s make sure that the station stays there, and then we can make sure all the other things come into play. That is what I really want to see happen.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.