After 15 years, Steve Nelson can still remember exactly what was said at 6 a.m. on Oct. 1, 1993 in a studio on the top floor of the Rarig Center:
“The oldest radio station in the state is now the newest.”
With these words, Radio K began its first broadcast as the official radio station of the University.
Oct. 1 marks the 15th anniversary of Radio K. The small station that almost wasn’t allowed to be created, will celebrate the occasion with an anniversary show on October 8 at First Avenue.
“That moment for me was electric,” Nelson said of being in the studio as Jim Musil, the general manager, fired up the station transmitter and spoke those words before playing, “Do you remember Rock n’ Roll Radio?” by The Ramones.
Nelson, who works now as the program director for The Current on Minnesota Public Radio , said he remembers staying at the station overnight to finish putting together promos that were going to be used on the air.
“We had this vision of creating this station that would serve the local music community, serve local music lovers, who weren’t being served elsewhere and create a place where students could learn and grow and become professional broadcasters and all this work had culminated into this one five-minute stretch of radio,” Nelson said.
“The day we flipped the switch was a rush,” Musil said. “It was the most amazing thing.”
Musil, who is credited with starting Radio K, said numerous stunts, such as giving 77 haircuts simultaneously, were performed that day to promote the launch of Radio K.
Prior to Radio K, WMMR was the University radio station, but was only able to broadcast to a few buildings and residence halls on campus.
In the early 90s, as the station almost fell victim to budget cuts, Musil said he lobbied for a merger of WMMR with local station KUOM , allowing for WMMR to reach a broader audience beyond the residence halls.
Musil said the efforts were met with a lot of opposition from University administration, who weren’t positive college students could run a real radio station.
“They were worried we would embarrass the University,” Musil said.
Musil and the station employees visited other stations like at Brown University and found allies in local broadcasters such as KSTP’s Stanley Hubbard , to help convince the University they were able.
Eventually, the University agreed to allow the formation of Radio K, but with a three-year trial period for the station to prove itself.
“I think we exceeded most people’s expectations,” Musil said of that first year.
The station was named the best radio station in the Twin Cities in 1994 by City Pages, and established itself as a source for new independent music.
Mark Wheat , who served as the program manager after Musil, said the success of Radio K can be attributed to its location.
Wheat said the Twin Cities has a culture of being supportive of the local music scene, adding stations like Radio K couldn’t happen anywhere else.
“I think the school should be as proud of Radio K as they are of the Gophers,” Wheat said.
Andy Marlow, the current station manager who has worked at Radio K since its beginning, said the station also succeeded because there was nothing else in the market like it at the time.
Marlow said the station has also made smart choices through the years such as acquiring an FM signal and deciding to become a 24-hour station in 2003.
Radio K also has a history of attracting big names, such as Everclear, on the music circuit.
Often, these in-studio performances, created some of the best moments for Radio K employees.
Nelson remembered when the band Nova Mob came to the studio to play on the air.
Nelson said lead singer Grant Hart brought in a box of kittens he picked up on the way to the studio and announced his intention to give the kittens out to listeners.
The studio was thrown into panic when one of the kittens escaped the cardboard box, lodging itself inside a speaker while Nova Mob was performing.
“No animals were hurt,” Nelson said.
With a reputation for playing many immerging artists, current Marketing Director Machen Davis said the station receives 150 music demos each week, and each is listened to.
Davis, who is planning the 15th anniversary celebration at First Avenue, said Radio K’s success comes down to a simple fact:
“We are a radio station still having fun, and still committed to the music.”