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Minnesota Public Radio: Kigin discusses future of public broadcasting

Tom Kigin, executive vice president of Minnesota Public Radio, speaks about a few issues MPR is facing Thursday night at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Bemidji. Pioneer Photo/Michelle Bedard

As Minnesota Public Radio and industry look to the future, a few issues they face are funding, the Internet and the decline of traditional newspapers, MPR Executive Vice President Tom Kigin said Thursday night in Bemidji.

About 65 people joined Kigin and the regional leadership of MPR at the Hampton Inn & Suites for a discussion about the future of public broadcasting in the state and the nation.

MPR has two stations in Bemidji - KCRB and KNBJ.

"The reason we're here today is because public radio matters to us and it matters to our community," said Kristi Booth, MPR regional network director based in Bemidji.

During his talk, Kigin highlighted issues MPR faces.

MPR, he said, has taken extraordinary steps this year to assure that it is a good steward of the funds it receives from its listeners, underwriters, educational sponsors and government. However, he said, the economic climate is such that MPR is and will be stressed.

"We are fortunate to live in Minnesota," he said. "Our listeners have been generous."

During MPR's last fund drive, it reached its goal of $1.1 million, but the average gift was down about 10 percent, he said. Also, MPR's underwriting has declined by 20 percent and the value of MPR's endowment is down nearly 30 percent.

MPR Director of Public Affairs Jeff Nelson noted that MPR will receive $2.65 million throughout the next two years from Minnesota's Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

He said MPR also was granted $500,000. MPR hopes to use this money to build new stations in Ely, Hinckley and International Falls, he said.

MPR, according to Kigin, will have to be a good steward and creative to maintain the quality of public radio service that listeners have come to expect.

The Internet, Kigin said, also has impacted the radio industry and MPR. He said people can now access MPR's radio services virtually any place in the world via the Internet.

"Minnesota Public Radio believes that technology is our friend," said Kigin, noting that MPR has embraced the Internet.

Kigin said another issue facing MPR is the decline of traditional newspapers.

He said the proliferation of immediately available electronic media has created a significant decline in subscriptions to traditional printed newspapers and a consequent reduction in their advertising support.

MPR intends to play a major role in responding to this shift, both on its radio stations and Web sites, Kigin said.

At the discussion Thursday night, MPR invited those in attendance to become part of MPR's Advocates Network. The network is a statewide group that supports the work of MPR and other public broadcasters at the state Legislature and with the U.S. Congress.