January 19th, 2024 by Gary Osberg

57 years ago tomorrow, a telegram arrived at our studio on the third floor of Wimmer Hall on the campus of St. John’s University, authorizing KSJR to go on the air.  The first KSJR radio broadcast was on January 22, 1967. The first line uttered by engineer Dan Rieder was, “Heed my words, Earth People. You have 10 minutes to live.” The first concert aired was a pre-recorded concert by the Cleveland Orchestra. What began as Minnesota Education Radio became Minnesota Public Radio on January 1, 1975. 

Since then, MPR has grown to a network of 46 radio stations reaching nearly 1,000,000 listeners every week.  MPR has earned nearly 1,000 broadcasting and journalism awards, including seven George Foster Peabody Awards, six Robert F. Kennedy Journalism awards, a prestigious Alfred I duPont Columbia University Gold Baton Award and a Grammy Award. Programs and podcasts produced by Minnesota Public Radio’s parent company American Public Media, reach over 18 million listeners each week. 

This is one version of the story of how Bill Kling was selected to lead the creation of what has become the largest network of public radio stations in the United States. It was written by the first Collegeville Studio intern, Ellen Newkirk.

“The Saint John’s University monks chose Bill Kling to help start their public radio station, Minnesota Education Radio, because of his “bright mind” – literally. SJU graduate Marty Mahowald told Ellen the story of Bill Kling’s selection as the station’s first leader as told by his professor Fr. Gunther Rolfson. In the 1960s, Saint John’s had a mandatory lights-out policy at 10pm when the faculty residents would flip a switch that turned off all power on each floor of the residence halls. However, one evening, during a walk around campus , Fr. Gunther noticed a light illuminating from a single room in Benet Hall.

The next day, Fr. Gunther used a master key to enter the room and found a system rigged to keep the power on after the switch was flipped each night. The room belonged to Bill Kling. Eventually, the monks decided Kling’s innovative and determined spirit was just what they needed for their new endeavor. According to Mahowald, Fr. Gunther said: “We knew that starting a new campus radio station would present struggles, budget challenges and many other issues to deal with and it would take someone with a lot of moxie to lead it through to success.” It turned out to be a very good decision; Kling served as president of Minnesota Public Radio until 2010 and created one of the greatest public radio station networks in the country. “  Ellen Newkirk, CSB, Class of 2013.

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping-stone. Close the door on the past.  You don’t try to forget the mistake, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”  Johnny Cash    

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