KUMD 103.3 FM Celebrating 60 Years as the Duluth Alternative Station

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Reggae? Check. Bluegrass, Jazz, and Hip-Hop? You got it. Educational programming, politics, arts and culture?

Affirmative. Believe it or not, all of these options and many more are available to you by tuning in to 103.3 KUMD FM, a radio station housed in the basement of UMD’s Humanities building.

With its status as an independent radio station, KUMD can make the kinds of listener-focused choices that other stations cannot. On April 21st, the day that beloved music legend Prince died, KUMD tossed its programming plans for the day and dedicated the rest of the afternoon to playing The Purple One’s music. Anyone listening to KUMD at this time could grieve together, in a way. It is the ability to offer these kinds of special touches that cause people to become loyal listeners for years to come.

AMAZING VARIETY WITH DEEP ROOTS IN DULUTH

Known as “The Duluth Alternative,” KUMD has something for everyone. It is technically classified as a variety station, although it really can’t be pigeonholed. KUMD prides itself on offering eclectic music and programming to fit every taste, and every age. You can even safely tune
in all day with your littles in the room, with the knowledge that it’s a family-friendly station.

KUMD was established in 1957, when it was known as WDTH–short for Duluth. It has always been affiliated with UMD, and its broadcast license is held by the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents.

But, KUMD is not just a student station, says program director and on-air personality Maija Jenson. “We are Duluth Public Radio, a bridge between UMD and the larger community, where conversations can be held and ideas can be shared. We try to be a part of making arts and culture
a centerpiece in our community, especially for people in rural areas,” Jenson says.

2016 and 2017 are huge milestone years for KUMD, signifying its deep roots in our community. The station will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2017. And in 2016, many significant anniversaries are being celebrated. Laura Erickson’s “For the Birds” program is celebrating 30 years.
“Tips for Hardy Gardeners,” hosted by Tom Kasper, is celebrating 20 years. And, both “Northland Morning” and “Highway 61 Revisited” with John Bushey are turning 25.

A GLOBAL FOLLOWING

KUMD is a member-supported public radio station. They run a tight ship on a shoestring budget, and are kept afloat through small business support, individual members/benefactors, and plenty of volunteers. That equates to minimal advertising, and more music. KUMD employs eight full-time employees, two parttime employees, and ten student employees.

103.3 FM can be accessed across an 80-mile radius covering the Twin Ports to Madeline Island, and Hinckley to parts of the Iron Range. KUMD boasts fans across the globe, from Pakistan to the UK. Listeners can tune in using the station’s livestreaming service, found on their website, kumd.org. And folks who miss their favorite program can visit KUMD’s website anytime to catch it at their convenience.

With a solid network of partnerships including NPR, Pacifica Network, and Ampers, KUMD does a great job of keeping the Northland in touch with news outside of our little corner of the world. Programs like World Café and Democracy Now keep us abreast of the world’s happenings.
And musical lineups such as Caribbean Roots and The Latin Alternative introduce us to music of the world, while providing plenty of educational commentary.

AN INDEPENDENT VOICE

Vicki Jacoba, KUMD station manager, is proud of the station’s reputation as an independent voice in the community. “First and foremost,” she says, “everyone who works or volunteers at the station is driven to make the programming unique and personal. Everyone is focused on
finding a way to connect with our listeners, giving them something they can’t get anywhere else.”

She continues, “Most of our listeners tune in to hear the amazing handpicked eclectic music, some for the local public affairs programming, and others for the special one-of-a-kind programs like “Folk Migrations,” John Bushey’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Saturday Afternoon Blues,” or “The Basement.” From music requests to ticket giveaways, we interact with our listeners on a daily basis and provide an important service in the Northland. It’s almost magical.”

HAND-CRAFTED RADIO

Due to its status as a member supported public radio station, KUMD doesn’t program to appease record labels. “We call ourselves hand-crafted radio,” Jenson shares. “Music Director Christine Dean stocks the KUMD library with fresh music for much of our programming and our show hosts select their set lists based on new releases and local events, like which artists are in town. We often play the deeper cuts on popular albums, and are proud to offer an independent sound. We really do our own thing.”

Jacoba continues that train of thought. “It is so rare to be able to work at a successful radio station that is totally independent from corporate decision makers. We don’t have a top 10 or even top 100 songs that you hear over and over again. It’s more like the top 10,000 songs. We embrace promoting new and local music, and our only restriction as to what goes on-air is that it’s good music.”

Another big draw of KUMD is the fact that the station is a huge supporter of local artists, partnering with festivals including Duluth Dylan Fest, Homegrown Music Festival, Big Top Chautauqua, and many more.

So you can always stay up to date on festival news and music of the day by tuning in to KUMD, even if you can’t attend in person.

COZY ACCOMMODATIONS

Much like a stereotypical dorm room, KUMD’s Studio A is a tiny space where they host 50–70 live performers each year, and broadcast these performances live on the air. There is no room for an audience, and barely room for a performer’s “entourage” to snap a photo or enjoy the set.

Jenson shares with a laugh, “The performers we host park at Weber Music Hall, and have to lug all of their equipment down a long hall to the studio’s back door. We dream of having larger facilities someday.”

If you have never tuned in, take some time to check out the Northland gem that is KUMD.

No matter whether your mood is melancholy, inquisitive about the world, or just ready to jam out, KUMD has something to make you feel good. Jacoba shares, “The best part of KUMD is that it is local and it’s ours. That’s why it works—hopefully for another 60 years!”

KUMD’s program schedule, events calendar, and live streaming are all offered at kumd.org.

Written by Andrea Busche for Duluth.com the Magazine.

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