Radio K founder Jim Musil reflects on the station's beginnings

Categories: Media, Radio
It's that time again. Radio K, the student run station from the University of Minnesota very humbly has launched another pledge drive and is asking for your help.

As someone who learned far more working at Radio K in it's infancy than I did in the classroom, I can tell you how important Radio K is to the students that volunteer and run the station. But you already know that. The attack on Public Radio and the attempt to undermine the importance of non-commercial formats is a constant debate and seemingly inevitable squeeze on those with the smaller voices who just want to turn their friends onto something new and cool in the name of a concrete learning experience. Somewhere in time that was what radio was all about. But ultimately our commercial culture obsessions and the bottom line remain dictating what clutters the airwaves.

But while the football team doesn't have to grovel for funding, the kids who run the college radio stations and create a culture that's not only special to the Twin Cities but a pure reflection of their formative days at the University and what's happening now do. Unlike the rest of the dial, Radio K constantly presents fresh sounds from the burgeoning underground music scene that doesn't typically make it past the AM dial and has evolved into a multi-media enterprise via a still-young FM signal, plus video blogs and webstreams we would have never predicted almost 20 years ago when we first set up camp on the West Bank.

It was some lazy afternoon between blowing off classes when station manager, Jim Musil, who is somewhat the founding father of Radio K called me into his office to check out something he'd set up on his computer. Out of the tiny plastic speakers on his breadbox shaped Macintosh I faintly heard what was being broadcast on our 770AM frequency. If it was some scratchy copy of a Lily Liver 7" being compressed to a weak signal filtered through the circuitry of the little electronic box barely audible enough for us to hear, it didn't matter. What we understood was that the possibility of our tiny operation reaching out and bringing the shit that we liked to people around the world was right in front of us.

To this day, as technology has allowed and the excitement for college radio type programming has gone mainstream, these ideas have become limitless and Radio K continues to excel in all directions.

So while we all open our ever thinning wallets to help out the crew that keeps the boat afloat with constantly new students, ideas and new music I thought it'd be fun to see what my old friend Jim was up to these days and what he thinks of Radio K and how it's come to be.

Hey Jim! What you been up to?

Jim Musil: I live in Minneapolis with my wife Heather and two young sons, Jasper and Leo, and I work at a local internet startup.

You were pretty key in getting Radio K going at the very beginning. What can you reflect on from that time and how do you look at Radio K now?

We all had a lot of fun putting Radio K on the air. I hope they're having as much fun there now. As life goes on, you won't always get the chance to innovate, so I hope they are seizing the opportunity to do new things.

I remember when you told me to come check out the Radio K radio signal online on your computer. This was a totally alien concept to me then but it opened up the ideas of what a radio station could be. What can you say about how radio has evolved as it's own medium to be just another part of media organizations apparatus on the traditional airwaves and online with web content, etc?

Honestly, I thought by this time, we would have seen a lot more changes in radio. Granted, the Current is certainly a welcome format and myTalk 107.1 is different, but for the most part the formats of KDWB, Cities 97, KQRS, etc. haven't changed in 20 years. I guess you can't really fault an ice cream shop for selling vanilla ice cream can you?

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How did your experience in college radio and at Radio K effect your future career and worklife path?

I've learned that I really like to flip the switch. It's incredibly rewarding to work together to build something that wasn't there before. Perhaps naturally, I've ended up in the internet startup world where we're always trying to innovate.

What have you done since leaving Radio K and what are you up to now?

After I left Radio K, I went to Boulder, Colorado to help put a new station on the air for the University of Colorado -- KVCU. I worked in New York City for several years at the Village Voice before moving back here to raise my kids. Now I work at where we're trying to build a discovery tool that helps you choose which movies, music, and apps to use.

"College Music" or "Alternative" were distinct music styles then. Now everything is for everyone everywhere. What's Radio K's and College stations role now in that?

I don't think "College Music" and "Alternative" were that easy to define back then, were they? Before you could listen to music online, college radio was an excellent place to hear new music. It still is.

What's most exciting about college radio and radio in general to you now?

I get the same kick out of Radio K that I've always gotten -- earnest young DJs playing music they love and want me to hear. How could you not give that a try? Technology is going to make it easier and easier for us to hear music wherever we want, but there's always going to be a role for an excellent DJ who can guide us through the muck.

What irritates you about modern use of radio and media conglomerates now?

I don't really get irritated. If it's boring, I'm not going to listen. In general, I wish that radio technology would have advanced more so that we would have way more options to listen to on the dial. At some point, we're all going to have the internet in our cars -- or some new technology -- and things will hopefully change.

Do you listen to Radio K in stereo on FM radio or old-school on an AM receiver?

I'll always love the sound of AM, but I'm impressed with the coverage of the FM signal (104.5).

Radio K's Spring Pledge Drive starts today! Contribute to Radio K at


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