Bill Kling, the godfather of Minnesota Public Radio as we know it today, was a radio visionary or a skilled political operative who was an expert at marshaling political clout to his ends.
Well, forget the “or”. He was both.
Kling was much of the reason MPR is what it is today – in terms of creative vision and, especially, “business development” via both conventional fundraising and endowment-mongering, and use of the political system to meet his ends. He built a huge, successful merchandising arm (based on the success of Garrison Keillor and “Prairie Home Companion”, the lighting in a bottle that made MPR not only big, but phenomenally wealthy); he also led the charge against community low-power FM radio stations – which could have cut into Big Public Radio’s funding and audience – until the Internet rendered the battle moot. And any time any conservative got any ideas about cutting public funding for MPR, Kling called in enough favors on Capitol Hill to make a Chicago ward heeler dizzy with envy.
And to this radio geek, who spent his formative years working at dusty little small-town stations tucked in above drugstores or behind hardware stores, or places like the old KSTP-AM, wedged into an old transmitter shed, a tour through MPR’s studios on 7th and Robert in Saint Paul – even in their “old” facility – made you feel a little like Jethro Clampett walking through that Beverly Hills mansion for the first time (as did hearing what MPR people got paid; people doing the exact same job I did at KSTP-AM made 50% more than I got). And when they upgraded it in the mid-aughts, with a huge indoor auditorium and capacious new offices and, best of all, state of the state of the art studios? Not just exactly at the radio high-tech fashion curve – oh no. That, plus they had not one but two state of the art on-air studios, mirror images of each other, so that the staff (!) of one show didn’t have to rush and trip over each other to get out of the way of the next show coming in; they’d just alternate studios.
So opulent (to my commercial radio tastes) was it, that ten years ago this past Tuesday, I christened their facility the “Taj Ma Kling“.
And ten years and one day after I named the facility, Minnesota Public Radio in effect agreed with me:
Minnesota Public Radio will rename its St. Paul headquarters and broadcast facilities the Kling Public Media Center on April 19. The decision to do so was actually made back in 2011, the year Kling retired from his post as CEO of both MPR and American Public Media, but the actual change was held off until now so that it coincided with MPR’s 50th anniversary.
““Our 50th anniversary is the perfect time to honor what Bill created and built. His entrepreneurial spirit and passion for public service continue to inspire us as we begin our next 50 years,” said Jon McTaggart, the current president and CEO of American Public Media Group. “What Bill has done – not just for Minnesota and MPR, but for public media audiences across the country – is unique and lasting. The creativity and innovation within the walls of the Kling Public Media Center will always be a living testament to what Bill began a half century ago.”
“Taj Ma Kling” / “Kling Public Media Center”.
Different words, Same idea.