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50 years of news and music: Minnesota Public Radio holds open house in Bemidji

John Enger, Minnesota Public Radio reporter, speaks with Lonnie Sorrell during an open house celebrating MPR's 50th anniversary on Friday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Minnesota Public Radio’s Bemidji bureau joined a statewide 50th birthday party for the news and music outlet.

The small office on Beltrami Avenue hosted music, tours, and a traveling photo exhibit Friday.

“I loved MPR before I started working at MPR,” said Kristi Booth, a regional director who’s worked at the Bemidji station for 20 years. “I was a member and just appreciated the work that MPR does and the journalism and the quality of the cultural and arts programming. It's a real joy to work here and to do this every day.”

MPR grew from a lone tower in Collegeville, Minn., to a network of more than 80 stations with about a million average listeners per week. Booth recalled Bemidji’s MPR staff editing stories with tape and razor blades, then shipping the audio reels to St. Paul on a Greyhound bus.

In Bemidji, residents can tune in to 91.3 or 88.5 FM for news or classical music, respectively. Booth said they have about 12,100 listeners per week, on average.

A selection of photos from the anniversary celebration’s traveling photo exhibit were sprinkled throughout the station office. Among other scenes, they depict a Northern Lights display; a wetsuit-clad surfer wading along a rocky shore; and a crowd of people at a memorial for Jacob Wetterling, where a photo of the boy looms in the background.

“Anybody who’s lived here for any period of time is going to recognize that face,” said Regina McCombs, MPR’s senior editor for visual news and the exhibit’s curator.

Another photo captured a dancing instructor’s excitement as he and a determined-looking eight-year-old student leapt in unison at a dance studio in St. Paul.

“This is probably one of my favorites,” McCombs said. “I love moments, and things that really capture these sort of genuine interactions.”

Attendees like Pat and Bill Kelly could also record testimonials. A retired BSU teacher and hospital worker, respectively, the couple said their radio dials never waver from the Bemidji station’s classical and news stations. (Bill said he’d like a jazz station, though.)

“The first thing we do is roll over in bed and push the button on the radio, and you know where it's tuned,” Bill said.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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