Grand Marais Radio Station Celebrates Milestone

By Pat Forrest

Just over three decades ago, a small group of Grand Marais residents were sitting around a kitchen table, discussing their shared belief that independent local radio in Cook County could play an important role in building a sense of community. Six years and a great deal of hard work later, in 1998, Cook County Community Radio (WTIP) began broadcasting along the North Shore of Lake Superior from Two Harbors to Grand Portage and into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness region on the Gunflint Trail.

Now WTIP is marking its 25th anniversary with celebrations that are scheduled to take place throughout the year. These will include showcasing the station’s history on the station’s public affairs program and hosting several events that will feature birthday cakes, including the annual member meeting in the summer. It will also be recognized at its annual Radio Waves Music Festival, scheduled for September 8–10 in Grand Marais. The first festival was held in 2008, to celebrate WTIP’s tenth anniversary on the air.

WTIP had something to celebrate back in 2021 as well. It was then that the Association of Minnesota Public Educational Radio Stations (Ampers) announced that WTIP North Shore Community Radio was chosen as its 2021 Station of the Year. The award recognizes overall excellence in public radio broadcasting in Minnesota. This was a nod to the station’s commitment to holding the community together during the pandemic.

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced business closures and caused stay-at-home orders, WTIP didn’t miss a single minute of programming. Staff members stepped up to host additional shows and a group of 17 volunteers created music shows and features from home and shared them electronically. The station was also able to bring regular updates to its listeners from the local hospital and clinic. WTIP executive director Matthew Brown, who began his career at the station in 2001 as a volunteer, says that the station’s activities during the crisis had the effect that they were aiming for. “For our member listeners to be able to continue to hear their friends and colleagues on air was very calming for them,” he says. “We were able to maintain a sense of togetherness and community during a very challenging time.”

The station is supported by state and federal funding, as well as by memberships. Brown says that they have members in Thunder Bay and the region, at least one member in Toronto and one in Kingston, Ontario. While the signal does cross the Canadian border, most people stream the programs.

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