Somali language radio station applies to take to the air in St. Cloud

Haji Yusuf
St. Cloud Somali Radio co-founder Hajo Yusuf broadcasting on the station. (Photo courtesy of St. Cloud Somali Radio).

A community group in St. Cloud has applied for a low-power FM radio license from the FCC that would allow them to broadcast news and music for Somali-Americans in and around St. Cloud.

Organizers said they expect to receive approval from the FCC as soon as this week, and that they hope to start broadcasting on the air by spring.

For more than a year, KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State University and the non-profit St. Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization (SASSO) worked together to create St. Cloud Somali Radio. In a project funded partially by a state Legacy grant, community members launched a 24-hour webstream of Somali music and news in March.

Mohamoud Mohamed, executive director of SASSO, said expanding to the airwaves was the next logical step. He said the radio station will serve the estimated 13,000 Somali-American immigrants who live in the area, many of whom speak primarily Somali.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

“We need to have the means of communication when we need to communicate about education, health, civic engagement, many other areas,” Mohamed said. “We need a mass communication mechanism like the radio.”

St. Cloud Somali Radio founder Haji Yusuf said the web version of the station already runs some original interviews and discussions. But the low-power broadcast license will allow the station to expand their offerings.

“We’re thinking about news, what’s going on internationally and nationally,” Yusuf said. We’ll be “teaching people about what’s going on and teaching them about what America is all about -- the great country it is and the Constitution and how the system works.”

Much of the content will be in Somali, but they also plan to air some broadcasts in English.

“We’ll be able to teach the English-speaking population in St. Cloud about who the immigrants themselves are, they’ll be able to tell their own story,” Yusuf said. “We have a history, just like anyone else who came to this country, the people who have been here longer will see the similarities with them because their ancestors came here as well.”

And because of the terms of their license, they plan to avoid espousing one political point of view.

“We’ll be talking about politics and we’ll be talking about national politics and how to unite Somalia and Somalis, not to divide,” Yusuf said. “That’s not our intention and it’s never something that we will want to do.”

KVSC helped launch the webstream. But KVSC Operations Director Jim Gray said that under the low-power license, KVSC will step back and let SASSO and volunteers from the Somali community run the station. KVSC plan to lease space to the fledgling operation.

“The license is owned by SASSO,” Gray said. “For a number of reasons, including legal reasons, the University cannot have anything to do with their programming, we can’t have any editorial oversight, we can’t have any input or anything like that.”

Gray said the station initially faced opposition from some within the Somali community.

“There was suspicion within the community of ‘Why are you doing this?’” Gray said. “People couldn’t get their heads around that we were doing a good thing for a good reason, that it wasn’t like we were trying to bilk money out of them or something.”

Gray said strong community advocates like Yusuf  won over skeptics in the Somali community. But there is some concern that there will be a backlash in St. Cloud against a Somali radio station. Gray said he heard criticism from some longtime St. Cloud residents when the webstream originally launched.

“The Somali community in St. Cloud is significant and growing,” Gray said. “It has some people a little bit edgy and, yes, when this launches I’m sure we’re going to get our share of hate mail, but I would like to think that’s not representative of the greater St. Cloud community.”

Gray said the helping St. Cloud Somali Radio get on its feet just seems like the right thing for his station to do.

“If you look at the pillars we stand upon for the University, one of them is community involvement and engagement,” Gray said. “KVSC has always been the voice of St. Cloud, and we’ve got a new population that needs a voice.”

Organizers plan to have the station broadcasting over the air by spring. The signal will be strong enough to be heard within seven miles, which will cover St. Cloud and a couple nearby towns. They’re in the process of training community volunteers in how to use the equipment and run the station.