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Niijii Radio is back on the air after a lightning strike and burglars took it off the airwaves for several months. Photo by - Paula Quam

Niijii Radio is back on the airwaves

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More people on the White Earth Indian Reservation and beyond are now waking up to a Cup of Joe -- that is the name of the morning show, which is once again broadcasting from Niijii Radio.

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The Callaway station, located at 89.9 on the FM dial with the call letters KKWE, was shut down for several months after it was struck first by Mother Nature (a lightning strike), then by thieves who reportedly got away with expensive studio equipment.

All summer and into the fall the station sat completely disassembled -- from its studio to its volunteer base to its management.

But Niijii, an Ojibwe word for "friends," had enough friends and fans to resurrect the quiet station.

One year after the Native American station initially hit the airwaves, it is back up again.

According to Niijii Radio General Manager Margaret Rousu, supporters of the station not only did fundraising to get Niijii back on the airwaves, but a $20,000 state grant put them back where they needed to be.

It's allowed them to engineer the studio back into action and assemble a three-person leadership team with actual paid positions, which is now rallying the troops of volunteers to help provide the on-air talent.

In addition to the $20,000 in operating funds, the station also received a $115,000 grant from the Legacy Art Culture and Heritage Fund of Minnesota to create local programming.

"We're going to practice our values as Native American people and as a Native American station so that what we play reflects our values," said Rousu, who says they have big plans for a variety of culture-based programs.

"We have a gal who is doing a folk song show where she'll take an old folk song, tell us the history of it and then perform it," said Rousu, "We're excited about that one."

Excitement is also in "the air" with the radio-lovers who are donating their time to create their own shows, as Niijii has a reputation for truly being a product of the community mostly run by volunteers.

Douglas "Ruggy" Lee of Frazee has created a Friday night show that not only features hip-hop, but local artists who dream of breaking into the music industry.

"It's important to help this community and those musical artists going in that direction," said Lee, "to give them exposure on the radio and drive to keep going so that they realize that this is a possibility ... to give them confidence that this could be a reality for them."

Steven Bickell is another DJ who was one of the original volunteers for the station.

The 22-year-old Audubon man is the chief operator at the station and says the experience he's gained at Niijii has opened his eyes to what a radio station can do. "It's for the community and about the community," said Bickell, "and if somebody has an issue or something coming up, they should bring it to us. If they're doing a benefit for a family friend who has cancer, let us know -- I just want people to know we're here."

JoDan Rousu has been there from the beginning, emerging as some of the station's strongest leadership. He not only is the voice behind "Cup of Joe," but he's also the lead producer and program director. He says while station management can't talk about the theft that helped keep the station down for a while because it's an "open investigation," he will say Niijii is actually stronger now than it's ever been.

"We did have to purchase some new equipment, but we also repurposed some," said JoDan Rousu, "so we're fully functional with top of the line, commercial grade automation software and we're hoping to be ready to stream live over the Internet again by Dec. 1."

Streaming is important to the station, as Rousu says they have a lot of fans down in the Twin Cities who listen to them via the Internet. That's why the next fundraiser for the station is being held there.

Oshki Akiing is what they're calling the event happening at the Parkway Theater on Dec. 20 in Minneapolis.

To find out more on the fundraiser or the station, log on to www.niijiiradio.com.

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