KBEM-FM (88.5 FM, "Jazz 88") is a Minneapolis, Minnesota public radio station broadcasting a jazz format. The station is operated by Minneapolis public school system and has also been known since the mid-1990s as a partner with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT), providing traffic congestion reports for commuters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. KBEM is part of Minnesota's AMPERS network.
KBEM's studios are located on James Avenue North in Minneapolis, while its transmitter is located in Falcon Heights.
KBEM first took to the air in October 1970. Its broadcast studios were originally in the former Vocational High School in downtown Minneapolis (since converted to an office building in which WLOL now operates) and has, since 1984, been located at North Community High School. The current jazz format began in 1985. Students are a part of the station's operation during the day, delivering news reports and other programming. Minneapolis School Board meetings and Minneapolis City Council meetings have been carried live for over 20 years.
Graduates of KBEM's broadcast instructional program have gone on to work at WCCO, KQRS-FM, KFAI, Minnesota Public Radio, KPCC in Los Angeles, KQED in San Francisco, Sirius Satellite Radio, XM Satellite Radio, WHYI in Miami, WWZZ in Washington, D.C., KDWB, KTCZ, KHMX in Houston and other media such as the Star Tribune.
Minnesota Public Radio had attempted to purchase the station back in 1979 as part of an attempt to split the growing network into classical music and talk radio components, but the deal eventually fell through. Instead, the organization acquired WLOL 1330 AM in 1980. A decade later, they finally made the split in the Twin Cities region with the purchase of WLOL 99.5 FM (now KSJN). It is unlikely that MPR would make another move to acquire KBEM anytime soon, as the group currently owns three stations in the region that have much more broadcasting power (KBEM is only licensed to broadcast 2,900 watts, while the three MPR stations are 100,000 watt outlets).
In late 2004, it was announced that Mn/DOT would be cutting its funding of the station as a cost-saving measure. This funding amounted to $418,000 per year at the time of cancellation, although the contract extended until March 2005. The money accounted for roughly half of the station's budget, so KBEM launched an emergency fundraising drive. By January 2005, the drive had gathered $45,000 from the public toward a goal of $138,000 to cover the station until the end of its fiscal year (mid-2005). The school system hoped to roughly double membership from 4,000 to 8,000. In a surprise move, Clear Channel Communications donated $25,000 to the station and ran fundraising announcements on the company's area stations, including Cities 97 (KTCZ) and its former smooth jazz outlet KJZI (now KFXN-FM). KBEM is currently the only all-jazz station in the Twin Cities.