Those scrolling through radio stations on the North Shore recently may have noticed a new station on 95.3. What once rebroadcast KQ out of Duluth is now The Otter FM. Broadcasting from Lutsen Mountains, The Otter is the only commercial radio station in Cook County, and brings authentic, alternative music to listeners on the North Shore and beyond.
Matthew Butler is the owner of Shire & Shore Communications, and purchased 95.3 FM from Midwest Communications. When Midwest Communications acquired several stations from Red Rock Radio in Duluth, one of which was 95.3, they ultimately decided against continuing to run a rural signal. Butler had a connection with someone from Midwest Communications, and after discussions he decided he wanted to buy the station and start a new, independent station.
At the time of the purchase, there were no local commercial radio stations between Duluth and Thunder Bay. Butler, who currently resides in the Twin Cities, said he fell in love with the North Shore and Cook County’s pristine wilderness areas, and envisioned a local station that would bring something unique to this special area. Purchasing the station involved acquiring the license to operate, and in this particular case included getting a new transmitter, as the previous transmitter was aging. 95.3 spent time off the air during the pandemic while a new transmitter was put in place. Now that it is up and running it has reached listeners as far away as the Upper Peninsula. While a physical studio space is a possibility in the future, The Otter operates remotely using cloud technology.
Apart from the practical aspects of starting an independent radio station, Butler also serves as The Otter’s program director and music director, roles that allow him to explore his passion for music.
“The new format of The Otter is known in the media world as ‘Triple A,’ Adult Album Alternative,” Butler said. “We call it ‘progressive’ radio in a homage to the great album stations of the past that blended folk, rock, soul and more. Every one of the 150 or so stations in the Triple A universe is different, but what unites us are the principles of community connectedness and music discovery—diving deep into the classics and playing the best new artists and songs.”
With a focus on authenticity rather than popularity, the Triple A format allows listeners to discover new music outside of the mainstream, and allows music directors to exercise more creativity in choosing what to play. Butler said that as there is so much music to discover, they curate and bring forth the best for the listeners.
“I’m having a lot of fun and I’m thrilled to be sharing music with people,” he said.
Sharing new music also involves playing music from local artists. Minnesota has a rich legacy in music and radio, and listeners will hear at least one song by a Minnesota artist every hour on 95.3. Butler said that he listens to everything that gets sent by local artists, and that if submissions are radio edited and fit what they play, then they’ll play them.
“While music changes and evolves, we’re always open to feedback and welcome people’s requests and ideas. We’re hoping to build a station that truly sounds like the North Shore and transports listeners to their happy place, no matter where they may be in the world,” he said.
Above all, Butler said that they are thankful to be in an area that cares about local radio, and aim to be an integrated part of the community by partnering with local businesses to amplify their success and hiring local contractors and staff wherever possible.
“For people who love live music, small business, and community—that’s what we’re all about,” Butler said.
Listeners can tune into The Otter from anywhere in the world at theotter.fm. The website also has links to social media pages where those interested can stay tuned into any news and updates.