Twin Cities radio vet Brian Oake, who left Cities 97 last month after 17 years, is joining competing station 89.3 the Current as co-host of its morning show.
He will start March 7 after his new on-air partner, Jill Riley, returns from maternity leave, the station announced Wednesday.
“It was really a no-brainer,” said Oake, who has a long history of touting the kind of independent music played on the Current, Minnesota Public Radio’s alternative-spirited station.
Like the Current’s newly returned flagship DJ Mary Lucia, Oake was a personality on the alt-rock station REV-105 in the mid-1990s. And like other Current personalities, including Mark Wheat and David Safar, he got his start at the University of Minnesota’s adventurous Radio K.
In an interview Wednesday, Oake was gracious to his corporate ex-employer, iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel), which has turned Cities 97 into more of a youthful, pop-oriented station in recent years.
“I actually like Taylor Swift,” he quipped. “I got to be me at Cities, and had a good thing going there.”
He especially praised his Cities morning show co-host, Keri Noble. They enjoyed the station’s strongest-ever morning ratings in their three-year stint together. “The hardest part about leaving by far was leaving Keri,” he said. Noble remains on the air at Cities, which has not yet named a replacement for Oake.
Strategically, Oake’s popularity with older listeners from Cities 97’s past could prove to be a valuable asset for the Current, which relies heavily on listeners with enough disposable income to become sustaining MPR members or donors.
The Current’s program director, Jim McGuinn, also made Oake’s hiring sound like a no-duh move.
“Brian’s on-air sensibility matches the music of the Current — curious, wide-ranging, influential and authentic,” McGuinn said in a news release.
Oake will fill the position left open last spring by Steve Seel, who became more of a utility player for other MPR channels. Local musician Sean McPherson, of Heiruspecs and Dessa’s band, has served as interim morning co-host and will remain at the station after Oake’s hiring in a variety of roles, including the host of Saturday night’s request show, “Radio Free Current.”
Oake joined Lucia on the air Wednesday afternoon, and he will set about introducing himself to the Current’s audience at the station’s 11th anniversary parties Jan. 22-23 at First Avenue.
“A lot of their middle-aged listeners will know who I am,” Oake said, “but some of the younger audience might be saying, ‘Why is that guy who plays Taylor Swift songs here?’ ”