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Former local newspaper editor to expand KAXE news footprint

Chelsey Perkins headshot
Contributed / Chelsey Perkins
Chelsey Perkins is the news director of KAXE/KBXE as of Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. Perkins will lead the organization's effort to establish a nonprofit newsroom to expand local news content across the region.

GRAND RAPIDS — KAXE's expansion of news coverage for rural Minnesotans is underway with the hiring of a former newspaper editor to lead the effort.

Chelsey Perkins, who spent almost nine years on staff as a reporter and editor with the Brainerd Dispatch, joined the KAXE/KBXE team Monday, Feb. 20. The Brainerd lakes area native is tasked with ramping up the community public broadcast organization’s digital presence through its website and social media while adding to its suite of community-minded original content with local news reporting.

“In the last nine years, I've really grown to have a true appreciation for the impact that local journalism has, particularly in rural areas where there may not be a lot of other sources of information available to people to learn about what's going on in their communities or what decisions their local governments are making,” Perkins said during a live KAXE interview Thursday morning. “ ... It's very important that people have access to that information. And I want to be a part of expanding that.”

Introducing the new KAXE News Director

Foundation funding will support the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit’s news initiative. The Blandin Foundation will provide $500,000 for KAXE’s newsroom over the next three years as part of its new strategic direction to align its resources toward a sustainable, equitable future for rural Minnesota. The Northland Foundation of Duluth added another $50,000 toward the project over the next two years.

Heidi Holtan, KAXE director of content and public affairs
Heidi Holtan, KAXE director of content and public affairs
Sarah Bignall, KAXE CEO/general manager
Sarah Bignall, KAXE CEO/general manager

Heidi Holtan, whose title transitioned to director of content and public affairs with the new initiative, said the radio stations had limited capacity to fulfill the role of watchdog in local communities before the infusion of grant dollars.

“Additional funding means the build-out of a newsroom and website with qualified journalists and editor,” Holtan said in an earlier news release. “Local stories get missed every day that could make a difference in the future. We are beyond thrilled.”

Sarah Bignall, CEO/general manager of KAXE, said community radio has infrastructure that can be sustained through grants, individual and business contributions that do not interfere in editorial content.

“We invest in our community because we care about the place we live,” Bignall said. “We can leverage our 46 years of experience and relationships, and deliver content in a variety of ways to meet the multimedia needs of today's audience. We are excited for the future and how we can serve our communities better.”

The organization is currently hiring a development director and will soon add two news reporter positions to its staff. Visit to learn more.

Northern Community Radio is a nonprofit, community public broadcast organization, operating radio stations 91.7 FM KAXE Grand Rapids with a translator at 89.9 FM Brainerd, and 90.5 FM KBXE Bemidji as well as and podcasts. KAXE is an NPR affiliate and a member of AMPERS, an association of 18 independent community radio stations in Minnesota. KAXE has been telling the stories of the people and the land of northern Minnesota through music, conversation and events since 1976.

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.
The music director at KAXE since 2014, Kari (pronounced Car-ee) Hedlund reviews music on the daily. She also hosts New Music every Wednesday (2 and 10 p.m.) and Sunday (noon), along with the KAXE Morning Show on Thursdays.