This may be Twins Territory, the State of Hockey and Gophers Nation, but just how much chatter about our favorite teams can our ears take?
The Twin Cities is about to find out. This week 105-FM switched its format from soft rock to all-sports under the CBS-run banner “The Ticket” — a change-up that means the local market now has three full-time sports stations.
Sports talk is the fastest-growing radio format across the country. Football, baseball and all its cousins appeal to males 25-54, an elusive audience coveted by advertisers.
“Men don’t treat sports talk as a background mood service,” said Paul Heine, senior editor at Inside Radio magazine. “They’re really paying attention, calling in and engaging. That’s what advertisers want to hear.”
Appealing to guys is the game plan of Scott Jameson, operations manager for the Ticket and rock stations KQRS and 93X, all owned by Atlanta-based Cumulus Media. All three stations skew heavily male, so Jameson plans to do lots of cross-promotion.
He contends that this market has room for another sports station.
“Everything is crowded these days, whether you’re shopping and comparing bottles of ketchup and picking what radio station to listen to,” he said. “You stand out by having great content.”
Whether the Twin Cities can sustain another sports station may be an open question, but one thing is clear: More of us are listening to sports.
KFAN (100.3 FM), owned by rival chain Clear Channel, pioneered the sports-talk format locally when it was launched in 1991, and expanded its reach two years ago by switching to FM. Overall, it ranks only 14th in listenership among Twin Cities stations, but in its target “demo” — men ages 25 to 54 — it’s usually in the top three.
Its numbers dipped only slightly when KSTP (1500 AM) adopted a sports format in 2010 and renamed itself ESPN 1500, in part to keep Twins broadcasts — a gambit that failed when the team moved this week to KTWN (96.5 FM). Owned by St. Paul’s Hubbard Broadcasting, ESPN 1500 initially saw a surge in ratings but has struggled lately. It finished 19th in the February Arbitron ratings and hasn’t cracked the top 10 in the 25-54 male demo since fall.
Heating up the competition are two part-time players: rookie KTWN, operated by the Twins-owning Pohlad family, and veteran news-talk powerhouse WCCO (830 AM), home of the Timberwolves.
According to Arbitron, 3.6 percent of terrestrial radio stations nationwide specialize in sports talk, more than twice as many as a decade ago. Country music dominates, with over 14 percent of AM/FM stations.
Radio is a relatively healthy medium. During an average week, roughly 92 percent of Americans 12 and older turn on the radio at some point. That figure has shrunk by only 4 percentage points since 2001, which means radio has taken less of a hit than newspapers and television.
One reason FM-105 is getting into the game is that its owner has a deal with the CBS Sports Radio network to run its programming on more than 65 Cumulus stations nationwide.
The station has suffered an identity crisis in recent years, switching between alt-rock and hard rock before settling on grown-up pop in 2007.
Jameson’s competitors insist they’re not worried. One reason is that 105’s signals are shaky — the station actually comprises three separate frequencies (105.1, 105.3 and 105.7) that have limited geographical reach. Also, “The Ticket” currently carries only national broadcasters, most notably the button-pushing Jim Rome.
“If you’re looking for a viewpoint from a national perspective, they might fulfill your interest,” said KFAN boss Gregg Swedberg, operations manager for Clear Channel’s seven stations in the area. “But we’ve always been about general guy stuff and being predominantly local.”
Jameson admits that a local perspective is important. He said he’s starting to interview local personalities to fill some daytime slots.
Dan Seeman, vice president of Hubbard Radio, said there should be plenty of room for everyone who wants to chat sports.
“We’ve got four big-time professional sports teams, as well as interest in the outdoors and boating,” he said. “I think we’ll all survive.”