Mick Anselmo, the powerhouse programmer who helped shape modern Twin Cities radio, is back in business. The 57-year-old executive was named Tuesday as the manager of CBS's three local operations, including WCCO (830 AM), one of the country's most respected all-talk stations.

"When it comes to Minneapolis radio leadership, there is no name bigger than Mick Anselmo," said Scott Herman, executive vice president of operations for CBS Radio. "Mick's reputation for developing talent, managing brands, improving performance and operational excellence makes him the perfect choice to lead our cluster at this time."

For Anselmo, it's a triumphant return after nearly a year and a half on the sidelines. He spent 23 years at rival stations, rising to run the regional operation for Clear Channel Radio, where he launched K102, the area's first country-music station, and KFAN, a sports operation that dared to talk about more than statistics and game summaries.

Anselmo was dumped in July 2007, and has spent the interim as chief operator for Denny Hecker's Advantage Rent-A-Car, where he will stay through the end of the month. He starts his new position on Dec. 1.

"I'm moving back into my passion," said Anselmo, who was honored in 2005 by the Country Music Association for his work at K102. "I think I'll bring a high level of energy, a fresh coat of paint and a lot of experience I got from building the enemy camp."

It's unclear exactly what changes the new boss will bring, but those who know Anselmo agree that they're unlikely to be subtle. He's known for promoting big personalities and taking big risks -- as he did at Clear Channel in starting conservative talk station KTLK, which didn't pay off in the ratings.

He'll have to move cautiously when it comes to WCCO, a station -- for better or worse -- that's steeped in tradition. Although it lost the rights to Minnesota Twins broadcasts to KSTP (1500 AM) two years ago, it has held on to its core audience, but is failing to draw many younger listeners.

"Stations like that have so many moving parts that you can't upset too many of them at any one time," said Tom Taylor, news editor of Radio-Info.com. "They need to be evolved, not blown up, because you've got a listener base that likes things the way they are. They'll tolerate some changes and they understand there are needs to contemporize, but you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water."

In addition to WCCO, Anselmo will run JACK (104.1 FM) which specializes in classic rock and pop, and WLTE (102.9 FM), the home of easy-breezy listening.

Anselmo said he'll spend the first few months assessing talent and resources, while meeting with clients and evaluating community needs. Mary Niemeyer, who previously ran the WCCO operation, will stay on as general sales manager.

Dark Star, a longtime WCCO personality, said he wouldn't be surprised if Anselmo eventually took a run at the Minnesota Vikings, who now air on KFAN. He also hoped that Anselmo isn't considering a shakeup that would damage the station's strong point.

"Our strongest suit is that we're live and local," he said. "Every program director, every sidekick, every custodian needs to know that's the charm of WCCO."

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431