Unintended Consequences

KSTP-AM pulled the plug on its thirty-year, once-wildly-successful experiment with talk radio this week.

General Manager Ginny Morris, from the station’s website:

Radio is an ever-changing landscape and throughout its 87-year history, KSTP-AM has been known for many things. In the very earliest days, when my grandfather was programming the station, we covered a lot of news and carried the NBC radio network, we aired soap operas and played many different types of music. Later, when my dad ran the station, he played Jazz and classical music, and then evolved into playing rock music, which at times dismayed his dad.

On Monday, February 15, we evolve again, and you will know us as AM1500 The SportsTalk Station.

Joe Soucheray and Patrick Reusse invented SportsTalk in this town – arguably in the country – and we look forward to featuring them together every afternoon. They are wonderfully talented entertainers and storytellers, as individuals and as a team, and they will anchor our new line-up that we think you will enjoy.

Well, we could hardly enjoy it any less than the one the station’s had for the past year or two.

I more or less predicted this a little over a year ago.  KSTP’s been drifting toward…something for a long time, now.

A little background:  After almost sixty years as one of the leading radio stations in the country (in the ’30s and ’40s), and then one of the top music stations in the metro (60s and early 70s), KSTP-AM switched to talk radio in about 1980; music radio had pretty well died on AM radio by that point.  And in the days of the “Fairness Doctrine”, it nearly died again; Hubbard Broadcasting was actively seeking a buyer for its once-flagship station, amid rumors that the FCC would soon decommission the entire AM band.  It even stuck the AM operation in the old transmitter shack, on Highway 61, to make it easier to move.  It’s asking price in 1986? A ludicrous $5 million (or so said the rumor among the staff at the time, of which I was one).

And then, in 1987, Ronald Reagan killed the “Fairness” Doctrine, opening up the radio market to untrammelled political talk of all kinds.

A consultant pitched this new host – Rush Limbaugh – to KSTP’s management, saying that sure, Limbaugh was political, but his schtick was much more about his irreverence and humor.  So Hubbard took a chance.

And it paid off handsomely; in 1986, the AM station was the poor cousin of the Hubbard family.  By 2003, with Limbaugh, Jason Lewis, Bob Davis and the newly-”conservative” Joe Soucheray dominating their time slots, the AM station was rolling in money, and financially carrying the rest of the Hubbard slate (“Chick-Talk 107″, KS95, and Channels 5 and 45), making so much money they were able to experiment way outside the format with hosts like Tom Mischke.

But the rumors were always there; Hubbard didn’t like being “conservative”.  Ginny Morris pined for the days when her grandfather’s KSTP, like its hereditary nemesis WCCO, was all things to all people, offended nobody, and was the broadcast pillar of the community (back when the community had three newspapers, three TV stations, a couple dozen radio stations – and that was it).

And so when Jason Lewis, and then Rush Limbaugh, left KSTP – buoyed by a 2005 meme among consultants that “conservative talk is dead” -  the station replaced them with middle-of-the-road milquetoast, and sports.  The station landed the Minnesota Twins in 2007.

The mixture performed terribly.  KSTP’s ratings are a shade over half of what they were seven years ago.  More importantly, the station’s revenues are doing about the same; scuttlebutt around the market says that KSTP’s revenues are off 40%.   Some of that is the economy, of course – but it’s worth noting that revenues at “AM1280 The Patriot”, where I do a show, dropped by a tiny fraction of the losses at KSTP (expressed as percentage of overall revenues).  By way of discussion, KTLK-FM, which started with the same “dog’s breakfast of ideas” format to which KSTP has aspired, saw its revenues drop by 30% – and decided to switch to more or less all conservative talk to get back in the saddle.  Because conservative talk is the only mass format in radio that’s paying its freight these days.

Except, perhaps, sports.

Amy Carlson Gustafson at the PiPress covers the carnage:

As of Thursday, the station had gotten rid of weekday on-air folks including Bob Berglund, Jay Kolls, mid-morning show hosts Shawn Prebil and Chris Murphy, late-night host Al Malmberg and midday host Kelly Webb.

Most of whom – Berglund excepted – should never have been on the air in the majors anyway.

KSTP’s management rationalizes:

“In a talk radio marketplace that’s gotten pretty [crowded], we’ve found that it’s tough to succeed if you don’t own a position,” [Hubbard exec Dan] Seeman said. “KSTP-AM was the original talk station and for a long time that meant something — you could do some talk, some opinion, some sports. Well, then, all of a sudden you have specialized formats in conservative talk, liberal talk, sports talk, pop culture talk. We really decided we needed to settle on a position.

This is tush-covering.  KSTP-AM had a position.  It was in fact a very dominant one, ten years ago; Limbaugh, Lewis and Soucheray were as potent a ratings punch as this market has seen.  KSTP squandered that position.

And our strengths are Joe, Pat and Twins baseball. Sports, sports, sports.”

Well, no.  Those are the only strong hosts the station left itself with.

The station is eventually going to switch to ESPN’s morning show, which would normally be considered a bit of a black eye for a station with KSTP’s history and size; most big stations in major metro areas have their own local morning show.  But KSTP’s morning lineup has been utterly hapless since 1980, and the gabbling bobbleheads on ESPN will likely be an improvement. Or at least cost less.

As a way of making a rayon purse out of a sow’s ear, it’s not a bad move; it’ll support the Twins broadcasts better, it’ll draw a defined audience for the first time since the station ditched political talk, and it’ll give the station the first chance it’s had at an actual identity – “position” – in a long, long time. Maybe, if they’re lucky, it’ll be a “position” that management actually gets behind as well.

Which would have helped the station a lot over the past 5-10 years or so.

42 thoughts on “Unintended Consequences

  1. St Paul paper has mentioned a couple the WCCO may try to get the Twins contract back starting in 2011. Not sure how this affects it but you would think ESPN 1500 would want to keep that then. Actually, I think the only time I ever listen to KSTP is to tune into their local sports talk during the baseball season.

  2. My wife listens to FM 107.1 a lot, and it sounds like they’re really struggling, too. There have been a number of time and talent shakeups just since the State Fair, and now they’ve renamed themselves “My Talk” including a call letter change. But they basically have 1.5 workable shows, and they rerun those all weekend it seems.

    Don’t worry, it’s still chick talk. They don’t do much politics, but what they do is always to the left. Also noticeable is that the language and topics are working their way down toward the gutter, from cheeky and ribald to base and banal. Some of it not what you want your pre-teen daughter to hear.

    Frankly, I think their most entertaining show is a paid program Saturday morning 8-9 AM, the “Nutrition Ladies” who wail and rail against gluten, salt, trans-fats, and that evil high fructose corn syrup! To hear them tell it, their children really love that tree bark sauteed in a little oil high in omega 3. Too funny!

  3. I used to listen to KSTP daily, pretty much from 7:30 to 6:30-7:00. Then their morning show, which with Babs was only marginally decent, morphed to the guys w/o Babs. And the guys were, at best, middle of the road, something for everyone. And boring.

    So I dialed around, and found the weak signal of 1280 in the morning (Laura Ingraham). And would switch to KSTP for Rush @ 11:00 to 2:00.

    Soucheray’s schtick was getting old, but was tolerable until Jason Lewis. Then Jason wasn’t there, and Joe was pushed back. And the gap filled with something so unmemorable, that I don’t remember who it was, and I would switch back to 1280 for Medved, who isn’t great, but was better. And hang around for Hewitt, instead of going back to 1500 for Joe.

    Limbaugh moved to KTLK, and my dial quit going to AM 1500 entirely.

  4. I think this is a good move for KSTP. Now that the station has an identity, I’m more likley to listen again. It’s nice to get away from “all politics all the time” and I tune in KFAN regularly. It’ll be nice to have another option on the dial.

  5. I haven’t hit the KSTP pre-set on the car radio since the last Twins game, and I don’t even recognize any of the names of the departing KSTP “personalities”. Joe & Pat were great in their Monday night and Saturday morning shows but I don’t listen to mid-day radio and can’t think of a reason why I might want to peruse their podcasts (assuming the old guys know what a podcast is.

    I catch 107.1 in the morning as the husband & wife team of Ian and Margorie are an easy and amiable interlude between news and weather spots when I’m waking up. Driving to work I’ll start with KFAN if there’s a local sports story of interest, otherwise I ditch their useless and repetitive prattle and listen to Dan Patrick on 690 (great show). When I get in the car to drive home, if the station’s still on KFAN I’ll listen for a moment to see if Barrerio is talking about anything interesting (and if I hear Pat Kessler’s voice I’m out of there) but usually I’m punching over to Jason Lewis. On Saturdays, of course, the radio is on 1280 all day.

    The point is, a station can’t be all things to all people today because there are too many alternatives at our fingertips for us to find the “things” we want at any given time all over the dial. There’s no need or point in staying on one station all day. KSTP’s strategy to rebrand itself makes sense from that standpoint, but there’s no “there” there. Their best bet is to take a page from the Twins and decide what “KSTP Radio” is, just as the Twins decided what “Twins Baseball” is, then recruit the young talent and let it develop and see if you can’t generate some buzz. Then, when you discover some stars, pay ‘em.

  6. I used to listen to”Garage Logic”, and although I often found myself in disagreement with the host, I thought the show to be witty, informative, and entertaining.
    My routine was to switch between KSTP, various music stations, and KFAN for sports/humor. Like others have said, I find myself rarely, if ever, tuning into AM1500 any more.
    I think this is a bad move for KSTP. KFAN dominates the sports talk market in the Twin Cities and has for the better part of 20 years. The real question becomes, “Can our market support two sports talk stations?” The big ticket item is definitely the Vikings. If KSTP is going to hitch themselves to the Twins, and WCCO picks them up in 2011, they’ll be back to square one.

  7. I have to go with Chad. I got totally OD’d on political talk, and had to turn it off. I still listen from time to time, (And NARN is an absolute must), but like Learned Foot breaking his blg habit, I had to shut down the talk stations. We have enough negativity now with the assholes and idiots running our country. I don’t need to rub my nose in it.

  8. Let’s talk about the Patriot for a second: In Strom’s place they’ve inserted the Church Lady on Saturday from 9-11 a.m. At 3 p.m. on Saturday we’re treated to, I don’t know, Christian skinheads?

    Finally they move Savage to 2 a.m.(!) and insert Mark Levin. Levin’s not bad, but Savage’s raw nerve, stream of consciousness act is original and entertaining.

    I figure I’m down about four hours of listening on Saturday and nine hours during the week. I guess I’ll only hear the “New Windows for America” spot 100x times instead of 1,000x.

  9. It surprises me they would get rid of Berglund. I don’t think he’ll be out of work for long. I always liked Joe S. but with the rise of KTLK I found myself at that place on the dial more often than not. Sports talk 24/7 would bore the socks off me. I listened to WCCO in the 70’s and early 80’s, and KSTP mid 80’s to later ‘90’s. I rarely tune in now except to catch a ball game. KSTP has had a ton of talent in its line up over the years, but the pool has been shallow for some time now. If only they could find another Don Vogel……….impossible!

  10. Berglund was, and is, the best old-line radio news announcer in town.

    The new format? ESPN stands for “Everything’s Souch and Patrick Now,” I guess.

  11. I like Souhan on the Sunday morning show; (although Brad Lane isn’t the greatest). I wonder if Souhan is going to windup somewhere during the week after all this. But then, that’s only three on air personalities, with Reusse and Joe that I can think I listen to on 1500.

  12. Hi Mitch,

    I did, through email, and got the standard boilerplate response. I’m just glad NARN’s still on from 11 to 3. You guys are very entertaining.

  13. Ned-

    I love the promo for the Church Lady that begins:

    “Are you angry and confused by what you see in the news?”

    Nothing like playing to the liberal stereotype of talk radio listeners.

    Me angry and confused by news. Me want to smash news.

  14. At 3 p.m. on Saturday we’re treated to, I don’t know, Christian skinheads?

    Is that the pre-taped show that sounds like they’re in a silo?

  15. They’ve roller coastered over the past few years (remember Turi Ryder? HA!) but really cratered with Roissi and the hamsters that followed him.

    I woke up one morning to hear Patrick interviewing PZ Myers and threw my clock radio against the wall….sweet, sweet buzzer.

    I’ll still listen to Sooch, but if they force him to fill his time talking sports, he’ll crater too.

  16. Those are the dudes. Their promo invites unsuspecting listeners to visit the website “if ya wanna see what we look like” :O

    In TV there’s a tried and true strategy called “hammocking” where two strong programs run on either side of a weak program to prop it up. We’ll the Patriot seems to be, um, pitching a tent, so to speak with the NARN boys on Saturdays. I hope they can survive the weak lead-in and the frightening lead-out.

  17. Is that the pre-taped show that sounds like they’re in a silo?

    It’s generally live, from YCR’s studios in Annandale.

  18. I hope they can survive the weak lead-in and the frightening lead-out.

    With weekend programming on the margins, lead-in isn’t THAT big of a deal (although Ed and I are thankful to have John and Brian as a lead-in). Strom always left us a good crowd, although facing Saturday Sportstalk is always a difficult proposition; they have amazing numbers.

    I’m not sure that tune-out is much of a factor for the NARN; I’ve not seen any numbers for Sons of Liberty. I do look forward to seeing them soon, though.

  19. Yeah, this sounds like a bad idea… moving into territory already covered elsewhere, by an established station no less.

    Mischke should bring Berglund on to his show now and again… at least until he’s somewhere.

    Gotta say, I loved hearing Bob Davis sit in on his old spot after Preble and Murphy lost it. GOD were they dull… and bad. I mean like Penigma with even more of his skirt billowing up in his pernicious face.

  20. For those of us up at night, Al Malmberg was a great evening show. Local interest stories, the occasional interview with a pilot or Rollergirls, and a guy just having a good time talking to listeners. Hopefully he’ll end up somewhere, because local radio is almost always better.

  21. here’s me radio listening schedule
    morning shows- 92.5/93.7
    midmorning- Glenn Beck
    11am-2pm- Dennis Prager (I can’t take Rush, too bombastic)
    2pm-5pm- Medved/Barriero
    5pm-8pm Hewitt
    I’m VERY pissed at the fact that AM1280 replaced Levin with Savage, Savage was 1000X better and I hope they move him back, (note to mitch, please say something to management there, I bet Levin is drawing 20-30% the audience Savage did, if even)
    And finally latenight 1500am (coast to coast am) and 91.1 (its not NPR then its the BBC radio which is to the left but tolerable and semi-interesting)

  22. also, the 3-5 Saturday guys freak me out, they quote the Bible wayyyy too much and frankly need to be taken off the air, not good for the station.

  23. “Are you angry and confused by what you see in the news?”

    Nothing like playing to the liberal stereotype of talk radio listeners.

    Me angry and confused by news. Me want to smash news.

    Me angry white child who is scareded by the lesbo, the angry man and the guy who is sexually attracted to the president on MSNBC, they scares me and make me want to burn things.

  24. Mitch and Ned, I’m pretty right wing, but I don’t care for some of 1280′s new people. They’re a little over the top even for me. Maybe repeats of the weekday syndicated programs would be better for that time slot.

    I should tune into 980AM and see if the Lutheran paster is still there. Enjoyed his Heresy updates on the ELCA and other lefty churches.

  25. I’m hoping that Church Lady and the Sons of Anarchy are paying for their time and that this was strictly a financial decision on the part of Salem. Kind of like the vacation property show that ran last summer and the real estate show and Josh Arnold that run Sunday afternoon. Selling blocks of time are just a reality of the current economy. WCCO and KSTP are doing it too.

    But they need to get Savage back on at a normal time.

  26. agreed ned, on every point. 10 bucks says both of the SOL guys are closet homos, they went off on Bawney Frank last week for the 10 seconds I tuned in. They even called him a homo, methinks he (or they in this case) doth protest too much :)

  27. “Gotta say, I loved hearing Bob Davis sit in on his old spot after Preble and Murphy lost it. GOD were they dull… and bad. I mean like Penigma with even more of his skirt billowing up in his pernicious face.”

    Gutless little flock – Badda, you’ve ducked every meaningful discussion you’ve ever been engaged in. You couldn’t handle commenting on my blog under rules that required you to be civil, so you ran like a little girl back here where only lefties are compelled by threats to behave even when the righties act like little turdblossoms.

    Mitch, I don’t know that I’d agree you predicted this – I’d say you predicted they’d do better with all sports and a Reusse Soucheray combo, and on that you were DEAD on – congrats. However, it seemed like you were saying Reusse was just another boal of luke-warm porridge, ok for what it is, but not necessarily horrible.

    I think KSTP was doomed as a talk station as soon as FM talk started here. 101.3 has bought more billboard space than all of the other stations in town, and sunk HUGE money into putting on star talent – yet it hasn’t really made a dent in the morning drive (KQRS is simply the god of the town), but it certainly put a big dent in KSTP’s core audience. Unless the Hubbards were going to put a lot of money into competing (and they weren’t) they were pretty well destined to lose the race – which they’ve done.

    As an aside, someone mentioned Bob Davis – oh yeah, it was Tooladda. Bob Davis was a class A fool, he used to argue various things with me when I’d call him, like TELLING me I was wrong about my taxes, that I didn’t know my property taxes or my sales taxes and therefore didn’t know that I’d paid over 50% of my income in various taxes (a claim completely blown up by numerous studies). He also used to claim that outsourcing worked, and that we had LOTS and LOTS of jobs, certainly more than we’d lost, due to outsourcing in China and India. Beyond the empirical evidence that his claim was laughably stupid and untrue, the simple market economics fact that employing an accountant or manager in the US for $100k per year, when you could find one at least as capable in China for $10k per year made his (and the outsourcing idiots) claims logically unsupportable.

    Davis couldn’t reason his way out of a hat, and showed it virtually every day, and every time he spoke into a microphone. That Biddle-baddle liked him is neither surprising nor an endorsement. He was like all to many on the extreme (he being Davis), he drank too much of the kool-aid, and stopped using his brain. It was the likes of Davis that doomed KSTP, cheap, nearly talentless imitations of much more sophisticated shows like Limbaugh’s.

  28. Pingback: links for 2010-02-12 « Marty Andrade

  29. The best nighttime show I’ve ever heard was Lilek’s Diner. It was PERFECT for darktime. Art Bell was hit or miss. When he had Father Malachi Martin or Maj. Ed Dames (the remote viewing dude) on, it was spellbinding. Other times, it was boring or just plain weird.

  30. Mitch, I don’t know that I’d agree you predicted this – I’d say you predicted they’d do better with all sports and a Reusse Soucheray combo, and on that you were DEAD on – congrats.

    When yer hot, yer hot!

    However, it seemed like you were saying Reusse was just another boal of luke-warm porridge, ok for what it is, but not necessarily horrible.

    Enh. I never liked Reusse on his own.

    I think KSTP was doomed as a talk station as soon as FM talk started here. 101.3 has bought more billboard space than all of the other stations in town, and sunk HUGE money into putting on star talent – yet it hasn’t really made a dent in the morning drive (KQRS is simply the god of the town), but it certainly put a big dent in KSTP’s core audience. Unless the Hubbards were going to put a lot of money into competing (and they weren’t) they were pretty well destined to lose the race – which they’ve done.

    While KTLK certainly made the competition more interesting, it’s worth noting that their first lineup didn’t exactly light the city on fire; Colton and Guest/Kessler/Conry/Limbaugh/Janecek and Lambert actually got beaten by WWTC in the first few books. It wasn’t until KTLK went fairly orthodox conservative that they found an audience – and they didn’t become remotely financially viable until they ditched most of their local talent.

    KSTP committed suicide.

  31. Wow, Peev. Just wow. I wonder how many call screeners have your number taped up on the monitor.
    (I’m guessing ALL of them.)

  32. penigma said:

    “you’ve ducked every meaningful discussion you’ve ever been engaged in”

    *double-take* You said this, penigma? And “up is down” for you, I assume. Say “hi” to Michelle Bachmann for me. *wave*

  33. you’ve ducked every meaningful discussion you’ve ever been engaged in.

    Peev, you point the finger and there’s three pointing right back at ya.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh, I slay me!

  34. Peevish Boy is being taken to task once again.

    Projection: “Gutless little flock”

    Hypocrisy: “…that required you to be civil,…” followed by “…you ran like a little girl… …righties act like little turdblossoms… …it was Tooladda… …a class A fool… …That Biddle-baddle liked him… …he drank too much of the kool-aid, and stopped using his brain…”

    How civil of you, Peni. Nice job blending projection AND hypocrisy.
    Now runalong back to PenisBlog.
    Thanks for the laugh. No we weren’t laughing with you.

    Peevish Boy has been taken to task once again.

    In your heart you know I am right.

  35. Why is 1280 hiding Dennis Miller..I would like to at least hear him on the weekends before or after the NARN group.
    I think the Church lady would do better on Sunday Morning and the Davy Crocket group should be moved to midnigth.
    Its sad how bad KSTP became I only listened (when I could get the station in) when the Twins played.
    As far as sports I will stay with Jim Rome on 690, he is funny.
    I do hope 1280 signs up the old Diner man LileksDiner for its weekend
    lineup. ps NARM should find out where Barb Carlson is so she could
    go down memory lane.

  36. “ESPN stands for “Everything’s Souch and Patrick Now,” ”

    That is funny.

    Peev as far as KSTP being doomed because of FM talk, you are simply wrong. KSTP lost listeners because it lost on air talent. Rush’s fans wouldn’t go to KTLK if Rush were still on KSTP and the same with Lewis’s fans.

    There is a huge hole in the local Conservative Talk Radio programming. We have almost NO LOCAL conservative coverage during the week. Lewis did this very well but he has gone National. Baker is more comedian than conservative. Pitch a program idea to replace Gallager and I think 1280 could improve quite a bit.

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