KTWN 96.3 FM: The Pohlad Radio Play

Does ownership have long-term commitment?
KTWN 96.3 FM: The Pohlad Radio Play

The most intriguing and puzzling development of the past year (to the local radio industry, at any rate) has been the Twins organization’s decision to bring its baseball broadcasts to the station owned by its owners. KTWN has built a music format around an eclectic mix of adult rock and baseball. It has hired a large staff for a fledgling music operation and is the talk of the local radio biz. 

“It’s a very interesting effort,” says Compass Point Media’s Jen Walz. “It is struggling to find a place in the market. Baseball does well on radio, it brings audience. But it’s an open question of how it works with music. It’s a pioneering effort.”

But not without precedent. BIA/ Kelsey’s Mark Fratrik says the Washington Redskins own the station that broadcasts its games, and teams are increasingly joint venture partners in regional sports networks. Baseball teams have also partnered with music formats, but rarely if there are more fitting options available.

K-Twin’s Dossier

  • Format debut: 2012
  • Owner: Northern Lights Broadcasting (Twin Cities; Pohlad family)
  • Format: Twins baseball, adult rock
  • Marquee talent: Ron Coomer
  • Trying to build a new team from scratch. Expect lots of rookie mistakes.
  • Bench depth: Lack of major sports radio personalities is a hole in its offense.

    The team’s commitment is doubted in some circles because the Pohlads had been negotiating to sell the station (at 96.3 FM) to Hubbard Broadcasting when ESPN 1500 still carried Twins baseball, according to insiders. Twins President Dave St. Peter says Clear Channel also made a “very compelling” offer to air Twins games on its signal at 107.9 FM in the last round of negotiations for team broadcast rights. 

    The cynical view is the Pohlads overpaid for a radio station with a weak signal, could not make a success of the station as B96, and are now scrambling to find a profitable purpose for it. “Nobody buys one radio station in the current market environment,” scoffs a competitor. “We don’t get what they’re doing.”

    Although St. Peter is not managing the radio station, he seems to exert a strong influence. “The Pohlads reaffirmed a commitment to pioneer a new format. We view this as opening our brand to a whole new audience that doesn’t know AM exists,” he says. “Our signal can penetrate a building, finally.” 

    St. Peter says the Twins’ radio revenue equals that of a medium-size radio station, and the opportunity with KTWN is to “fully integrate radio into our branding and marketing.” He describes the future of the station as potentially “more talk-focused” and says he would not be surprised “to see us in discussions” to broadcast other teams’ games. (The Twins tried a decade ago to partner with the Timberwolves on the stillborn Victory Sports cable network.)