How KFAN Became the King of Local Personality Radio

How KFAN Became the King of Local Personality Radio

The sports station is now tops in the metro overall.

KFAN debuted in 1991 as a shaky experiment to bring an all-sports format to the Twin Cities on AM radio. Three decades later, the format, which moved to FM in 2011, is an inescapable media presence. In January, KFAN (KFXN-FM 100.3) ranked as the top metro station overall, with an 8.4 percent share of the (age six and up) audience. (Hubbard’s KS95 came in second at 8.2.) “It’s probably the best month we’ve ever had,” says Gregg Swedberg, senior vice president of programming for the Minneapolis station group of LA-based owner iHeartMedia.

Perhaps even more compelling is that KFAN also has the highest market share of any all-sports station in the U.S. The Twin Cities is one of only three markets in Nielsen’s 50 largest metro areas in which a sports format has the most listeners. (In January, Philadelphia’s WIP-FM drew a 7.8 percent share.)

Swedberg helped create the station nearly three decades ago. “Honestly, we screwed it up for 10 years. The first ratings were brutal,” he admits.

He says that many of the station’s longstanding program hosts are now entrenched in people’s routines. “The longer you stay on the air with the same hosts, you should do better,” says Swedberg. “P.A. [Paul Allen] and Common [Dan “Common Man” Cole] have been here for 20-plus years. I just think it’s being consistent.”

The secret sauce? “It’s not all sports.”

“They’re damn successful … they’ve had a reputation for a long time across the country and in the industry as being a really good station,” says Michael Harrison, publisher of industry trade magazine Talkers. “A lot has to be said for the level of fandom in your market … that’s a prerequisite for a sports station to do well.” Harrison says KFAN benefits from having live, local, and entertaining hosts who are willing to go beyond sports. “They seem to have tremendous passion.”

All along, Swedberg says, he’s had aspirations for the station to be a modern iteration of “The Good Neighbor,” the dominant talk station in the market for earlier generations. “I grew up listening to WCCO … I said for a long time that we aspired to be what ‘CCO used to be. We’re where you go when something happens.”

This story appears in print with the headline: The Sporty Neighbor?