Two Twin Cities Radio Stations to Change Hands
The planned sale of two Twin Cities radio stations this week didn’t catch many industry insiders by surprise. On Tuesday, the Pohlad Cos., owner of the Twins, announced a deal to sell stations Go 95.3 and 96.3. The buyer, widely reported to be a California-based nonprofit Christian radio broadcaster, might seem unusual at the outset, but insiders say it’s simply a reflection of changing market forces.
In a brief news release issued Tuesday, Pohlad Cos. Chief of Staff Ben Hawn said the company “decided to exit the radio business.” The company didn’t name the buyer, though numerous media outlets have indicated the stations will be sold to Rocklin, California-based Educational Media Foundation, a Christian broadcaster known for distributing the K-LOVE and Air-1 networks.
The Pohlad Cos. also didn’t provide a reason for the sale, but a combination of pandemic-induced revenue declines and changing listener patterns likely played a role.
“The advertising end of the [radio] business pretty much collapsed in the second quarter of the year, as it did with other media as well. Print, too,” said Mark Neuzil, journalism professor and chair of the department of emerging media at the University of St. Thomas.
Consider the fate of City Pages, which shuttered permanently in October due to ad declines.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Pohlads were looking for an exit strategy,” Neuzil added.
The Pohlads, which purchased 96.3 in 2007 and 95.3 eight years later, had been on the hunt for a buyer for a couple years now. In total, they paid nearly $36 million for the stations, trade publication RadioInsight reported.
Though the Pohlad Cos. apparently never found a prospective buyer in competitor broadcasters like Hubbard or Entercom, it eventually landed a deal with Educational Media Foundation. The market for religious programming is large, both locally and nationally.
“Faith-based programming is huge,” said Jeff Litt, a veteran broadcast sales exec who’s been in the industry for more than three decades. “It’s a big business. … and the company that bought Go is a huge national company. There’s a lot of economies of scale that come with having multiple stations in multiple markets.”
And though there’s already plenty of Christian programming in town, competition is less of a concern for EMF and other nonprofit broadcasters.
“I think there is a threat of saturation, but … the bottom-line is less of a concern if they don’t have shareholders to answer to,” Neuzil said.
The format for the new stations isn’t clear yet, but it’s likely going to consist of nationally syndicated Christian programming. That, too, may work to the buyer’s favor: Local programming can be expensive. Ditto for local on-air talent. And that also may explain why other local broadcasters weren’t interested in buying the stations.
“[Buying Go] probably just wasn’t in the game plan for them,” said Litt of other local broadcasters. “It’s a low-power station, which does cost money to run. It might not complement anything they currently have.”