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Fighting for relevance, 1500 ESPN shuffles lineup

Phil Mackey and Pat Reusse
1500espn.comPhil Mackey and Pat Reusse

In the Twin Cities sports radio wars, 1500 ESPN has always been a bit like Nate Silver competing with a carnival barker. The Hubbard-owned station is heavy on stats, journalist hosts and analysis; Clear Channel-owned KFAN has the bits, the brashness and the big FM signal.

Though the Hubbards are famously patient owners, 1500 is struggling. The 6 a.m.-midnight audience is off 20 percent over a year ago, fourth-worst among the Twin Cities Top 20 stations. (By the way, none of the six talk stations in the Top 20 are up over a year ago in the rolling three-month average.) Next season, 1500 won’t have Minnesota Twins rights. And their AM signal remains the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Late last week, 1500 announced a line-up reshuffle that (more or less) flips its afternoon shows. In early- to mid-February, Joe Soucheray will air 1-3 p.m. and Pat Reusse & Phil Mackey will be on 4-6 p.m. The station’s highest rated hour — Soucheray and Reusse — remains at 3 p.m., while young guns Mackey and Tom Pelissero will team up 6-7 p.m. Hubbard V.P. Dan Seeman says the noon-1 p.m. spot is still up in the air, though this week’s tryout of Jeff Dubay with 9 a.m.-noon host Judd Zulgad has speculation swirling.

Since nabbing Twins rights in 2009, 1500 has had one obvious problem being a local sports station: its morning-drive show (Mike & Mike in the Morning) isn’t local, and afternoon drive (Sooch) isn’t sports. Of Reusse & Mackey, Seeman says, “They’re our show that’s most on point, that most reflects our brand. Joe’s really important to the radio station — his audience is so loyal they’ll follow him anywhere — but we need to be sports in the afternoon.”

Like me, many sports fans were unwilling to suffer the “Soucheray speed bump,” but haters shouldn’t be too happy. Soucheray has already re-signed for two more years, where Garage Logic — somewhat deliciously — will go head-to-head against another skewed reality: KFAN’s Common Man. Seeman notes 1-4 is pretty close to Sooch’s 2-5 slot on the pre-ESPN 1500.

Aside from being a former host on both stations, I’ve been most interested in the KFAN-1500 tussle for clues to the digital future. I’ve always said the last section of the last newspaper printed will be sports; 1500ESPN.com has made itself into the town’s third sports section — Pelissero is heads and shoulders the best football analyst writing; Mackey is one of the smarter stats guy willing to go into a locker room and Reusse remains a great columnist. Seeman says, only a bit fancifully, “I could see this thing as becoming a website with a radio station, not a radio station with a website.”

In the same breath, he acknowledges digital sales are “OK, not great,” adding “it’s more of a sales issue than a content issue.” To that end, he’s brought in Dan Krolczyk, a former Patch.com and Star Tribune exec, as sales manager.

Still, “good radio trumps all,” Seeman says, bringing us back to the open question about whether that’s what 1500 is doing. I know from my own radio days that facts have only a niche appeal, and that schtick clubs earnestness almost every time.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Paul Allen and Dan Cole and Dan Barreiro have great bits going. I’ve always seen analogies between KFAN and KARE-TV: neither is the hard-newsiest and both are incredibly patient cultivating talent (KFAN’s newest show is eight years old).

Personally, when I turn away from some dull MPR segment, I’d much rather hear Zulgad and Pelissero jaw-jack about the Vikings, or Mackey and Reusse pick apart the Twins. Although I think what Allen, Cole and Barreiro pull off requires an underappreciated intelligence, I’ll go with the smart take over the smart bit.

Still, there’s a reason Soucheray remains a speed bump in your sports day: 1500 simply hasn’t found someone sportsy with as much game. Few owners are more patient than the Hubbards, so hopefully the young guns can become comfortable as fuller personalities. It’s either that, or the circus moves on.   

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Comments (6)

Barreiro is best afternoon show

David - Good take on the local sports radio scene, except when you get to comparing Barreiro to the rest of the radio landscape. Lumping Barreiro's show in with Paul Allen and Dan Cole, which I agree are more, "bit" focused, is akin to comparing Meatsauce (KFAN's Paul Lambert) with Dan Patrick. No offense to Meatsauce, but DP is on a whole different level and so is Dan Barreiro's show.

Barreiro and side kick Justin Gaard are heads and shoulders above the competition regardless of genre. Barreiro frequently leaves the, "toy department" of sports to focus on meaningful and timely news items. He captures the issues clearly and concisely and takes a position, something frequently missing in the milquetoast sports radio landscape we've been bludgeoned with in Minnesota for far too long. His take on serious issues are well thought out and his often poignant delivery engages listeners in ways that others simply have not mastered.

And then there are the guests. Barreiro frequently leaves the playing field and gets informed and intelligent people on the show to discuss the important and relevant issues of the day. In other words he doesn't only like to hear himself talk into the mic, a perennial problem with many other local radio, "celebrities". His regular guests consist of people whose credentials and insights you know well. People like Pat Kessler (veteran CCO' political reporter), Ron Rosenbaum (Lawyer extraordinaire and former radio personality), Lou Nanny, Lavelle E. Neal, Glen Mason and a host of others. Each of his regulars have unique and interesting personalities that can be counted on to get at the deeper issue and leave the listener more informed.

Yes there are bits, but they're sprinkled in, appropriate and often pretty funny. It's supposed to be entertaining, it's afternoon drive time. If the aim of a radio show, beyond making money for the station, is to inform it's listeners while still being entertaining then Barreiro has mastered that and more. Hell even the bumper music on Dan's show is great. To make a sports analogy here I think what Twin Cities listeners get with Barreiro is what football fans everywhere are getting with Adrian Peterson. Guys like Barreiro don't come along that often and while they're here we should enjoy every minute of it, I know I do.

You're the second one who's complained about Barreiro and bit ..

... And it's a fair criticism, so let me clarify.

First, you're right: Dan is more than a schlockmeister. I'm not quite as big a fan of his non-sports interviews as you, but he's an experienced journalist and often applies those skills well and clearly is interested in serious topics.

And yet. Dan is a genius at tapping his very legit outrage vein, and while a good percentage feels genuine, a not inconsiderable-portion feels forced, at least to this listener. Some things Dan doesn't like he's OUTRAGED about. I think that's an artifact of taking a natural point of view to an audience-enhancing "11." That's the bit factor I'm taking about.

In the end, it's worth noting, as you do, that Dan is the most successful host over there and also the one with the most journalistic instincts. It can be a great combo if 1500 can emulate, though I'm rooting for as little artifice as possible. Hosting is really about tapping into who you are; it's the best way for people to feel like they want a seat at your table.

Nice take

Thank you for the thoughtful response David. I know you have the experience and insight to articulate the strengths and weaknesses of radio personalities and I really do appreciate it. For my money Beirerro and Mischke are the most entertaining radio guys in the Twin Cities, for different reasons of course.

Unfair

To say that the sports "knowledge" on 1500 is better than 100.3 is homer-ism. The hosts on 100.3 are as well-versed in sports as the other guys, it's just that they are more versatile. I can't stand PA, but I do respect his football knowledge. And as obnoxious as the "homer" bit is, it's still better than the info-only on 1500. I can get info online or my phone. I can't get the humor and personality on 1500 generally. The only - and I repeat only - hour with any sort of personality on 1500 is the hour where Soochie and Reusse are together, but it's no better than Barreiro. Just because you can't be funny doesn't make you any more credible. I do appreciate the 1500 website, it's just head and shoulders better than their air product. Maybe their boss' comment is truer than he knows. Concentrate on the website with the expertise because it's pretty dry to listen to. I can get news and "expert" analysis anywhere when I want it.

And you don't even mention the mornings, where I think 100.3 is most "bit heavy." But the thing is, it's the best bit in mornings. It's where Tom Barnard was 10-15 years ago. Very funny, can't miss a day radio.

For Ken

Ken - Great points on Barreiro and the 1500 website which is better than KFAN's. I like the KFAN morning show for the most part, but am less interested since they sacked Mike Morris.

Different strokes for...

I'll have to disagree on a few points. I've heard Barreiro get on others for feigned outrage a number of times. Most recently was the issue of no one getting into the baseball HOF and those calling for the execution of the writer who criticized RGIII's "blackness".

And I think KFAN in the morning is FAR better without Morris. He was nothing without the cliche' and was absolutely the worst on interviews or call-in segments. The man did nothing but repeat the point the interviewee/ caller made in 3 different ways. It drove me insane!