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KFAN vs. 1500ESPN: slicing the ratings apple

Longtime ratings power KFAN says its winning with listeners that matter the most; upstart 1500ESPN says its local shows are gaining. A closer look at the sports-radio rivalry.
By David Brauer

In the wake of Monday’s post on the June Arbitron ratings, I spoke with KFAN über-boss Gregg Swedberg. In the broadest Arbitron measure — listeners 6 and older, 7 a.m. to midnight — KFAN finished well behind 1500ESPN, a.k.a. KSTP-AM.

KFAN has been a strong performer for decades; 1500ESPN just went all-sports earlier this year. Swedberg’s message: We’re not losing. And we’re not losing audience, either.

The ratings game often involves how you slice the apple. Swedberg is looking at it like a businessman. He’s only considering prime time (6 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and the prime demographic (men 25-54). To gauge the performance of each station’s regularly scheduled shows, he excludes 1500ESPN’s Twins day-game broadcasts. (The Twins’ radio station doesn’t reap ad bucks during the game; all goes to the team.)

Conclusion? KFAN is not only “not losing” to 1500ESPN, the Fan is “up from last year at this time,” Swedberg says.

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Over at 1500ESPN, poohbah Dan Seeman doesn’t disagree with either statement.

However, Seeman slices the apple a slightly different way. “We are really happy with live and local,” he says.

Let me translate: While 1500ESPN is buoyed by the Twins, the affiliate agreement means carrying syndicated shows (Mike and Mike, Colin Cowherd) from 6 a.m. to noon. Cowherd is a ratings millstone. The shows cost nothing, and give the local station a bit of revenue, so they make some financial, if not ratings, sense.

But in the afternoons, when local boys Pat Reusse, Phil Mackey and Joe Soucheray go head-to-head with KFAN’s Dan Cole and Dan Barreiro, 1500ESPN’s share of the listening audience is neck-and-neck with KFAN.

Seeman counts Twins games — “it’s part of what we do” — just as KFAN doesn’t ding itself when Vikings season and its broadcast rights roll around.

Seeman concedes KFAN may reopen an afternoon gap come November, but even so, 1500ESPN’s local line-up will likely perform better than last winter.

To Seeman, a real headline here is that neither station is suffering after 1500ESPN’s all-sports switch. “Time and time again, when format competitors come into the marketplace, listenership goes up for the format,” he says. “Overall, there are more sports-talk listeners now.”