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New Buz’n, K-TWIN formats shake up Twin Cities radio ratings

WLTE’s country switchover boosted numbers as K-TWIN sunk like a stone. Who else won and lost?

Three months after WLTE switched to country “Buz’n 102.9” and B96 turned into the intriguingly named K-TWIN, competitors laud the former’s success and wonder what the hell the latter was thinking.

K-TWINK-TWIN, which dumped hip-hop for a rock-based format and local morning show, sunk like a stone. In March, the station had to a 1.7 percent share of the total Twin Cities audience, down from a 4.1 a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Buz’n rose from 3.4 percent to 4.9 percent in the same period.

Other year-over-year winners? Popsters KS95 (6.6 to 7.6); first-place KDWB (8.7 to 9.2), and Cities 97 (4.2 to 4.9). Public radio took it on the chin: The Current was the big loser, down from 4.2 to 3, and MPR news slid from 5.5 to 4.8. More on that in a bit.

Buz’n’s rise, K-TWIN’s fall

Buz’n came out strong early; owners CBS backed it with copious TV advertising, beating long-time country powerhouse in total listeners (“cume”). Rivals with access to Arbitron demographics but who wished to analyze unnamed, say the key was men sampling the new arrival; K102 skews female. In recent weeks, some men drifted away; both 102s now skew female and K102 is back on top.

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Buz’n may prevent K102 from claiming the top spot this summer — and perhaps thwart a top-three spot among women 25-54, which can fetch a selling premium. Still, year-over-year, K102 was down just a tenth of a share point overall, to 7.2.

Meanwhile, the Pohlad-owned K-TWIN lost more than half its audience in its switchover. Rivals speculate that Minnesota Twins will move to K-TWIN after 1500ESPN’s contract expires after the season, just to stop the bleeding by getting samplers to listen. (Adding the hapless ballclub could be like throwing a drowning man an anchor, though.)

Much like Twins ownership, K-TWIN execs preach patience. Says CEO Steve Woodbury, “We literally flushed out our old audience; our target is 35 or 45 (year-olds), not teens, and for context, we went from 30 percent African-Americans down to 5 percent.”

Woodbury says February was the low point for the station now playing rock hits from 1985 on, with ratings creeping up. (The station has also debuted TV ads.) Operations VP Sam Elliot says the first-year goal is to be in the Top 7 18-49; “we currently fluctuate 9th or 10th.”

Though competitors may chortle, Woodbury insists it’s “hard to answer” what the Twins will do. “Jim Pohlad and [Twins president] Dave St. Peter keep it close to the vest. I work with Bob Pohlad.”

What’s up at The Current?

In a piece I did last year, rivals claimed quirks in the 1,300-person Arbitron listener panel helped The Current’s rise from 1- and 2-shares in 2010 to 3s/4s in 2011. The theory: a few alt-rock die-hards skewed “time spent listening” (the other ratings component), producing outsized gains on a station ranked in the mid-teens. When those addicts rolled off the panel, the theory went, the Current’s gains would, too.

There seems to be truth to this — but the good news for Mother MPR is that The Current’s rating is better than any 2010 number. The 3 share compares with sub-1s to low 2s from other non-commercial rock stations nationally.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of The Current’s story is streaming. No local radio station gets a bigger local bump from Internet broadcasting, which adds 3 tenths of a share point to the 2.7 over-the-air number. Put another way, fully 10 percent of The Current’s local listenership is online – no station is better positioning for the onrushing Internet future.

By the way, The Current’s run of beating its closest commercial sound-alike, Cities 97, is over. Cities’ 4.9 is its second-highest number in the 24-month “portable people meter” era. Cities took off when WLTE disappeared and K-TWIN dumped hip-hop; analysts say KDWB and KS95 were also helped by that.

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The Current’s public-radio cousin, MPR news, is down in the last year — the 4.1 share in February was a PPM low — and March’s 4.8 more resembles 2010 than the 5s of 2011. It’s really only a two-month trend, though, and it’s too soon to make definitive judgments.

Random notes

Is it possible KQ has finally hit bottom? A 6.4 in February and 6.3 in March bounces up from 5s in the latter half of 2011. As the entire market waits to see whether the aging Tom Barnard and new (tightwad) owners Cumulus stay hitched, the station remains #1 among 25-54-year-olds in morning drive and #3 in afternoon drive.

Among women ages 25-54, the 6-10 a.m. rankings look like this: KDWB, KS95, KQ, K102, Cities97, JACK-FM, MyTalk107, Buz’n, WCCO and KOOL108.

Among men, same age/timeslot: KQ, KFAN, 93X, KD, KS95, WCCO, Jack, KOOL, Buz’n, K102.

Afternoon drive (3-7 p.m.), women 25-54: KS95, KD, K102, Cities, MyTalk, KQ, Buz’n, JACK, KOOL, Love 105 (which altered its format trying to fill the WLTE hole).

Afternoon drive, 25-54 men: KFAN, KQ, 93X, KS95, KD, K102, JACK, 1500, Buz’n, KOOL.

Though WCCO will never be demographic champs once the workday starts, their topline has steadily risen into the mid-7s from 4s and 5s two years ago. There was a post-winter-weather falloff last year; we’ll see if seasonality is a factor this year.

The sports stations both saw year-over-year topline gains. KFAN, which moved to FM, hit 3.3 compared to 2.6 a year ago; 1500ESPN, marooned on AM, rose from 2.4 to 2.8. It will be interesting to see how Gardy’s Groaners affect 1500 going forward; though the Twins, not the station, gets in-game ad revenue.