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A music station for Twins fans? What KTWN is thinking

A music station’s five-year plan culminates with a baseball team’s arrival.

Minnesota Twins fans will never forget Jack Morris. KTWN-FM execs hope they won’t forget “JACK’s younger brother.”

That’s how KTWN vice president Sam Eliot describes the music format on the Twins’ new radio flagship. The JACK in this case is JACK-FM, the local CBS-owned music station that ranked eighth among men 25-54 and women 25-54 in the July Arbitrons.

The Pohlad family owns the team and KTWN, so everyone assumes this is a lifetime marriage, or until losses do they part. Technically, says Twins president Dave St. Peter, it’s a two-year deal, since Major League Baseball requires a fixed-length term in case either entity is sold.

For the Twins, the math is relatively simple – 60 percent of listeners never hit the AM band, Eliot claims, a dynamic that only picked up speed when KFAN decamped for FM last year. The team expects its radio audience to get bigger and younger; with the Twins controlling in-game ad revenues, discarding even seven-figure rights fees from outside broadcasters isn’t as big a deal as outsiders might assume.

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But many still wonder how this works for the music side. To hear Eliot describe it, KTWN is the next step in a plan that began five years ago, when the Pohlads bought the former B96, rebranded it KTWN in late 2011, dumped rap/hiphop format … and promptly belly flopped in the ratings, falling from around 12th to 24th place overall.

As plans go, this looks about as good as Bill Smith signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka. But Eliot says he sold the Pohlads an 18-month window to rebuild ratings, which gives him until mid-season 2013.

KTWN is shooting for a 50-50 split among men and women, targeted tightly to listeners 30 to 49. Age-wise, that’s right in the Twins’ wheelhouse – their audience averages 42 – though more female than the Twins 60/40 male split.

Notes Elliot, “The number one choice after Twins games [on sports talker 1500 ESPN] is switching to music, 40 percent.” (That’s of listeners who keep their radios on; the first choice is actually hitting the “off” button.)

KTWN abandoned B96’s decent ratings number because the 15- to 30-year-olds listening to rap and hip-hop weren’t that lucrative sales-wise.

Although KTWN debuted with a motley mix of local and alt-hits and ‘80s/’90s crowd-pleasers, Eliot says the station began hitting more mainstream notes as of Wednesday’s announcement. The younger-brother reference refers to JACK’s concentration on ‘80s and ‘90s hits; KTWN will have more call-outs to the current “Call Me Maybe” earworms Eliot says draw a “mother-daughter coalition” advertisers crave.

To me, it sounds boring as heck, much like Target Field’s music, which in this aging hipster’s view degraded massively from the eclectic, surprisingly local 2010 playlist. Not coincidentally, the Twins fired their indie programmer in favor of KTWN’s current morning show producer in 2011.

But Eliot makes no apologies – Target Field’s music is aimed at the masses, and KTWN wants more than The Current’s 2.0 share, even if that’s more than the 1.4 they now sport. “People want the hits,” he says.

Fans shouldn’t expect Dan Gladden in stereo, however. Steve Woodbury, the veteran exec who has overseen the KTWN strategy, says games will be broadcast in mono, to reduce interference from objects like tall buildings. (MPR News also uses this approach.) The station will revert to stereo come music time.

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Eliot’s biggest programming challenge is his morning show. The station fired B96 holdover Tony Fly late last month, and KARE11 sports director Eric Perkins is overmatched in the host chair. Wednesday’s announcement broadcast was one of those cringing mixes of corporate imperative, dull P.R. and needless hangers-on.

Eliot, a programmer who is ascending the corporate ranks with Woodbury’s retirement, will hire his replacement soon and in turn hire a morning host well before the 2013 season when those 400,000-650,000 Twins fans start turning up weekly.

The format in general will feature “great guys from here, the best personalities, key people from here who can galvanize the audience, and we’ll make similar adjustments to other day parts,” Elliot says.

Will this produce the familiar complaint of too much talking between hits? Elliot predicts a music count somewhere between the traditional seven to eight songs and hour and the “one to two” KDWB’s Dave Ryan and KQ’s Tom Barnard might play.