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With Twins’ jump to KTWN expected, 1500 ESPN ‘committed’ to sports format

Despite low ratings after six years of Twins broadcasts, the Hubbard-owned station will stick with sports even if the team jumps to a Pohlad-owned FM.

Although 1500 ESPN vice president Dan Seeman refuses to talk about a Star Tribune report that Minnesota Twins games will leave his station in 2013, he declares, “We are a sports talk station for today and into the future. We are committed to this format.”

The Pohlad family owns the Twins and KTWN-96.3, the recently renamed but lightly listened-to FM music station expected to become the team’s flagship in a Wednesday announcement. The team will no longer cash a seven-figure check from 1500’s owners, the Hubbard family, instead hoping to make it up in new listeners for KTWN, whose redone music format has been coldly received so far.

Seeman made it clear that the Hubbards believe they have “great equity” in current talent such as Joe Soucheray, Pat Reusse, Phil Mackey, Judd Zulgad, Joe Anderson and Tom Pelissero.

1500 will need every bit of that equity, marooned on the unloved AM band after sports rival KFAN went FM last year, and now without 162 opportunities that equal 400,000-650,000 fans a week. The station nabbed the Twins from WCCO before the 2007 season in a three-season deal, and signed a two-year renewal during the 2010 season, especially important after going almost-all sports (save Soucheray) a few months before.

That unusually short deal was a clear sign the Twins were ready to move for 2013. Still, the Hubbards had enough riding on new-format samplers that they wrote a big check even though the team controls all the ad time during a four-hour-or-so block including the actual gamecast.

Now, KTWN, the former B96 and KHTC, is the one that needs new samplers, but may face the same problem turning those listeners into profits.

1500, which has built an impressive web-side reporting/analysis operation, did itself no favors with speed bumps in its programming day. The broader universe of local fans would careen into Soucheray denying global warming after day games; if they left their radio on after evening gamecasts, would find themselves with ESPN national morning show “Mike & Mike” obsessing about Tim Tebow.

KTWN now has to hope baseball’s aging audience sticks around for pop hits, a marriage that has struggled in many other national markets. But the Pohlads — who outbid the Hubbards for 96.3 when station prices were high — need to do something with an underperformer. Wednesday’s announcement should clarify exactly what.