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With launch of hip-hop station, Pohlad says Go Media 'all-in' on millennials

Joe Pohlad
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn
Joe Pohlad

A conversation with Joe Pohlad, CEO of Go Media, pretty much always cuts to the bottom line: “We’re all about millennials.”

While news that Pohlad’s company was launching an all hip-­hop music format on its new station, Go 95.3 FM, may have been met with a collective shrug among those of you who are, shall we say, of the pre-­Kendrick Lamar era, there was palpable excitement among a, uh, younger demographic.

To read some of the coverage, though, you’d think Minneapolis­-St.Paul was some kind of hip-hop-less black hole, despite the presence of two other stations, The Vibe 105, owned by Cumulus Media, a major radio player, and “Hot 102.5” owned by iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel, but still controlled by the Mitt Romney-founded Bain Capital, because nothing says hip­-hop like Mitt Romney).

Moreover, the Pohlads have been in the hip-­hop game before, with sister station GO 96.3 (back when it was known as B96), but abandoned it for programming thought to be better suited to match the Twins games that tend to dominate their schedule six months of the year.

With all that, my questions for Pohlad were these:

Given the abundant personal technology obsessively manipulated by so many millennials, what convinced him that there was sufficient revenue stream from the demographic to sustain the format and balance the books on their $8 million investment in the 95.3 signal, which they bought from Praise Broadcasting, a local religious group?

And, what if any other formats did they consider? Specifically, since no other player in the Twin Cities market has bothered to challenge Minnesota Public Radio for older, up­scale adults’ attention and dollars, why not take a shot at a news-talk format that might peel away some of that audience?

After all,​ last summer the Pohlads bought Rick Kupchella’s​ Bring Me the News. It isn’t hard to imagine a highly-­localized hybrid of news matched with a broad, eclectic spectrum of talk that isn’t another “low­-sloping forehead” (™ David Carr) hyper-­partisan political rant channel, but that brings a few notes of levity and impertinence that MPR tends to avoid like cardinal sins.

“We did look at a lot of other formats,” said Pohlad. “But our mission, our plan, is and has been to provide a service to millennials. After looking at all the options, that was the group we decided to continue to target. And target with the content they want in the forms they want, which we’re doing now with both Go 96 and Go 95.”

Pohlad’s basic pitch is that “no one else is playing these two formats,” meaning, again, alternative pop and hip­-hop. The parsing there is that The Vibe and Hot 102 are dedicated to “old-school” hip-­hop not the newer and more local stuff Go 95.3 will be playing; and that Go 96’s alternative format is, well, not the same as MPR’s The Current.

“Basically we’re trying to be all-in on millennials,” he said. “Yes, Spotify and Apple Music are out there, and we know our audience is using them. But we believe we’ll draw them to us by offering services that they can’t, namely a local connection.”

To that end, he said, the Bring Me the News component will undergo some more “tweaking” to satisfy the millennial appetite for news and information, which one hopes is something more intellectually fulfilling than, “How to Make My Butt Look Better in These Jeans.”

So, okay, Pohlad believes there’s enough millennial appetite (i.e. enough millennials still listening to terrestrial radio) to support his investment in another hip­-hop station. But what about taking a shot at MPR’s far better-­heeled crowd? “Well, like I say, we looked at a lot of other formats, but our focus is millennials. A format like you’re talking about is interesting and, frankly, could still be an opportunity. But for us, hip-hop is a better match with Go 96 and the Twins. We truly believe there is a good revenue opportunity with hip-hop.”

In the coverage greeting the arrival of Go 95.3, there seemed to be a suggestion that there would be separate set of station-­promoted concerts for its new hip-­hop brand. “I don’t know where they got that,” says Pohlad, who says he is more interested in a larger summer fest, another Go Fest — likely at Target Field again — blending both alternative and hip hop.

MPR is very tight-­lipped about the financial performance of its events, but a persistent rumor is that last year’s Rock the Garden bash, put on by The Current and the Walker Art Center, did not meet the station’s expectations, money­wise. This couples with complaints from millennials that I know that there simply wasn’t enough star power in the line­up to warrant the trek and ticket price.

If the presence of a hot, big name act is what’s missing, people tend to say: “Hey, the Pohlads have dough, why don’t they pop for a major act?”

“Well,” Pohlad laughs, “I hear that. But this is still a business, where you set a budget and you go about hitting that budget. There’s a lot of competition for summer festivals. But we’re happy with Go Fest. We think it’ll be better than ever next summer.”

Which I guess is a way of saying: “Don’t expect Kendrick Lamar.”

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Comments (4)

OK, Fine...

Best wishes to Joe Pohlad and his millennial strategy. But, please, oh please, can you let our baseball team go? No other team in all of MLB would allow its broadcast partner to marginalize its' team's broadcast and coverage (both time devoted to team coverage and geographic broadcast range) the way 96.3 has. Zero respect for Twins fans....

Local radio

As a 36-year-old who's not technically a millennial, I can tell you that my radio preferences have changed a whole lot in the past year.
First, I started listening to it again (in the car, at least) thanks to the old-school hip-hop stations and Bob 106. Yes, that's rap and country, but both are playing songs you can't really find anywhere else, and that's refreshing. Bob is especially interesting with its mix of 90s-and-older country along with modern country that's mostly OK – not the mainstream Nashville country-in-name-only crap.
Second, I had stopped listening to radio because it was terrible. For a long while I listened to the Current quite often, even when an iPod or stream was available, because it played a good mix of interesting variety. Now, its playlist is adult-contemporary with a few seemingly arbitrarily hand-picked local acts and the earache-inducing Mumford and Sons on repeat. I listen to "United States of Americana" and that's pretty much it; KEXP out of Seattle has become my go-to for interesting new music and I highly recommend it.
And finally, perhaps I'm not the target the Pohlads are shooting for, and I do like Kendrick Lamar, but this station sounds like it will be an ad-filled mess of a 20-song playlist repeated over and over and over. I'll stick with the old-school stations, despite them still playing Ginuwine's "Pony" and Ashanti's "What's Luv" at least 12 times a day.

Radio?

What is this "radio" of which you speak? The only radio I have listened to in the last year was Thanksgiving's "Turkey Confidential" (streamed through the MPR app). I'd rather pick my own material to listen to rather than giving that over to someone to do for me.

What happens when you are given everything

I give it 6 months and then they will turn it to a lacrosse/1970s rock station format