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Why the Twins returned to WCCO radio

USA Today Sports
Minnesota Twins shortstop Ehire Adrianza sliding into home during a Sept. 23, 2017, game against the Detroit Tigers.

A dozen years ago, when the Twins left WCCO Radio, there was the sense of a permanent breakup. AM radio had become the province of older listeners, radio itself was under siege by Internet streaming, and ’CCO had been losing key local sports franchises right and left. For a time, all it boasted was University of St. Thomas football.

Not a lot has changed since then, so some were surprised at the announcement made late last year that the Twins were returning to ’CCO for the 2018 season. What looks rather random on the surface is mostly about strategic timing and short-term needs.

Twin Cities BusinessWhen the Twins left ’CCO in 2006 after nearly a half-century, the CBS-owned station’s national management showed a declining interest in sports. “We felt disenfranchised,” says Twins president Dave St. Peter. Hubbard Broadcasting’s AM 1500 was transitioning from right-wing talk to sports, and writing a check to the Twins seemed like a wise investment in rebranding.

A few years later, the thrill was gone. AM 1500 wasn’t seeing sufficient return on its investment, say insiders, and the Twins wanted to be on FM, where younger listeners were. Thus the move to Pohlad-owned GO 96.3 FM. Alas, the marriage of music formats and up to 190 days of baseball play-by-play (including spring training) hasn’t worked well around the country, St. Peter says. “We knew that, but were willing to try. We made a strong effort. But the revolving door of listeners was challenging.”

Ownership decided it wanted GO 96.3 to reach its potential, while the Twins wanted the corollary benefits of being on a sports- and talk-driven station. Discussions ensued with the local players (KFAN, WCCO, 1500). The Twins preferred FM carriage, but iHeart Media’s KFAN’s commitment to the market-leading Vikings has consistently left the Twins on the outside looking in.

AM 1500 was interested but saw less upside than WCCO, newly merged into Entercom Communications, with a revitalized focus on sports. “I’m not sure we would have done the deal with the previous ownership,” St. Peter says.

The Twins will deliver a turnkey broadcast to WCCO, which is the new model, with ’CCO free to create complementary programming around it. It’s not clear what, if anything, Entercom paid for the rights. All the incidental baseball listeners should boost WCCO’s fortunes. The station is still a revenue leader in the market, but its audience is down dramatically from the previous Twins era. Even competitors are sort of pleased.

“It’s great for the AM band,” says Hubbard Radio Twin Cities market manager Dan Seeman. “It hopefully helps all of us.”

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by ian wade on 02/15/2018 - 01:12 pm.

    I welcome the change…

    I haven’t listened to CCO in many years, and then it was only to listen to Dark Star occasionally. Lack of compelling content and personalities aside, their one shining beacon has always been their signal strength. During the day, I’ve picked up the station in Duluth and as far south as Black River Falls in Wisconsin. At night even further. As for 96.3, I couldn’t even get it in the north metro.

    To me, baseball is a game that’s tailor made for radio. Its passivity is perfect for sitting on the deck during a summer evening, cleaning the garage on a Saturday afternoon or dozing off to a late game played in the middle of a west coast road trip.
    As long as Dave Lee or Sid Hartman get nowhere near an actual broadcast, it will be great to have it back

  2. Submitted by John Edwards on 02/15/2018 - 05:22 pm.

    Ian’s sage observation

    I agree with Ian’s advice to avoid the unctuous David Lee and the ununderstandable Sid Hartman.

    I also have not listened to WCCO with the exception of my diversion of switching to the station randomly—and briefly— to see if I will hear a commercial, which I do about 75 percent of the time.

  3. Submitted by Paul Schwartz on 02/17/2018 - 12:26 am.

    Haven’t listened to ‘cco in years…

    I like listening to baseball on the radio. There were plenty of out-state stations to pick up the broadcast when the FM signal would fade.

    Will WCCO interrupt the baseball broadcast at the slightest weather change like they used to?
    Their pattern was to continue interrupting baseball until the storm has left the listening area. Having
    WCCO take over the broadcast is disappointing for baseball fans in that regard.

  4. Submitted by Chris Haefner on 03/29/2018 - 08:23 pm.

    Opening Day Unbearable

    I was driving home from work today (Opening Day) and heard Dan Barreiro on KFAN recapping the top of ninth. That the game had gone to extra innings. I flipped to 96.3 excited to listen to the game only to hear music. At a red light I found out the Twins were back on WCCO so I turned it to AM 830. Talk about unbearable listening. The signal was nothing but static while in downtown St. Paul. After I crossed the Robert St. bridge the signal cleared up but the quality of the sound was HORRIBLE. I could not understand a word that the play-by-play person was saying.

    How long do we have to suffer at the hands of the Pohlads? Will someone please free us of the stupidity of this ownership team. Another terrible decision based on how much money they can put in the pockets regardless of the fan experience.

    Go back to FM so the fans can at least understand what is being said. Even if the product ont he field is mediocre.

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