This is one in a series of profiles of successful stations in all market sizes.
Since the 1990s, radio station leaders have had to address many challenges including new competition from the internet, social media and music services like Spotify and Pandora. Yet despite having to navigate this changing media landscape, some stations not only survive but seem to flourish. One good example is KS95 in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
KSTP(FM) is unusual in a number of ways. For one thing, it is live and local 24/7 and has been owned by the same company, Hubbard Radio, since its inception in 1965 (after an earlier, short-lived FM presence before the FM band became popular). For another, the station has not only a high-profile morning team but also an equally visible afternoon drive show. And KS95 is consistent; while adapting to changing musical tastes, it has maintained an adult contemporary format for decades, today playing what in 2016 we call hot AC.
|A Prince tribute, a pumpkin carving contest, Imagine Dragons and the afternoon team of Moon & Staci were featured on the station website in early October.
That consistency is one key to the station’s success, says General Manager Dan Seeman. “We’re an upbeat, local, music station with entertaining personalities. The music gets [the listeners] there, and the personalities keep them there.”
Seeman has been involved with Hubbard Broadcasting for more than a decade after coming over from the Minneapolis cluster of what was then Clear Channel. The Twin Cities constitute Nielsen’s market No. 16 and have a Metro 12+ population of 2.9 million people. Seeman ran two Hubbard talk stations there, KSTP(AM) and KTMY(FM), then joined KS95 five years ago; his duties have expanded since. In addition to the station GM, he is vice president and regional manager for Hubbard Radio’s 19 Minnesota stations.
Not only is KS95 local, its parent is too. Hubbard Broadcasting was founded by Stanley E. Hubbard in the mid-1920s. It has a notable presence today in cities like Chicago, Washington, Seattle and Phoenix; but it’s still family-owned and still maintains its corporate offices in St. Paul. That’s a plus, according to Seeman.
“The Hubbards are such visionary owners. They hire the right people, and they understand the importance of investing in their stations.” And because the home office is local, “We don’t have to check in with New York or the west coast. We’re able to seize the moment.”
When music legend and local resident Prince died suddenly in April, KS95 began playing his music non-stop throughout the afternoon. The station also posted Prince videos on its website, put up a series of digital billboards throughout the market and created a social media tribute, “Wear Purple for Prince,” encouraging listeners to wear purple on April 22, and to share their photos on the station’s Facebook page.
KS95 has a longstanding reputation as a station with entertaining personalities: From 1979 to 1994, the station featured one of the most popular morning duos in the Twin Cities, Knapp and Donuts. Knapp was then-program director (and veteran top-40 DJ) Chuck Knapp; his sidekick was Michael “Donuts” Douglas.
Their show’s energy and quirky humor made a positive impact on many listeners, including Leighton Peck, who grew up listening to Knapp and Donuts. He ultimately embarked on his own radio career, joining KS95 in 1991 as a part-time announcer and going on to become its music director. Today, Peck is KS95’s program director, a role he has held since 2001.
That kind of longevity is typical of KS95. Most of the on-air staff members know the Twin Cities inside and out; they are from the area or they’ve been with the station for a while.
For example, popular afternoon team Moon & Staci have been with the station since January 2003. (They were joined by Adam “Crisco” Zalusky in 2012.) Leighton Peck brought Moon and Staci together. Larry Moon had been working in Houston, while Staci was in St. Cloud, Minn., and Peck believed the two would make a good on-air team.
“Staci is fiery, she’s honest, funny and relatable,” says Peck. “Moon is a character; there’s always something going on in his life. Listeners see him as one of them, an everyman. He knows how to do radio, and he works very well with Staci.”
|Dave Bestler, Staci Matthews, Crisco, Dan Seeman and Moon (seated) celebrate the 2015 NAB Marconi Award for Large Market Station of the Year.
Listeners certainly agree: Not only does the afternoon show get consistently strong ratings, but in 2012, Moon and Staci won the NAB’s Marconi Award for Large Market Personality of the Year.
Equally popular is the station’s morning show, which until recently featured Ryan, Shannon and Fish. As a duo, Ryan and Shannon had been together since 2011; they won the Marconi Award for large-market personality in 2014. Fish was added in early 2015.
In July of this year, fans of KS95’s morning show were saddened to learn that Shannon was leaving to move closer to her home. At this writing, Peck was in the process of selecting a new member for the morning team; while the search continues, fans of the show are enjoying “Bangs” — real name Tiffany Norton — a local stand-up comedian who has been heard on the morning show previously.
The station operates from studios at 3415 University Ave. in St. Paul, which is also the home office of the parent company. KS95 has about 40 employees, including part-timers and those who have other duties in the Hubbard cluster.
Seeman reports that the Minneapolis-St. Paul market has been generally flat for several years, though without providing specifics, he says the station is “outpacing the market.” Research firm BIA/Kelsey estimates that KSTP brought in $15 million in over-the-air advertising in 2015, down slightly from the year prior; its 2015 revenue is about 10 percent of BIA/Kelsey’s total OTA radio revenue estimate for the market of $146.7 million.
It has been another good year for KS95 ratings-wise, says the PD Leighton Peck. Citing Nielsen data, he said, “We have been No. 1 6-plus, adults 25–54 and women 25–54 6 a.m. to midnight since January.” He said the numbers were just as good last year. And while he expected there might be a slight ratings dip in the September Nielsen, he has been pleased at KS95’s performance throughout 2016, especially given how competitive the market is. (From a recent “topline” perspective: In Nielsen Topline Radio Ratings AQH Share for Persons 6+, Mon–Sun., 6 a.m. to Midnight, the station in September was second to iHeart’s CHR outlet KDWB(FM); it held the top spot the two months prior.)
This is a market with at least two dozen radio choices, licensed to entities like iHeartMedia, Cumulus, CBS, the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and Minnesota Public Radio, all of which have more than one signal on the dial. As for which station he perceives as his chief competition, Peck replies: “Anyone on the FM dial is my competition. This market is so compressed and there are so few [Portable People] Meters in the market that a change of one or two meters can make huge differences in rankings.”
IN THE COMMUNITY
As a music station, KS95 does not have a news department, but the announcers integrate the major stories of the day into their shows. The goal is to make sure the listeners have the information they need, especially on their way to and from work.
While the focus is on having fun and being entertaining, there is one thing the air staff doesn’t do, says Seeman; they don’t use humor that is crude or suggestive. With a target audience of women 25–54, “family-friendly” is an important aspect of the station’s brand.
Involvement in the community is something else KS95 is known for; whether it’s appearing at local festivals, fairs or charitable events, KS95 personalities maintain a visible presence. As a result of the station’s commitment to community service, the National Association of Broadcasters has given the station Crystal Awards in 2004, 2007 and 2014.
|Last year’s “KS95 for Kids Radiothon” raised more than $513,000 for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.
One good example of the station’s positive impact was “Clouds Choir for a Cause,” held in the rotunda at the Mall of America last December and hosted by the morning show team. Now part of the annual “KS95 for Kids Radiothon,” which began in 1999, the Clouds Choir honors the memory of Zach Sobiech, a local teen who died of bone cancer in 2013. More than 5,500 people gathered at the mall to sing “Clouds,” a song Zach wrote before he died, as well as singing Christmas carols. The event attracted local media coverage, and the KS95 for Kids Radiothon raised some $513,000 for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.
These days, radio may have more competition, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer important.
“Radio has always had an inferiority complex,” says Dan Seeman. “But we’re an awesome medium … There are many ways to consume audio content today, but we can connect listeners with the community. And they can hear it all for free.”
That connection between the station and its audience remains strong: KS95 does a lot of marketing and promotion, and listeners have many opportunities to interact with the personalities they hear on the air. KS95 also has the benefit of a powerful signal: The station is a Class C FM, with a 100 kW signal — according to Seeman, one of the best in the market. He said the signal “covers the metro, plus the all of the counties that surround the metro.” Keeping the station sounding good is Chief Engineer Mike Weber, who also handles the chief duties for KTMY(FM) “myTalk 107.1” as well as KSTP(AM) “1500 ESPN Twin Cities.”
Seeman seeks to pursue a robust multi-platform strategy.
“We have a dedicated social media department that makes sure that our brand and personalities reach our fans on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat,” he said. “Our streaming player and mobile app, which were developed by Hubbard’s corporate digital department, are the very best in the business and are interactive and gives listeners a chance to win great prizes by listening to the stream on any device, whether desktop or mobile.”
KS95 broadcasts HD Radio on 94.5. Sister station 1500 ESPN is heard on its 94.5 HD2 channel; and the cluster just launched ESPN Deportes on 94.5 HD3.
In 2015, KS95 won the Marconi award for Large Market Station of the Year, and it recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. But while Seeman is pleased with his station’s accomplishments, he’s focused on the future. “We’re not looking back at the good old days. Our best years are still ahead.”
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Donna L. Halper is a former broadcaster and radio consultant who spent more than three decades in radio. She is a professor of communication and media studies at Lesley University, Cambridge Mass.