By Mike Kinosian
MINNEAPOLIS — Back in 2000, Hubbard Broadcasting bought a pair of New Richmond, Wisconsin-licensed country-formatted stations (WIXK-AM & WIXK-FM) for $27 million. The company subsequently tested several formats for the FM, then upgraded it to a move-in signal at 107.1 for Minneapolis-St. Paul, roughly 47 miles to the west.
Country was jettisoned in early-June 2002 so it could give way to what has blossomed into a distinctively different approach to the talk radio genre.
Fast forward to next Thursday (7/21/22) when station staffers will welcome advertisers and listeners to a Twin Cities nightclub (LUSH) for the 20th anniversary commemoration of the facility that eventually evolved from WFMP “Real-Life-Conversation” to KTMY “myTalk 107.1”; listeners will gain admission by winning on-air invitations.
Part of the birthday festivities will include a live broadcast where afternoon drive talents Lori Barghini & Julia Cobbs, who’ve been on the station since its debut, will give their 20-year evaluation.
This will be the biggest party “myTalk” has celebrated with its listeners. “We did one on our tenth anniversary, but it was just for clients,” recalls Hubbard Radio Minneapolis vice president/market manager Dan Seeman, who joined Hubbard in 2007 and oversees KTMY; sports talk KSTP-AM; hot AC KSTP-FM; and the 24-station Hubbard Radio Network. “This is a big deal for us.”
By way of perspective, Seeman opines that radio’s spoken-word landscape in 2002 was “frankly not much different than it is today.”
There was/still very much is a monumental, iconic news/talker, Audacy’s WCCO “News Talk 830,” as well as iHeartMedia’s “Twin Cities News Talk AM 1130,” in the format since January 2006 with past (KTCN) and current (KTLK-AM) calls.
Sports talk is represented by iHeartMedia-owned KFXN “FM 100.3 K-Fan,” where Seeman was when WFMP (now KTMY) debuted twenty years ago. At that time, Hubbard’s KSTP-AM was a news/talk station, but has since segued to sports talk “1500 AM SKOR North” and is a rival to “K-Fan.”
Rounding out the market’s spoken-word players is Minnesota Public Radio powerhouse KNOW.
Absent the past 11 years from the rigorous daily grind of fronting an afternoon talk show, Oprah Winfrey was easily one of the hottest media commodities ever when her King World – and later CBS Television Distribution – show dominated daytime television for a quarter of a century (September 1986 – May 2011).
According to Seeman, Hubbard Radio president/chief executive officer Ginny Morris “saw that ‘Oprah was Oprah’ [and wondered why] a talk radio station couldn’t be aimed at women. Even today, all talk radio is [male-targeted]. It doesn’t mean that women aren’t listening; [however], news, politics, and sports lean more toward men. Ginny will always tell you that the hope for the station was to create Vanity Fair on the air. The conversation was about relationships and certainly included news and information – but from a female perspective. It was much lighter and with laughs. There wasn’t – and still isn’t – anything else like [KTMY] anywhere in the country.”
Originally dubbed WFMP “FM 107,” the station now known as KTMY “myTalk 107.1” had an initial talent list that included: Suze Orman; Dr. Laura Schlessinger; Dr. Joy Browne; and Clark Howard.
Lone on-air holdovers from the original roster are afternoon drive talents Lori & Julia. “Of note though in that first lineup is longtime talk show host Ian Punnett,” confirms Seeman. “He did mornings for us for a while and is one of the main ‘Coast-To-Coast AM’ fill-ins.”
Turnoff to women – “talk”
Anecdotal research and/or gut feeling led KTMY management for several years to be “really afraid” of using the word “talk” as a positioning statement. “We’d heard that word turns off women,” notes Seeman. “For decades, ‘talk’ has meant guy talk.”
Nevertheless, it was tremendously difficult to accurately describe the station without eventually using “talk” and Seeman claims, “No one really knew what the term ‘conversation station’ meant. We are a talk station – we talk. When we put on [KTMY] as ‘myTalk,’ we felt it was important that ‘my’ was in it because [KTMY] is positioned as a woman’s talk station. She can say, ‘It’s my talk station; it’s very personal – it’s mine.’ It’s also when we evolved more toward a People Magazine approach, with the center lane being pop culture and entertainment. There isn’t any politics on the station [although if something major is happening], we won’t ignore the news. Generally though, we are here to entertain.”
Candidly admitting that it took a while to figure out a fruitful blueprint for “myTalk,” Seeman reiterates the 20-year longevity of Lori & Julia, but grants, “We didn’t get the other shows right the first try. [Now however], all our shows represent the brand very well. They are entertaining and [our hosts] love pop culture. They watch the shows, streaming services, and they pay attention. Even though we are talking about ‘light’ subjects, this is a very smart radio station.”
Weekday on-air lineup for KTMY “myTalk 107.1”
12:00 midnight – 1:00 am: “Best of” Donna (Valentine) & Steve (Patterson)
1:00 am – 2:00 am: “Best of” Jason (Matheson) & Alexis (Thompson)
2:00 am – 4:00 am: “Best of” Colleen (Lindstrom) & Bradley (Traynor)
4:00 am – 5:00 am: “Best of” Lori (Barghini) & Julia (Cobbs)
5:00 am – 6:00 am: “Best of” Jason & Alexis
6:00 am – 9:00 am: Jason & Alexis
9:00 am – 12:00 noon: Donna & Steve
12:00 noon – 3:00 pm: Colleen & Bradley
3:00 pm – 6:00 pm: Lori & Julia
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm: “Best of” Lori & Julia
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm: “Best of” Jason & Alexis
9:00 pm – 11:00 pm: “Best of” Colleen & Bradley
11:00 pm – 12:00 midnight: “Best of” Donna & Steve
Aimed at consistency
Talent turnover hasn’t been a recent concern, although one of the most daunting challenges facing “myTalk” program director Amy Daniels is finding on-air personalities compatible with the female-geared talk outlet. “We are always developing a bench, so when the next thing happens, we’ll be ready,” observes Seeman. “We try out people to do fill-in work and create weekend shows. Amy does a remarkable job; has a great ear; understands the vision of this radio station; and has been integral to our success. She’s been the guiding hand behind KTMY’s success the past 15 years.”
Among current “myTalk” on-air personalities, only Donna Valentine came to the station with a prior radio background; Steve Patterson had worked in television. “We find interesting people and teach them how to do radio,” explains Seeman. “We don’t rely on hiring people with five years of major market radio experience, so it’s a little easier for us than it is for some other radio stations. Even at night, we rack our shows because there isn’t a nighttime syndicated [program] that fits. A friend of a friend arranged a meeting with Ginny [Morris] and Lori & Julia. Ginny took a chance on them and the duo was correct in believing they could host a radio show.”
Nicknamed “The Nipple Sisters,” Lori & Julia achieved their national “fifteen minutes of fame” in 2002 when they invented Body Perks, which Seeman describes as “a product that’s exactly what it sounds like. They are placed inside the bra and give a woman a ‘perkier’ look.”
Considered “controversial” at the time, Body Perks was featured on “Sex And The City.”
Fun with billboards
Numerous listener-participation entertainment trivia games are conducted on “myTalk.” In addition, hosts take their share of phone calls and interact with guests.
Some programs are more phone-driven, while others highlight more games. “It’s all up to them and each show is definitely nuanced,” Seeman discloses. “The morning show certainly has more service elements than shows the rest of the day. Entertainment and pop culture are all national stories. We don’t have [many] celebrities in Minneapolis-St. Paul. What keeps us very local are the happenings at restaurants, theater, and live music shows. We have relationships with everybody in the community who are happy to join us and tell us what’s going on that’s fun here.”
Audience composition for KTMY’s unique version of talk radio typically skews an astonishing 75% – 80% women/20% – 25% men, while its core audience is women 25 – 54. “Morning shows around town are our real competition,” assesses Seeman. “The staple of big morning shows on FM music stations is entertainment news and pop culture. They do it a couple of breaks an hour, three or four hours a day [but] that’s what we do literally 24/7.”
Unveiled this past November was an intriguing, multiple-tiered billboard campaign. One ad was clearly for a news/talk station, but by design, the frequency wasn’t shown. Another was for a political talk station.
Once again, the frequency didn’t appear on that one either because as Seeman elaborates, “We spray painted ‘WTF’ in graffiti over the frequency and the entire billboard. We let the billboards sit up there [to arouse curiosity]. Two weeks later, we debuted the board for our [Jason & Alexis] morning show by adding, ‘Where Talk is Fun,’ which is our new positioning statement.”
Health over haha
Along with “Where Talk Is Fun,” KTMY utilizes “Everything Entertainment” as a frequent sell line. “People come to us because we are the escape station,” Seeman puts forth. “It wasn’t a coincidence that this station had great ratings during the 2016 campaign. People just had enough and needed an escape.”
Conversely, “myTalk” took a ratings hit the past two COVID-intensive years with Seeman acknowledging, “We got beaten up pretty badly. I hate to lean on this, but when a niche station like ours loses a meter or two, it will cost a lot. Our core listeners were the ones hit hardest by everything that happened [during the pandemic because] 40-year-old women suddenly had to become teachers and primary caregivers. They didn’t have time for that escape or guilty pleasure anymore. [Instead], they had to figure out how to home-school their kids; get their work done; and make sure their parents were healthy. It was a very hard and scary time for many people.”
Thus, a female listener’s first choice was not the fun and games station. “People wanted to know about their health,” Seeman underscores. “Going into COVID, we had really, really strong ratings, but then they softened a lot. Ratings rose for KNOW during COVID, while ours faded. [In addition], practically [all music radio partisans at that time were] listening to classic hits-oldies stations for comfort. Fortunately, we’ve been growing in recent months. Part of it is because the environment is much better, although there is still plenty to worry about. With people back to their routines, working, and traveling – things are as ‘normal’ as they’ve been since 2020.”
Twin Cities by the numbers
Noted below are spoken-word stations ranking in Minneapolis’ top twenty (6+) in the last six monthly sweeps, including results from the just-released (7/13) June 2022 survey period.
Calls Format Jan Feb Mar Apr May June 6+ Rank (June 2022)
KNOW Public Radio News/Talk 7.4 6.6 7.3 7.0 6.4 5.9 #7
KFXN Sports Talk 6.5 4.9 5.0 5.8 6.3 5.3 #9
WCCO News/Talk 5.0 4.9 4.3 3.8 4.3 4.1 #12
KTMY News/Talk 2.6 2.5 2.6 2.7 3.3 3.5 #13
KTLK-AM News/Talk 3.0 3.2 3.6 3.0 2.8 2.9 #14
- Three news/talk outlets combine for 10.5 shares (June 2022, 6+) and finish #12 (WCCO “News Talk 830”); #13 (KTMY, “myTalk 107.1”), and #14 (KTLK “Twin Cities News Talk AM 1130”).
- When “myTalk” notes its 20th birthday (7/21), it can also celebrate its highest-ever 6+ stat (3.5) in the PPM-era. Moreover, KTMY is a collective +1.0 in four successive upticks (2.5 – 2.6 – 2.7, 3.3, 3.5, February 2022 – June 2022, 6+).
- Resulting in a net loss of two-tenths, WCCO (Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves) is in an alternating down-up-down-up pattern (4.3 – 3.8, 4.3, – 4.1, March 2022 – June 2022, 6+).
- Having been off a combined eight-tenths (3.6 – 3.0 – 2.8, March – April – May 2022, 6+), KTLK picks up one-tenth to 2.9 (June 2022, 6+).
- Following three consecutive improvements that yielded a +1.4 (4.9 – 5.0 – 5.8 – 6.3, February 2022 through May 2022, 6+), KFXN “FM 100.3 K-Fan” (Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Wild) forfeits one full-share to 5.3 (June 2022, 6+).
- This represents KNOW’s third straight dip for an overall -1.4 (7.3 – 7.0 – 6.4 – 5.9, March 2022 through June 2022, 6+).
Seizing the moment
Extensive national concern regarding COVID began snowballing in February and March 2020; several months later (May 2020), Minneapolis was the focal point of another critical, non-warm & fuzzy story. “[We handled it] by listening; opening up our microphones; and by being authentic at how our hosts and listeners felt about it,” Seeman details of George Floyd’s killing by police officers. “We have a big sign in the studio [that reads], ‘No Politics.’ Our listeners don’t come to us for pro-Biden or anti-Trump, – that’s not where we go. With George Floyd, we didn’t get into the political climate with such things as ‘fund the police’ or ‘defund the police.’ People want to help, but they don’t know how, they don’t know who to trust, or they don’t have the time.”
Boasting that “myTalk” is extraordinary in “genuinely understanding” what is going on in the Twin Cities, Seeman recounts, “We looked at small businesses and people impacted by the demonstrations and protests. We hosted a fundraiser where we told ten stories in ten days and found a great partner in the neighborhood development center. Those were real stories of small minority-owned businesses. Frankly, most of them were first-generation American dream stories.”
Raised in 10 days was approximately $140,000, all of which was put back into the community; something similar was done for COVID relief. COVID and George Floyd days have been extremely challenging although Seeman emphasizes, “We always try to tell stories that are personal to people. We take these moments and talk about them in a way that looks forward. We find that, whenever we ask our listeners to mobilize and to help, they give in ways that are just remarkable.”
And the winner is …
In the last twelve months, “myTalk” has captured the radio industry’s equivalent of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (“EGOT”), leading Seeman to speculate, “I’m not sure that’s ever [happened] before – it was done at a time when the community really needed us.”
KTMY’s most recent accolades include a Marconi Award for “Large Market Station of the Year” (2021); the Service To America Award, “Service to Community for Major Market Radio” (2021); an NAB Crystal Award (2022); and an AWM Gracie Award to afternoon drive personalities Lori Barghini & Julia Cobbs (2022).
Streaming’s powerful effects
Immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade, “myTalk” afternoon drive co-host Lori Barghini told her story for the first time ever. “Not only have she and Julia been co-hosts the past 20 years, they are sisters-in-law and best friends,” Seeman points out. “They are that close [yet] Julia had not heard Lori’s story before and Lori shared it with their audience. As you can imagine, it was about her decision to make that very, very difficult and personal decision. She told it in a way that was [compelling]. It was one of the most authentic, heart-wrenching, moving stories I’ve heard in my 40 years in radio. That’s what we can do and we give them [that] license. At times like that, we think it’s hard to avoid something when politics becomes personal. No one on this staff believes there shouldn’t be political discussions – there absolutely should be and needs to be; [however], we are just not the place to do it and that’s okay.”
Over-air ratings dropped significantly for “myTalk” during the earlier stages of the pandemic (2020 – 2021), but its streaming numbers were only off marginally. “That didn’t make any sense,” insists Seeman. “Streaming numbers are critical to us – they mean everything. We total-line report, so what you hear on the station is exactly what you hear on the stream. We get a TLR report [from Nielsen Audio] every month. We are generally in the 35% – 40% range of listening that comes from our stream; there were times in 2020 and 2021, that it topped 50%. Industry averages are going up every month, but it’s still living in the low-teens. We are very proactive and have a great app. We don’t have a separate stream revenue. When our audience listens to ‘myTalk’ on their phone or ‘Alexa,’ that’s ‘the radio’ to them. We don’t think it’s right to differentiate between the two, so we run a total-line report. It has been very, very important to us.”
Recovery from COVID vis a vis a revenue standpoint has been encouraging for “myTalk” and Seeman beams, “We are currently having a very good year. We have a revenue model that relies heavily on endorsements and we need real, live personalities to do meaningful ones. [KTMY] is one of the top billers in the market – the power ratio of this station is through the roof because it works. It is lean-in, engaged listening. [Our audience is] passionate about what we do and the relationship they have with us. Thank you, Ginny Morris and thank you, Hubbard Radio. It’s a different company that is so committed to local radio and radio the way we think it should be done. At the end of the day, Hubbard Radio has had great patience with this station and it’s certainly paid off.”
Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Mike.Kinosian@gmail.com