Mitch Berg ponders death of conservative talk radio at KSTP

Lot's of hemming and hawing over KSTP AM1500 getting assimilated into the ESPN collective and rebranding as AM1500 The SportsTalk Station. It's good news for sports fans, and as Braublog points out, it's a logical shift since the station already has Minnesota Twins broadcast rights.

But once upon a time, the station wore its politics red solid in once-reliably blue Minnesota politics as the home of Rush Limbaugh, Jason Lewis and other right-wing yakkers. Does the station's shift mean conservative talk radio is dead in this market? Some local conservatives are chiming in on that question, and they obviously think KSTP management has made a huge mistake.

Writes rightie Northern Alliance Radio Network host Mitch Berg:

In 1986, the AM station was the poor cousin of the Hubbard family. By 2003, with Limbaugh, Jason Lewis, Bob Davis and the newly-"conservative" Joe Soucheray dominating their time slots, the AM station was rolling in money, and financially carrying the rest of the Hubbard slate ("Chick-Talk 107″, KS95, and Channels 5 and 45), making so much money they were able to experiment way outside the format with hosts like Tom Mischke.

But the rumors were always there; Hubbard didn't like being "conservative". Ginny Morris pined for the days when her grandfather's KSTP, like its hereditary nemesis WCCO, was all things to all people, offended nobody, and was the broadcast pillar of the community (back when the community had three newspapers, three TV stations, a couple dozen radio stations - and that was it).

And so when Jason Lewis, and then Rush Limbaugh, left KSTP - buoyed by a 2005 meme among consultants that "conservative talk is dead" - the station replaced them with middle-of-the-road milquetoast, and sports. The station landed the Minnesota Twins in 2007.

The mixture performed terribly.

Adds Mark Heuring at True North:

One of the signal dangers (bad pun, sorry) of listening to consultants is that you can get very bad advice, and the advice that the Hubbards got about the death of conservative talk radio was terrible advice. What the consultants never understood was this: while conservative talk radio was by necessity on defense during the Bush years, there was never any question that at some point the Democrats would return to power and the audience for alternative viewpoints would again increase. Rush Limbaugh's greatest successes have come during the Clinton era and now. KSTP took that success to the bank in the 1990s, but they let Limbaugh go and now a competitor is enjoying the ratings.

That competitor was KTLK, as another local rightie blogger, Brad Carlson, explains:

When the local FM frequency 100.3 became a talk format at the beginning of 2006, the initial weekday linuep consisted of a mixed bag of commentators in an attempt to appeal to the masses. Sure, Limbaugh and Hannity appealed to the conservative crowd. But there was local flavor with the likes of Andrew Colton and Kelly Guest (both politically benign) in the mornings, WCCO-TV political reporter Pat Kessler (MSM journalists are impartial, right?) in the late morning and the lefty male/righty gal duo of Brian Lambert and Sarah Janecek during drive time. Four years later, KTLK is thriving as a conservative radio station with the likes of Glenn Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, Jason Lewis and Laura Ingraham filling out the weekday lineup.

Conservative talk radio in the Twin Cities clearly isn't dead.

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