by Alex Cosper
see also American Radio History
and Twin Cities Radio Airchecks
Minneapolis is an important radio and record industry center every summer in which the Conclave Convention attracts industry professionals across the country, much like the Gavin Convention was in San Francisco for many years.
WCCO has been the most successful radio station in the Twin Cities throughout the market's history. It all started when Jim Coles obtained a ham radio license prior to the rise of commercial radio. He and Tom Dillon put WLAG on the air in 1922, originally at the Minneapolis City Hall Courthouse. Later in the year the station was purchased by Cutting and Washington Radio Corporation, which was an early manufacturer of radio receivers. They raised the power of WLAG from 50 to 500 watts. By the end of the year eight other stations were on the air.
The Minneapolis - St. Paul market's early wave of AM radio stations and owners in the early 1920s included WAAL (Minnesota Tribune Co., & Anderson-Beamish Co.), WBAD (Sterling Electric Co. & Journal Printing Co.), WBAH (The Dayton Co.), WCAS (William Hood Dunwoody Institute), WCE (Findley Electric Co.) and WLB (University of Minnesota). More stations arrived in the next few years including WDGY and WAMD, which would later become KSTP. WAMD was started by Stanley Hubbard in 1923, marking the beginning of Hubbard Broadcasting, which would later venture into television as well.
WLAG became WCCO in 1924 after it was acquired by Washburn Crosby Co. By the end of the decade the station landed on the 830 dial position with increased power to 50,000 watts, which was uncommon at that time. Stations moved around the dial several times, culminating with an FCC reallocation in the early forties that set the dial as follows: WLB (770), WCCO (830), WDGY (1130), WTCN (1280), WLOL (1330), KSTP (1500).
In the fifties and sixties KDWB was the top 40 leader in town. It was owned by Crowell-Collier, who also owned KEWB in Oakland and KFWB in Los Angeles. Chuck Blore was named national PD of the chain in 1966. Top 40 was the most popular format in those days. With the rise of FM in the late sixties and its inevitable takeover of the audience turning to a multitude of musical formats, the popular music stations in town became mostly the FMs that played top 40, adult contemporary or rock.
By the end of the eighties one last musical AM station in the market, and practically in the nation, could claim to wear the market crown. That was WCCO, still at 830 AM, playing adult contemporary music under the ownership of Midwest Broadcasting. Its competitors were sister WLTE (102.9) and Hubbard's KSTP (94.5). In the early nineties WCCO and WLTE were sold to CBS Radio, who flipped the WCCO to full service (music and talk) a few years later, only to still be number one throughout most of the decade.
Several of the market's legendary AM call letters began to appear on the FM dial in the eighties. Many were the result of sister combos. KDWB (101.3), owned by Legacy, was a hot CHR station facing strong competition for awhile with WLOL (99.5), owned by Emmis. KDWB was taken over by Midcontinent in the early nineties and simulcast on WDGY AM instead of KDWB AM, which flipped to oldies. WDGY moved from 1130 to 630 AM and became sports station KFAN. Later in the decade KDWB-FM was picked up by Chancellor Media.
Rock continued to do well in Minneapolis in the eighties. Cap Cities/ABC's KQRS combo (1440 AM and 92.5 FM) was a solid top three station by the end of the decade, far ahead of rivals KTCZ (97.1), owned by Parker and KJJO (104.1) owned by Park. Both KTCZ and KJJO operated at 100,000 watts, as did WLTE-FM while KSTP-FM operated at 95,000 watts.
KJJO flipped to modern rock in the early nineties while KTCZ flipped to adult alternative. KTCZ, known as "Cities 97," was acquired by American Media, who sold to Chancellor later in the nineties. KQRS became the rock leader throughout the nineties, although faced new competition from the rise of alternative radio before turning to classic rock.
After KJJO flipped to country in 1992, Entercom took the opportunity to shift rocker KRXX into alternative combo KEGE (980 AM and 93.7 FM) in February 1994. Known as "The Edge," which was a moniker that started in Dallas and then spread throughout the country, KEGE became the highest rated major market alternative station in the country for awhile. Although alternative rival KREV (105.1), which simulcast on WREV (105.3), owned by Cargill, barely showed up in the ratings, it won industry acclaim for its adventurous playlist.
Ironically, everything changed dramatically in 1997. In March KREV dropped the alternative format. Then in the fall KEGE was no more. What happened was that ABC, which already owned rock combo KQRS AM and FM, bought KEGE and KREV/WREV. ABC also picked up another signal to create a "trimulcast" on 105.1, 105.3 and 105.7.
That station became KXXP/KXXU/KXXR, switching the format to rock until September when it became KZNR/KZNZ//KZNT, calling itself The Zone and moving back to alternative. Meanwhile, KEGE also became rock station KXXR while KQRC moved to classic rock. In July another rocker entered the dial when Chancellor changed WBOB from country to rock as WRQC (100.3).
KEEY, owned by Shamrock, was a lone country station that did well in the early nineties then faced competition when rival WBOB (100.3) appeared in 1994. WBOB was owned by Colfax Communications, which also owned oldies station KQQL (107.9). In the mid-nineties KEEY, WBOB and KQQL were all picked up by Chancellor Media. Part of the reason Chancellor flipped WBOB to rock in April 1997 was that KEEY (102.1) had moved far ahead in the ratings, climbing to the top three, which was rare for a country station in Minneapolis.
Following the Telecom Act of 1996, which loosened ownership limits, Chancellor Media took advantage by owning six stations in the market. The previous FCC limit had been two AMs and two FMs per owner in a market. Those six properties were KEEY, KDWB, KQQL, KTCZ, WRQC and KFAN (1130). ABC and CBS Radio were the other two big players in the market. Only Hubbard and Cargill managed to hang on as smaller companies. Chancellor inevitably became part of Clear Channel and CBS Radio merged into Infinity.
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