Dan Seeman doesn’t mind telling you he is a lucky guy. He has had a 40-year radio career and gotten to do it all in the same major market. He has turned on iconic stations and shepherded legendary brands through new and uncharted waters.
Running Hubbard Broadcasting’s Minneapolis cluster has come with a unique set of challenges and opportunities, namely innovating. The cluster has already seen success doing things differently on the talk radio front with My Talk 107.1, so when it came time to rethink the way sports radio was presented, Dan and his team were ready.
They have been successful too! Hubbard remade ESPN 1500 as SKOR North a few years ago, rethinking radio’s relationship with digital content. The brand now boasts 41,000 subscribers on YouTube, and over the last 12 months, SKOR North has garnered 18 million podcast downloads. Every time SKOR North posts an episode of its Vikings show Purple Daily, it gets played at least 25,000 times.
In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Dan and I cover how the pandemic changed and helped the evolution of SKOR North. We cover why merchandising is as important to the brand as the audio products and why a juggernaut like KFAN isn’t even on his sports brand’s radar.
Demetri Ravanos: First, congratulations to your daughter. I hear she is headed to Hofstra. That implies she has media aspirations of her own. Is that the case?
Dan Seeman: That’s a good question. She’s a theater person, and she has I think declared a psychology major. But she’s really into creating content. I’m not sure she sees radio on her horizon, but she sees journalism and digital content on her horizon, and we were really impressed with what Hofstra has built there.
DR: I want to take you back to 2011 for a second. At the time, I’m working in rock radio here in North Carolina. I have a consultant named Steve Reynolds, who I believe you know. He used to tell my partner and I all the time that My Talk 107.1, your female-driven talk station, was the perfect example of a great idea meeting the right level of patience to let it find its perfect form before the company decided if it worked or not. Obviously, the success story has written itself from there.
So tell me a little bit about that approach and how it is similar to the strategy you guys have taken with SKOR North. That was another very different idea for approaching a well-entrenched radio format.
DS: My Talk, I think, is certainly one of the great success stories in local radio. You’re right. It took a long time and it took tremendous patience and it took great vision from Ginny Morris. It’s going to be 20 years old this year, which is remarkable, right? I’ve been a part of it for 15.
It is incredibly successful for one single reason. It works for advertisers.
It is one of the top billing local radio stations in the market. We all love ratings, and ratings are the currency that we live with, but at the end of the day, I’d rather have clients who tell me that their cash register is ringing or that they’re selling couches or that they’re booking dentist appointments. That’s their currency, and if we can speak in those terms, we’ve had great success.
It’s personality-driven. I call it lean-in radio. It’s incredibly engaging. It’s tied to the community. It is very local even though all the content is national when you think about it, right? There are not a lot of celebrities in Minnesota, so the content is the same as what we’re reading in People or watching on Entertainment Tonight.
What makes the radio station special is two things. First, it’s the content through the lens of our very interesting personalities and second, it is the way that we give back and we listen to and do important things for our community.
DR: So how much of a model was that when you made the decision to rebrand ESPN 1500 as SKOR North? You guys are approaching sports radio as this sort of all-encompassing multi-platform thing. Certainly, you had to know, at the very least, it would require that same level of patience.
DS: Yeah, absolutely. Let me take a step back on My Talk real quick because I think it’s really relevant to what’s going on at SKOR North.
My Talk’s home base is still a radio station. We’re live and local for 13 hours every day, and all that content we created is for radio first, but I can tell you with confidence that I really like who we are and where we are today. We are set up and have begun to seamlessly integrate all of that content onto digital platforms.
Those YouTube channels are really important to us and the podcasting that we’re doing is getting incredible numbers under this My Talk brand. Having that megaphone of 107.1 FM has been and will continue to be very helpful as we move the way the audience’s eyeballs and ears are moving. That’s on-demand on digital platforms.
So then we bring in SKOR and SKOR is different because we launched a couple of years ago on an AM radio station. I don’t think it’s a secret that AM is not what it was twenty-plus years ago. We had in mind the same mode, let’s use AM to sort of provide some guardrails. We’ll use AM to create the content.
We very quickly shifted and adapted. This is really a digital content play. We’re happy to put some of the content on 1500 because it’s local and it’s very, very good, but we don’t create any content for the radio. We create that content for podcasts and for YouTube, and then we adapt it to radio, which is the opposite of what everybody else is doing.
DR: So that brings up a really good question. You are approaching this differently from everyone else. How then, when you are talking to new advertisers, how do you describe what SKOR North is?
DS: We describe SKOR North as “a sports content company that creates sports content for digital platforms”. One of our platforms happens to be AM radio, but frankly, most of our listening and most of our eyeballs, particularly on the younger side, are all coming from our digital platforms.
DR: Your digital presence is impressive. It’s not just the products. You mentioned the audience size. That is worth noting as well. But traditionally, that is something that terrestrial radio brands have had trouble monetizing. Given that, why has it been important to you that not just SKOR North, but all of Hubbard’s stations keep innovating and keep growing that content in the digital space?
DS: Because that’s where the eyes and the ears are going. Period.
I’m very robust on radio. I’m a radio guy. I think there’s a lot of good happening on radio. But if you look at share of ear and you look at younger listeners and younger consumers, you can see where the trend is. It Is clearly moving towards on-demand.
I’m not going to be doing this 20 years from now probably, but we need to have a business 20 years from now. I always say every 24 year old turns 25. I don’t think they wake up on their 25th birthday and say ‘Geez, I’ve got to figure this FM and AM radio thing out.’ It’s baked in, right? So they’re taking their media habits right into the prime of that demo. Every day a 54 year old turns 55 and is out of the demo with these old radio habits.
I have to go on my soapbox here. I do not understand why the top end of that demo isn’t 60 or 64 anymore. 25-54 is the same money demo it was 40 years ago when I got in this business! Think about how our lifestyles have changed! But look, that’s a whole other story.
The bottom line is that whether it’s 12 to 24-year-olds or 12 to 29-year-olds, however you want to look at that demo, the way that they are consuming media is very, very different than a 45 to 54-year-old. We’ve got to be ready for them.
DR: So you launch SKOR North with a long-term vision. As you mentioned, patience was going to be a big part of making this thing work. Then the pandemic derailed a chunk of what you had built already and what you were planning to do. So is the goal now to get that original vision back on track or has the vision changed and the ceiling for what the brand is changed in your eyes?
DS: The pandemic certainly caused a scale back. In hindsight, that turned out to be a good thing. It really helped us focus our efforts now on two or three of our SKOR North brands and really hone some great content. The other thing the pandemic did is it put into hyperspeed adaptation to digital platforms. All of the sudden, people weren’t in the car like they were before, and they had to figure out how to use that smart speaker in their house. They had to figure out how to stream and how to find content. Where they got most of their content was on the dashboard, and for a good year-plus, people weren’t driving as much.
At the same time that digital habits were getting super-sized, we were really focusing on primarily football and our Vikings coverage on SKOR North. It’s paid off incredibly as you look at some of the numbers that we are now reaching with our biggest SKOR North brands, Purple Daily and Mackey & Judd.
DR: You obviously weren’t alone, right? Every brand, every cluster in America had to figure out how to make the digital space work for them. Are you surprised Nielsen wasn’t innovating at that time and trying to roll out a system that measured listening in a way that was more realistic for the way people were using radio and audio?
DS: Well, ratings are measuring streaming. We’ve doubled down on that even on KS95 and My Talk. I’ll give you an example. We total line report for our radio stations. So pre-pandemic, a radio station like My Talk might have gotten 15 percent or 20 percent of its listeners out of the stream. By the way, by the industry standards that was already very high. There were months in 2020 and 2021 when over 50 percent of My Talk’s listening was coming from digital platforms. That’s remarkable that the percentage has gotten that high!
We just need to make sure that we embrace this because I think it’s a really, really good thing. Who has boomboxes or tabletop radios in their homes anymore? Nobody, right? Well, they really do have one. It’s called Alexa, and all radio stations are available on it. We just have to teach the people how to use them. It’s incredibly easy to do. We’ve had great success doing that, judging by the amount of listening that’s happening off the stream.
The other thing Hubbard does so well is our stations’ apps. Jeremy Sinon has been an incredible leader for us there. Our apps are easy to use and that is true across the entire company. That’s a big part of the success to me.
With SKOR North though, we flipped the formula. With SKOR, instead of using the broadcast platform to help build and create content for digital, this is a brand where we’re building great digital content that we also run on an AM radio station.
That gave us a chance to create some play-by-play relationships. We have one with the MLS’s Minnesota United Football Club. We have a play-by-play relationship with the University of St. Thomas, which is in the Summit League. We couldn’t do that if we were just a digital platform. I hope those relationships introduce some people to what we’re doing, but most of our growth is now coming from discoverability on YouTube and podcast platforms.
DR: So you mentioned earlier that you were part of the team that put KFAN on the air, and I wonder what it’s like now to compete with them. I mean, they are all local during prime time. They’re on FM. Ratings say they are incredibly popular. Do you just have to put that out of your head when you’re dealing with a brand like SKOR North?
DS: It’s a great radio station and that KFAN lineup still features a lot of my very good friends. We don’t look at KFAN. They own that broadcast space and are a big, big brand in that space.
We’re building a digital sports brand. We don’t look at the ratings. We look at podcast listeners. We’re looking at downloads. We’re looking at views on YouTube. That’s our currency, and that’s how we’re having some very good success with advertisers. It works.
I had a rep in my office a couple of weeks ago who sells SKOR North and we were talking about some bigger picture things. Everybody is always trying to steal our reps, right? So I wanted to know if anyone had reached out to him. He looked me in the eye and goes ‘why would I ever leave here? Everything I sell on SKOR North works’.
It does! There’s a great blog out there. It’s not even a book. It’s a blog called “A Thousand True Fans”. Have you read that?
DR: I have not read it, but I am familiar with it. I’ve heard about it a million times.
DS: It’s a quick read. The whole concept is that if you get a thousand true fans, now it might be 500, it might be 10,000, it might be 25,000. The point is it doesn’t need to be about massive reach anymore. You get a thousand true fans that love you and that you are integrated into their media landscape and their lives, you are going to be successful. Whether it’s following you on social media, watching you on YouTube, or listening to your podcast, they are so active and so responsive to advertising. That’s what advertisers are looking for.
DR: I’ve told Phil Mackey this before. I just marvel at what a great job you guys have done merchandizing SKOR North. So many brands stop just short of doing what you guys do. You’re putting designs together based on things said on shows about the local teams and you have found places, namely the state fair, to sell them.
Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like merchandising is an essential part of SKOR North being a brand that is bigger than a single platform.
DS: Yeah, it is. Are you going to integrate yourself into our listeners’ lives? How do you do that? It’s just another extension.
I actually think we could do so much better in that space. We’ve got some work to do there, but we’ve had some highlights that have been fun and have gotten us some nice attention. I think we could do a lot better. Look at the ideal model. I mean, who does that better than anybody? Barstool, right? I think I read there that the percentage of revenue that comes out of merchandizing was jaw-dropping.
Hubbard has a rock station in St. Louis, KSHE. The work they do in merchandising is incredible. It’s part of the culture of that brand. It’s part of the mindset and you have to hire people who think and execute that way.