Fans have heard Twins games on WCCO since the team moved to the Twin Cities in 1961. But earlier this year, KSTP won a four-year contract to broadcast Twins games through 2010. WCCO wanted to keep the Twins. But the team preferred KSTP's pitch.
Similar break-ups have happened in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston and St. Louis.
The Twins won't disclose how much more money they expect to get with the KSTP deal. But it could add several million dollars to the team's annual revenue.
WCCO will likely lose listeners, at least initially, with the Twins' departure. That's what happened with KMOX in St. Louis. That station lost the Cardinals broadcasts this year, after airing the team's games for more than 50 years. The station that picked up the Cardinal broadcasts had nearly a 70 percent spike in its audience share this spring. Meanwhile, listenership for KMOX fell about 30 percent.
"If you have compelling programming and you lose that programming for whatever reason, it's going to have proportionate impact on the value of a station," according to Brett Miller, president of MCH Enterprises, the California-based firm that connects buyers and sellers of radio stations.
"If the ratings, go down the sales will go down and then the value will go down," he says.
A WCCO spokeswoman says the station is confident planned programming changes will allow the station to hold its share of Twin Cities radio listeners.
For now, WCCO isn't detailing what changes are in the works for its mix of news, talk and sports programming. The station's lineup still includes the Minnesota Gophers and Minnesota Wild. University of Minnesota journalism professor Michael Stamm says the station has limited options to find programming that delivers the punch the Twins provided.
"It's tough for AM stations," he says. "You have to find some programming that is going to have some appeal. And what that is, I'm not sure. Talk radio seems to be the way these things are going. They could try musical programming again. It's tough. These stations don't have nearly the amount of listeners they used to."
Stamm says most folks don't listen to AM radio much, unless they're baseball fans or political talk-radio junkies.
"There is a chance for a resurgence of AM with this political talk stuff, both from the right and left. But beyond that stuff, it is really is just baseball. And if you take that away from a station, you take away a huge chunk of people who tune in on a regular basis. You might get them at drive time for a couple of minutes to hear the traffic and weather. But that's about it," he says.
AM powerhouse stations like WCCO once dominated the airwaves. But their audiences have steadily shrunk as more radio stations, particularly FM stations, started broadcasting. And Stamm says AM stations now face added competition from Web- and satellite-based radio.
"They don't have the regional importance they did when there were fewer stations on the air," Stamm says. "There are more stations on the air. People don't need to tune in these far-away AM stations like they did in the '30s, '40s and '50s."
These days, baseball broadcasts are available on the Internet. For every major league team. Stamm says that means the reach of powerful stations such as WCCO doesn't matter as it once did.
"It has made a lot of flagship stations irrelevant. You can take your computer with a wireless connection and go anywhere and tune in any baseball game you want. You don't need these stations with the wide regional coverage when you can get it through the Major League Baseball site," according to Stamm.
For decades WCCO was the number-one station in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market. As recently as the summer of 1991, WCCO managed to grab the ears of 20 percent of radio listeners in the Twin Cities.
By the mid-'90s, however, WCCO's audience share was in the low teens and it was in a battle for the top spot.
But Kevin Deshler, a vice president at Risdall Advertising in New Brighton, expects CCO has plenty of fight left in it and the station can overcome its loss of the Twins.
"They are a fixture in this area and they always will be," he says. "And if anyone can recover from it, I look to them to find something that will replace that with something as equally entertaining if not better."
Deshler says the strengths of WCCO include its broad reach across Minnesota and firm hold on a still significant audience: Aging baby boomers.
"You can pick it up at the cabin when you're out fishing for the walleyes. There an was old saying that said, 'Sooner or later you will be a listener of WCCO.' I really do believe that is true. Contracts come and go, but I don't think it'll have a long-term effect on 'CCO," Deshler says.
Brett Miller, the radio station broker, notes AM stations still often command the largest audiences in a market.
"Go to a New York City, a Los Angeles, a Chicago, a Fresno and look at the number 1, 2, 3 station in a market. It's typically an AM station. And what's it worth? A whole lot of money," he says.
Last spring, WCCO was number two in the Twin Cities, behind KQRS-FM. WCCO attracted 7.5 percent of radio listeners. KQRS had an 8.4 percent audience share.