B96: Does ownership change equal format change?


CEO says B96 will remain ‘Twin Cities hip hop station’

Steve Woodbury began workting at B96-FM radio station when it was founded by Radio One in May of 2000. Woodbury refers to the process as “building a station” because all he had to start with was an antenna approximately seven miles west of Lake Minnetonka and a very old transmitter.

Over a year ago, Washington D.C.-based Radio One, an African American-owned media company whose target audiences are also African American, decided to sell B96. They wanted to redirect their resources from smaller venues like the Twin Cities (consisting of a population of approximately 150,000 African American listeners) toward areas like Chicago or New York that have the capacity to reach African American listeners numbering over one million.

Once aware of their desire to sell, Woodbury approached Radio One’s CEO and president Alfred Liggins III about finding investors to purchase the radio station.

“I think we’ve brought cultures together with music and activities, and I would hate to see that go if a major group bought this radio station and decided to go country with it,” Woodbury explains.

Woodbury approached several major investment firms and individuals in the Twin Cities area that might consider expanding into to radio including the Pohlad Companies. As a result, and after a year of negotiation, the contract for the sale of B96 was signed on June 15 of this year.

B96 falls under the Northern Lights Broadcasting umbrella, one of the many subsidiaries owned by the Pohlad Companies such as the Minnesota Twins. But Woodbury, CEO and president of B96, stresses that Northern Lights is “totally separate of the other companies. What the Twins do is their business and what I do is my business. We may work together on things, but there is no crossover in management or anything like that.”

Woodbury explained that a couple of months ago B96 conducted a conceptual study to determine where they were in terms of their audience. The study concluded that B96 was perceived as the Twin Cites’ hip hop station, and he is quite confident that the current owners will stick with a format that works.

Woodbury says that one of the station’s core audiences — 25 percent of their listeners — are African American, followed by Hispanic and Asian Americans respectively. But he doesn’t directly credit this diversity to B96, but to the culture of the music.

“Hip hop is a culture now — it’s not just music. It’s kind of a language of its own. You see the commercials — you’ll see Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z and other hip hop stars pitching mainstream stuff.”

Woodbury says that B96 not only attracts a diverse population of listeners, but their staff is diverse as well, with 41 percent people of color. “I think that if you make it known to the community that that’s the kind of station you are — that that’s the kind of business you are — I think people kind of come to you.”

Woodbury believes that B96 is a great place to be and will continue to be so 10 years from now as Minnesota’s population of color continues to grow.

“From the community’s perspective, I’m thrilled that we’re going to keep things as they are, because I don’t know what would have happened if they would have sold to somebody else,” Woodbury says. “My whole staff stays the same, all my talent stays the same, all of my sales people — nothing will change.”

Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to vnash@spokesman-recorder.com.