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KQDS-FM, four other Northland radio stations sold to new owner

A top-rated radio station in the Northland is getting a new owner.

Midwest Communications, which already owns a number of radio stations in the region, announced Wednesday that it is purchasing several stations from Red Rock Radio, led by KQDS-FM 94.9 — commonly known as KQ95. KQDS' classic-rock format has been a ratings leader in the region for years.

"We are very excited about this opportunity," Midwest Communications' Duluth general manager, Susan Nash, said in a news release. "KQDS is an impressive station and we are committed to staying true to its heritage."

Wausau, Wis.-based Midwest also is purchasing adult-contemporary station WEVE-FM 97.9 in Eveleth; country-music station KGPZ-FM 96.1 in Coleraine; and two stations that currently simulcast KQDS: WXXZ-FM 95.3 in Grand Marais and KAOD-FM 106.7 in Babbitt.

Terms of the deal were not released.

While both Red Rock and Midwest have agreed to the sale, the deal now will be reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Midwest already owns six stations in the Twin Ports — KDAL-AM 610, WDSM-AM 710, WDUL-AM 970, KDAL-FM 95.7, KTCO-FM 98.9 and KDWZ-FM 102.5 — and six on the Iron Range. FCC rules place a cap of six stations under a single owner in a market of Duluth's size.

As for how those rules will affect Midwest's current stations, in light of the new acquisitions, Nash said the company is "working with our FCC legal counsel on what our options are."

Three other Red Rock Radio stations in Duluth — KQDS-AM 1490, WWAX-FM 92.1 and KZIO-FM 94.1 — are not part of the deal with Midwest. Red Rock also still has 11 other stations in northern Minnesota, including two other stations that have simulcast KQDS-FM.

Earlier this year, Red Rock Radio sold five of its stations in Northwestern Wisconsin, including WHSM-AM and WHSM-FM in Hayward, according to media news website NorthPine.com.

According to its website, KQDS-FM debuted in 1981 with a classic-rock format. After several ownership changes it was purchased by Red River Broadcasting — a sister company to Red Rock Radio — in 1997.

WEVE and KGPZ once were owned by Northland radio legend Lew Latto, who died in August 2011. Red Rock acquired the stations later that year, according to NorthPine.com.

Jeff McCarthy, vice president of programming for Midwest, said Wednesday that Red Rock had put the five stations up for sale, and Midwest saw it as a good opportunity to expand its holdings.

KQDS-FM has been a ratings leader for a long time "and we're happy to be a part of it now," McCarthy said, adding that WEVE and KGPZ are "going to help us solidify our position on the Iron Range."

McCarthy said Midwest plans to keep WXXZ and KAOD as simulcasts of KQDS-FM — and not interfere with what's been working at all of the stations.

"We tend to not make changes like that," he said. "Our M.O. is to purchase and reinvest, and give them some things that they haven't had. ... We're not looking at any personnel changes."

A message left with Red Rock Radio on Wednesday was not returned. 

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