The owner of one of Duluth's venerable AM radio stations has dropped its sports format, added an FM sister station and turned up the Christmas music on both - for now.
Townsquare Media this week dropped ESPN Radio from WEBC-AM 560, added 106.5 FM a simulcast of WEBC, and is launching "Ho Ho 106.5" on both, playing Christmas music.
Townsquare is billing the duo as the "Northland's only year-round Christmas music superstation."
The format change happened late Wednesday and was reported to be permanent. The dual stations' first song of the new format was Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is Comin to Town."
But Santa may not be staying in town very long, hinted David Drew, Townsquare's general manager in Duluth.
Townsquare recently bought W293CT, the official call letters for 106.5, from Refuge Media and moved it to Duluth from Moose Lake where it had been a Christian radio station, Drew said.
WEBC, the market's oldest station, was the Twin Ports' only all-sports format in the mid-2000's but more recently has had three competitors, pushing Townsquare to make a change.
Media website www.NorthPine.com reported that "W293CT transmits from the Duluth Hillside with 99 watts, enough to cover the Twin Ports, while WEBC's low-frequency 5kW signal stretches from the northern Twin Cities suburbs to nearly the Canadian border on car radios."
"We'll be able to say more next week," Drew said Thursday. "We thought Christmas music was the perfect way to start up a new frequency in this market. ... We now have the FM and AM merged. Where we go, I can't say yet. Not until next week, anyway."
Drew said both stations will carry Grandma's Marathon coverage in the future, as WEBC has done in the past.
Townsquare already owns a classic hits station in the market - KLDJ-FM (Kool 101.7) - as well as a pop/top-40 station, KBMX-FM 107.7 (Mix 108), and a country station, KKCB-FM 105.1 (B105).
Stations in several markets across the nation, including Duluth, have moved to all-Christmas formats for a month or two before the holiday for several years. But few have made a truly permanent move to all Christmas, all-year.
A Townsquare Media station in Albany, N.Y., switched to all Christmas music for about a week earlier this year as it transitioned between formats.
In March, WQSH-FM made the move from "PopCrush 105.7" to "Santa 105.7" in what was pitched as a permanent change. About a week later, however, the station had been rebranded yet again, this time to Rewind 105.7, playing songs from the '80s and '90s.
"A stunt such as this can help to create a buffer zone amidst a format change to burn off listeners from the old programming and let the new station start ... with less baggage," Billboard magazine reported at the time.