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John Lamb, Published January 31 2009

AM radio turns dial to youth market

Those familiar with weekend nights in downtown Fargo know Broadway is a hopping place, with young revelers scampering – or stumbling – from one bar to another.

Since Jim Lauerman’s bar closed in 2007, that activity has cruised past 64 Broadway, even after the Flag and Eagle radio stations moved into the former saloon.

Today, revelers will have a reason to stop, as a radio personality on the street asks trivia for a chance to win prizes.

That’s not quite the talk people expect to hear on Scott Hennen’s radio empire. Then again, what’s happening weekends on AM 1100, the Flag, isn’t typical programming for Hennen, or even AM radio.

“Saturday Night City Guide,” which premieres at 7 p.m., is one of five shows Jason Spiess is bringing to the station. In addition to this look at the area’s social calendar, and particularly the night life, the other shows include two spun off from his Red River Media publications: “Valley Faith Alive” from 10 to 11 a.m. and “Red River Home Guide Radio” from 1 to 3 p.m., both on Sundays.

“Cowboys and Dragons: The China Show,” a look at cultural and commercial relations between America and China, follows “City Guide” from 9 to 11 p.m. on Sunday. A roundtable show of different political views starts later this year.

Spiess is not an employee of Hennen’s, but said the joint effort “turned into a nice marriage.”

A marriage between two very big, but very different personalities.

“I cultivate a young audience for the AM dial,” the 34-year-old Spiess said, citing “City Guide” and first-time homebuyers.

Of course, Hennen’s bread and butter (and some may say baloney) is his weekday morning and afternoon conservative talk shows featuring a tidy righty lineup of himself, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

Illustrating that his shows would be different, Spiess wore a Che Guevara T-shirt and belt buckle for the first “Home Guide.”

“I wanted people to know this is not Republican radio,” he said.

Point taken, but who takes real estate advice from someone sporting T-shirts picturing a murdering Marxist determined to overthrow capitalism?

But Spiess’ fashion statements don’t have Hennen seeing red. The station owner said the new programming is “a perfect fit, absolute perfect,” for the local shows he wants to do at nights and on weekends. Hennen points to other productions such as “The Lost Italian” cooking show on Saturday afternoon and the nightly “Flagpole,” featuring various guest hosts including High Plains Reader publisher John Strand, “about as non-Republican as you can get.”

But will Speiss’ youth movement mark a listening revolution for AM radio?

Stay tuned.

Readers can reach Forum columnist John Lamb at (701) 241-5533 or jlamb@forumcomm.com