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Wendy Reuer, Published May 01 2013

Shuffle puts former KFGO owner in charge of longtime competitors

FARGO – After selling his six-station radio group here Tuesday, Jim Ingstad could have just walked the six blocks up 25th Street South to take the helm of the longtime competitor he bought hours later – a lightning-speed, three-way ownership shuffle that unfolded in the area radio industry Wednesday.

In the end, the two major commercial radio station groups in Fargo-Moorhead – headquartered just blocks apart on opposite sides of 25th Street, near The Hub – swapped an owner.

In a deal finalized about midnight Tuesday, Ingstad sold his Radio Fargo-Moorhead station cluster – which includes KFGO 790 AM – for $25 million to Midwest Communications of Wausau, Wis.

On Wednesday, the owner of the metro area’s only other six-station cluster, Triad Broadcasting, sold off 32 radio stations in five markets – including six in Fargo – to Portland, Ore., based L&L Broadcasting (Live and Local), owned by longtime radio owner Larry Wilson for $21 million.

At about noon Wednesday, L&L Broadcasting announced it would sell the six Fargo radio stations it had just officially taken over to Ingstad for $9.5 million. The sale is pending based on approval of the Federal Communications Commission but L&L said in a news release Ingstad will take immediate control of the stations under a local marketing agreement.

Ingstad could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Attempts to contact the former operations manager for Radio Fargo-Moorhead’s FM stations, John Austin, were also unsuccessful.

“I am very happy to be able to continue my radio station involvement,” Ingstad said in the statement released by L&L.

Messages left for representatives of L&L Broadcasting, Triad Broadcasting and Midwest Communications were not returned as of press time.

Neither Michael Brooks, general manager of Fargo’s former Triad station, or Nancy Odney, chief operating officer at Radio Fargo-Moorhead, returned phone calls seeking comment.

“Strategically the sale of our Fargo stations makes a lot of sense for us and we are very happy that we were able to sell them to a local broadcaster with a long track record of success in the radio business,” Wilson said in the release.

The deal gives Ingstad control of the stations that were owned by Triad Broadcasting: KQWB 1660 AM (True Oldies); KPFK 107.9 FM (The Fox); KLTA 105.1 FM; KVOX 99.9 FM (Froggy); KBMW 1450 AM; and KQWB 98.7 FM (Q98).

In addition to KFGO, the stations Ingstad sold to Midwest Communications include KVOX 740 AM (The Fan); WDAY 93.7 FM (Y94); KBVB 95.1 FM (Bob 95); KRWK 101.9 FM (Talk FM); and KMJO 104.7 FM (Popster FM).

While Ingstad, who is the son of radio pioneer Bob Ingstad, is no stranger to the radio market business, it is unclear what the station swapping could mean for on-air personalities or the station’s formats.

In 2006, Ingstad bought back the six stations that would become Radio Fargo-Moorhead for $14 million from Clear Channel Communications, after selling the cluster in 2000 for $46.5 million.

When the deal was finalized in January 2007, changes in staffing and formats quickly followed.

The adult contemporary station 95.1 FM switched to modern country nearly immediately. By March of that year, The Box 101.9 was reintroduced as Rock 102, spinning modern rock, and The Wolf 104.7 moved from country to adult contemporary as Mix 104.7.

Ingstad also implemented staff changes, hiring top Triad executive Nancy Odney away along with the “Chris, John and Jane in the Morning” show staff, whom Ingstad began airing on Bob 95.

Triad sued Odney for her defection, and the case was settled in July 2008.

Personalities Mike “Big Dog” Kapel, David Black, Chris “Cowboy” Hulsether, Erick “Big E” Grande and Autumn Grant were fired shortly after the purchase by Ingstad.

The former Triad stations Q98, Froggy 99.9 and adult contemporary 105.1 have established their listening base and stayed at the top of Arbitron ratings by being on the air more than 40, 30 and 20 years respectively.

The format changes by Ingstad seemed to help Radio Fargo-Moorhead stations take a bigger bite of the listening market.

After Ingstad’s initial sale to Clear Channel in 2000, many listeners bemoaned the non-local management and programming, which Ingstad reversed in 2007.

In September, Duke Wright, president and chief executive of Midwest Communications, said he did not foresee making “any big changes” after the deal. Wright said although Midwest is based in Wisconsin, he has interest in North Dakota since his wife is from Lisbon, and he has visited several times.

Operations manager for Radio Fargo-Moorhead’s AM stations, Joel Heitkamp, said the swap is a win-win for the metro.

“Jim Ingstad invests in his radio stations and so does Duke Wright,” Heitkamp said.

Ingstad is one of five sons to Bob Ingstad Sr., who founded KOVC-AM in Valley City, N.D., in 1936.

His brothers Bob Ingstad Jr. and Tom Ingstad also remained in the business. Jan, the widow of Bob Jr., who died in 2007, owns Ingstad Family Media, a six-market company in North Dakota and South Dakota.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530