Rough Year in St. Louis Media Wars
Media news 2005: Broadcasters make waves
By Dan Caesar
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Mike Shannon and Wayne Hagin
Cards departure from KMOX, firings, hirings and a few fighting words generated static in 2005
From Jack Buck dying in 2002, to Mike Bush leaving KSDK's sports department in 2003 after 18 years, to Ken Wilson being fired last year by the Blues after 20 years as a broadcaster, the local sportscasting business hasn't lacked annually for big stories.
There was another blockbuster in 2005, as the Cardinals pulled the plug on KMOX (1120 AM) as their radio home after 51 seasons. The move of the broadcasts to KTRS (550 AM), of which the team is buying 50 percent, and the Cardinals' control of programming decisions, will have a major impact for years.
The move was in the works for months, and as the situation dragged on there was an outpouring of opinions - the vast majority negative - from people inside and outside the radio business. Those who are in remote areas and will lose free access to the broadcasts, because KTRS' reach is much smaller than KMOX's, were outraged. So were those closer to KTRS but who are between stations on the network.
Things went so far that a rift developed among the offspring of Robert Hyland, who ran KMOX during the Cards' heyday at the station. His oldest son, Robert Hyland III, said he wanted them to leave. His younger two children disagreed loudly.
It went so far as Molly Hyland saying that Robert Hyland III, her half-brother, "has not lived in St. Louis for (nearly) 45 years and has never worked at KMOX. So, except for having our father's name, I am not sure that he was the best spokesperson for our father."
The bottom line: The Cardinals will be better off financially - at least they think so. But fewer people will hear the broadcasts.
It was a rough year for Wayne Hagin, around whom a firestorm of controversy developed in spring training when the Cardinals broadcaster said Colorado All-Star first baseman Todd Helton had been on "the juice."
It was widely assumed Hagin meant steroids, and Helton was aghast then threatened to sue. But Hagin insisted he was referring to creatine, a legal supplement.
"It was taken totally out of context," he said at the time. "Put yourself in my shoes. This was the most shocking thing in my life."
But unfortunately for him, he got a bigger shock shortly before Thanksgiving. The Cardinals unceremoniously fired him after three seasons in the unenviable role of the first full-time successor to Jack Buck. Although Hagin had done everything asked of him - and more - the Cards said John Rooney is a better announcer. So Rooney was hired after having contract problems in Chicago, where he had broadcast the White Sox for 18 seasons.
Rooney had been the top choice of the Cards before Hagin was fired but was unavailable contractually at the time.
Upheaval at KTRS
Shortly before Christmas, KTRS fired most of the on-air staff as it plans to become "more edgy" when its new lineup is put in place Jan. 9. Included in the cuts were two longtime St. Louis sports radio veterans, Jim Holder and Randy Karraker. Retained was the bombastic John Hadley, and hired was Tim Montemayor, who had been working as a stir-it-up sports talker in Sacramento, Calif.
Hadley, meanwhile, created a buzz in June when he also took a job with the Rams to provide statistical analysis to the coaches, help the club with Internet research and defend head coach Mike Martz. That created a conflict of interest for KTRS, allowing a person deeply involved with the club to also serve as a sportscaster.
"It's not a perfect situation by any means," he said then.
The sports-talk radio business rarely lacks for sparks and personnel moves, and that was the case again this year.
In February, Tim McKernan left his slot as the No. 3 person in the sports department at KMOV (Channel 4) to focus on the raucous morning drive-time show at KFNS 590 AM, 100.7 FM, where he had been moonlighting. He saw little chance for advancement at KMOV, where those ahead of him are entrenched.
"Contrary to what most people think, that TV pays better than radio, I'm in a situation where it's the other way around," he said then.
In October, Bernie Miklasz left as the lead host of KMOX's "Sports Open Line," for a new morning show at KSLG 1380 AM, taking Andy Strickland along to assist.
In other moves, Jay Randolph Jr. left KFNS 590 AM, 100.7 FM, this week to take a job covering golf for XM Radio, and former Blue Tony Twist was added to KSLG's afternoon drive-time show. Brian McKenna began doing a late-night program at KSLG, and that station also added Charlie "Tuna" Edwards for a late-night show on Tuesdays.
KSLG, with its popgun nighttime coverage area, did baseball fans a disservice by not allowing another station to also air the World Series. This prevented many St. Louis fans from hearing the games and came after the station didn't air several playoff games at all.
In September, a fist fight nearly erupted between KMOV sports director Steve Savard, who also is the Rams' radio play-by-play announcer, and KFNS' Kevin Slaten.
Slaten had been ripping Savard on the air for a long time, saying his ties to the team affects his objectivity at KMOV.
When their paths crossed at Rams Park, sparks flew in an obscenity-laced, nose-to-nose confrontation.
"Take your best shot," Slaten said as they stood face-to-face.
"Do what you want to do, tough guy,' Savard countered and later added, "Anytime, anywhere."
Later, Slaten said, "He walks in here like he's some kind of emperor. What he is really is a punk."
Savard shot back.
"His track record of personal and professional conduct is well documented and so is mine, and they stand in clear contrast," he said. "I'll be in my job well after he's fired or arrested, whichever comes first."
Earlier in the year, Slaten had a spat with Rams radio analyst Jack Snow on KFNS. Snow blasted Slaten for questioning the legitimacy of the Rams despite the fact they had just made the playoffs despite having an 8-8 record.
"You got it, Slaten?" Snow said in an extremely angry tone. "You understand, rubber band?"
Snow, who appeared earlier in the day on the station, also took shots at others at KFNS: "I already did two shows with a bunch of yo-yos like you," he told Slaten.
Slaten was at the center of another incident in October, when he said someone threw a beer bottle into his vehicle while he was parked downtown waiting for his son.
KFNS' Mike Claiborne had a heated, on-air telephone confrontation with Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller in August that ended with Feller hanging up.
Feller, 86, was discussing his baseball career and his days in the military. He was asked what is right and wrong with baseball today, and talked about players not knowing the fundamentals. "A lot of the players coming from the Caribbean, they don't even know the rules," Feller said.
Claiborne interrupted, asking Feller several times to clarify his comments. Feller became irritated and finally said, "If you don't be quiet, I'm going to cut this off." Claiborne shot back, "You can cut it off right now as far as I'm concerned, you racist."
Feller hung up.
"I wasn't trying to hang him out to dry," Claiborne said later. "... I just felt the direction he was headed certainly gave me all the indication that that's what he was, and that's what he is."
Last year, Graham Bensinger was a senior at Mary Institute-Country Day School. But this fall, he was at the center of one of the biggest controversies in all of sports in 2005. Comments made by Philadelphia receiver Terrell Owens in an interview with Bensinger were the final straw for the Eagles in their rocky relationship with T.O.
They suspended Owens soon thereafter, ending his season.
Bensinger, a go-getter who is a freshman at Syracuse University and who has hosted a show on KSLG, was doing an interview for ESPN.com that also was videotaped. In the conversation, Owens said he thought the Eagles might be better off if Brett Favre was their quarterback rather than Donovan McNabb.
"I certainly never imagined comments he made ... would ultimately either result or be the tipping point of him being suspended," Bensinger said.