Today: No Royals, No Chiefs – Sports Talk Radio War or Afghanistan?

With the Royals in the tank, the Chiefs in limbo, there aren’t a lot of sexy sports topics to kick around…

So why not drum up a sports radio war? Despite the Royals poor play 610 Sports has had a few upticks. And there’s always the listeners who love to hate WHB superstar Kevin Kietzman.

So you know, let there be war!

But apart from making Cowtowners’ water cooler lives a bit more interesting, is there really a sports radio war being waged in Kansas City?

Yes and no – emphasis on the latter.

"War is war and people die," says radio bigwig Bob Zuroweste, who lorded over the great sports talk wars of the late ’90s/early 2000s. "People don’t die in this business – it’s just a competitive environment.".

Zuroweste was at the helm of Entercom when KMBZ 980 AM’s once-mighty afternoon drive sports show with Don Fortune was King Kong to everybody else’s was Chicken Little.

Until a mild-mannered weekend anchor from Fox 4 named Kevin Kietzman left TV for an uncertain future talking about sports on a tiny station with the signal strength of a weak kitten.

"The sports radio wars really started when KCTE 1510 AM and Kevin Kietzman took on Don Fortune with a peashooter signal and they actually beat Fortune in men," Zuroweste says. "And they put a billboard up around town that said, ‘Lose a Fortune.’ That was what started it. The The Game, 1250 AM, was our answer to it with that crazy guy Johnny Renshaw. But that never took off like we wanted it to.

"But when things really heated up was when we launched 610 Sports and hired Bill Maas, Jason Whitlock and Tim Grunhard away from WHB in basically one night – it was all or none. That and we took Jim Rome from them as well."

What ensued was a mad talent scramble with WHB snagging then Channel 9 weekend sports anchor Dave Stewart, who’d been doing radio for Entercom on The Rock 98.9 FM with Johnny Dare. In desperation, WHB also lured then minor leaguers Nick Bukaty and Bob Fescoe. They needed bodies, voices.

But the move that truly kicked Entercom’s sports radio ass was when WHB landed Soren Petro.

"We were very disappoined that Petro left," Zuroweste says. "We wanted him to be part of our new team. And WHB was able to keep (Fox 4’s) Frank Boal. And they had George Brett on with him for awhile. But that was more for the name – he didn’t do a lot."

Bottom line: Despite Entercom’s stunning talent raid and 610’s launch, WHB not only prevailed it won out.

There was no shortage of subterfuge leading up to all-out war breaking out.

"I had tried to hire Whitlock away from WHB for KMBZ a couple of times," Zuroweste says. "And we tried to hire Kietzman too."

How close Zuroweste came to hiring one of the heavy hitters?

"Oh, I don’t think I got close with Kietzman. I think Kietzman was playing me. We met for lunch one time and I’d been trying to hire him, so I took out a napkin and a pen and gave it to him and said, ‘Write down a number on it.’ And when he wouldn’t put a number down, I knew he wasn’t coming to Entercom.

"Whitlock I got close to. We were going to pair him with Fortune, but Whitlock wouldn’t do it. He wanted his own deal. So at that point we hired Jim Rose (from Nebraska) and that didn’t work out. Then we tried to get Whitlock again. And then we hired Petro and paired him with Fortune. And you know, Soren’s a bright guy but there was just a generation gap with him and Fortune. So that wasn’t a good marriage.

"Then Fortune retired and Soren had his own show on KMBZ," Zuroweste continues. "And Fescoe and Bukaty were there at the time and we had the Royals."

Now enter into the pre-610 Sports launch mix, legendary AM country signal 61 Country with David Lawrence and Paul Harvey.

"What happened was 61 Country was getting long in the tooth with its age demo and the revenue was slipping," Zuroweste says. "And (Entercom head) David Field thought that music should be on FM and talk on AM. And that’s when we tried putting 61 Country on 106.5 FM and kept David Lawrence and Paul Harvey. That was the original plan, because the music on 61 Country wasn’t old country, it was just like KFKF FM is today."

That’s how the path was cleared for – remember? – 61 Sports

"But it was fraught with trouble from the beginning because of Whitlock’s ego and Maas’s ego," Zuroweste says. "Otherwise, it would have worked, I think. The biggest loss was we had Petro going across town."

As for the concept of a radio war being waged today – absent talent raids, station launches and big names lined up in both trenches… Eh!

Competition, yes. War, no way.

"Anytime you have two stations in a format, there is what I would call a high competition level," Zuroweste says. "Because the same people are listening to both stations. So what you want to do is engage them for a longer period of time. You can use the term ‘war’ but it’s really a competitive battle.

"In radio terms, when you launch an attack – like in World War II when the U.S. wasn’t at war with Japan but there was tension – but when you go out and hire their talent and put a radio station on the air, that’s war. Rght now it’s more like Afghanistan."

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12 Responses to Today: No Royals, No Chiefs – Sports Talk Radio War or Afghanistan?

  1. chuck says:

    Couple things…
    “War is war and people die,” says Bob Zuroweste, who lorded over the great sports talk wars of the late ’90s and early 2000s. “People don’t die in this business – it’s just a competitive environment.”

    So there ya go, who knew? So I got my arms around that, but…

    “”In radio terms, when you launch an attack – like in World War II when the U.S. wasn’t at war with Japan but there was tension – but when you go out and hire their talent and put a radio station on the air, that’s war.”

    Which I guess means, we hired Patton and Bull Halsey away from Mitsubishi, and shitcanned Yamamoto, or maybe Yamamoto and Tojo were Naval Academy and West Point drop outs.

    Jeeze, am I confused.

    I just get lost in these historical metaphors.

    I wanna see Patton give that speech about makin ‘The other poor bastard die” then scream “BANZAI!!!”

    I am thinking maybe Bobby Z is blosin some “Divine Wind” up your ass Hearne.

  2. chuck says:

    “Blowin” some wind up …
    ZZZzzzzz tired 🙂

  3. Observer says:

    I really do hope you bit your tongue when it was so firmly planted in your cheek.

  4. Hearne Christopher says:

    Merely an observation, my man.

  5. Rainbow Man says:

    joslin cookie smoke and fire
    KK and his team have settled into a groove. They basically cater to Johnson County, Northland, and KCMO white guys. Their station looks like their listeners. And you can’t say they haven’t tried the diverse approach. Outside of Between The Lines…They tried the boys in the hood approach and they tried the grunt and fart radio and they tried Renshaw… I mean they tried to be non-white collar white… but they keep going back to it. The KK listeners have the most jack and the advertisers know it. This is still the Midwest. Howie Stern is not big here. KK stays pertinent, takes care of his advertisers, and LOVES to get KU, MU KSU and Nebraska fans all pissed at each other. They make good decisions based on failures they have made. They know what they are doing. Entercom has a bijillion stations and at the end of the day… if 610 fails.. oh well. 810 WHB is everything to those boys up the dial. They think it is life or death every day. KK can keep this going a long time. And the fact is.. Harlan, Jack Harry, the gambling guy…. They are all interesting as hell. They are. Heck… I even thought their restaurants would flop… but they haven’t. They are winners and they are going to keep winning.

  6. chuck says:

    Excellent take from the Rainbow Man.
    Hearne, the lockout is almost over, taining camp is almost here, ya need a full time sports guy in my opinion.

    You don’t even mention the Explorers or tennis at all. The Federer, Nadal, Williams sisters decline? Nothing on Sharipova? New faces? No golf, local or otherwise. Gotta believe Tiger would draw interest, comments then more $ ?

    Sporting KC is kinda interesting, but a more eclectic approach on local and national sports would be a walk in the park for any moron with just a cursory interest sports, and, once again, imo, contribute a much needed infusion of a subject your readers are interested in, SPORTS.

    I’m not saying “Curling” and hot dog eating contests should be regular features, but jeeze…

    Just hire some opinionated guy with a thick skin and an acidic tongue so we can all insult each other (And him/her) over another meaningless but entertaining subject.

    Just sayin…

  7. Tracy Thomas says:

    Hey, Chuck–how about you as sports guy? You’re up at 3am!
    So, chuck,
    you posted at 3:05am. Seems you have either indigestion, a big day in construction in pouring rain, or…some extra time on your hands. So, till Hearne finds SportsBlob for this blog web site, how about you fill in?

    I’d do it, but sports bores me silly except for the NFL and tournament play.
    I did see this awesome spoof, what if the NFL goes to the Field of dreams, and it leads with Tony G. So I am done with my sports duties for the day.

  8. Ho hum says:

    Another boring WGAS radio article in the world according to Bob Z. Hearne baby , serioulsy, you need to expand your inner circle. What’s up? The 810 and 610 guys that are actually “fighting the war” won’t take your calls? I can hear the Little River Band playing Reminicing as I read “has been Zuroweste ‘s” quotes of the good ole days.

  9. chuck says:

    I have a difficult time sleeping. Guilty conscience I guess.

    I know a little about the NFL, a little tennis, a little golf, weak on baseball.

    Too many holes in my resume.

    Plus, its so much easier to criticize, than it is to create.

    We commenters can lay in the bushes and wait, then pounce.

    I am a guy who knows his limitations.

    Sweet dreams! 🙂

  10. Hearne Christopher says:

    Hold it. my man. You don’t want curling and hot dog eating but you do want Explorers?

    OK, fair enough.

    Didn’t really get any sports takers with my little ad schmooze a couple weeks back. It’s gotta be somebody who can write and has an edge. I’m kinda done babysitting training wheels writers. Takes too much time.

    I’ll look around a little more.

  11. Hearne Christopher says:

    Wow – yawn, ho-hum – did you forget, Zzzzzzzzzz?

    Let’s see, I just interviewed with Nick Wright and spoke with Kevin Kietzman. Everybody’s taking the calls.

    The point of this story was to put the current, minor radio skirmishing in perspective. By giving some never-before-published, behind-the-scenes takes on what a real sports radio war looked like.

    Zuroweste is hardly worried about the good, old days. He’s too bust kicking butt and taking names at KCFX. He was kind enough to take a couple minutes to share some dirt and behind the scenes about the current front line players and how they got there.

    Glad you found it interesting enough to take the time to read and comment!

  12. Hearne Christopher says:

    Whadda we got here, a dating site?

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