Baseball star Albert Pujols isn’t the only one vowing to take legal action regarding a radio program on which the former Cardinals slugger was accused of using steroids.
So is Kevin Slaten and possibly Jack Clark, who were ousted early Saturday as co-hosts of the afternoon drive-time program on WGNU (920 AM). This follows Clark saying twice recently on the air that Pujols’ personal trainer had told him in 2000 of the player’s steroids use.
The story, first reported Friday in the Post-Dispatch, soon made national news. Late that night Pujols, now with the Los Angeles Angels, issued a lengthy statement denying the allegations and indicated he’ll sue Clark and the station to set an example for others whose names have been brought up in what he said is a "reckless" manner.
"... If I have to be the athlete to carry the torch and pave the way for other innocent players to see that you can do something about it, I am proud to be that person.’’
That led the company that owns the show, insideSTL Enterprises, LLC, to issue a statement shortly after 12 a.m. Saturday that said Clark and co-host Kevin Slaten in essence had been fired. (Technically the show was cancelled because inisdeSTL, which buys WGNU’s weekday airtime, says Clark and Slaten aren’t direct employees).
Slaten said Saturday afternoon that he’ll sue over his termination. Clark said he’ll make a decision on Monday.
“I don’t know what Albert Pujols’ damages are, but there are a lot of damages for me,” said Slaten, who left KQQZ (1190 AM) to join WGNU. “Albert Pujols didn’t even mention my name. Why does this fall on me?”
Clark wasn’t backing down.
“I stand by what I said,” he said Saturday. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I’m doing something for sure.”
Slaten said he got the termination call from insideSTL president Tim McKernan around midnight.
“I said ‘What?,”’ Slaten said. “He said, ‘We have to do what’s in the best interest of the company.’ I said, ‘You tell me how firing me is in the best interest of the company when you and (WGNU boss Burt Kaufman) said (earlier) that I did nothing wrong.”
Slaten said McKernan told him, “‘I know that, but everybody associated with the show has to go.
“I said, ‘Did you fire the producer? Did you fire yourself, you’re the one who paired us, did you fire yourself?’”
Slaten said that approach undermines the entire operation because if a listener doesn’t like what is said and threatens to sue, “everybody who is sitting in that room is fired. That’s the standard, that’s the precedent.’’
Slaten said that earlier in the day, before he was ousted, that he told McKernan: “Being selfish, I’m glad I’m not on the hot seat for once. He says, ‘Yeah really, you’re not.’ I said, ‘It’s a good feeling but I don’t think Jack should be, either. Jack stands by what he says, his story hasn’t varied once. I think we should all stand behind him, but it’s not my station so I’m not telling anybody what to do.’
McKernan said Saturday night he would have no additional comment regarding the terminations.
Slaten, who has worked at many local broadcast outlets and has been bounced by managers before, said this one was particularly perplexing.
“This one blind-sides me like no other,” he said. “I thought McKernan was different, but he’s not. He’s as cowardly and slimy as the rest of them and he lies.”
He said he told McKernan, ‘‘You lied to me by inducing me to leave another job to come with you and now you’re firing me for what you said I didn’t do. But because I’m in the same room with Jack Clark when he says something.”
“It’s Jack’s word against the other guy’s (former Pujols trainer Chris Mihlfeld),” Slaten added. “For anybody to think Jack Clark made this up, they’d have to believe that during the course of our (on-air) conversation he thought off the top of his head to make up this story and use all the detail in there that he had. Just thought it up right on the spot. It’s absurd.”
Slaten and Clark also said they were told by management to not only mute their comments but also to lie to their listeners on Friday.
“They prohibited us from talking about it (the controversy), prohibited us from taking phone calls,” Slaten said. “We were to lie and say the phones were malfunctioning. Both Jack and I objected, we said we can’t run from this. Jack needs to be able to take calls and explain what he said. We don’t have to make it the (bulk of) the show, but we certainly can’t run from the biggest story of the day. Well, that’s what we were told to do — to not talk about it and not take any calls.”
“I’m still trying to get my knife out of my back from the radio station, the way that was handled,” he said. “They did not allow us to go ahead and talk about it, talk to callers. They made us lie and say the phones weren’t working.”
Clark said he almost walked out because of that.
“I only did the show because they said they were going to talk about it (how to address the situation) and let us know Monday how they were going to handle it,” Clark said.
But the decision was announced a couple hours after Pujols’ statement was issued. And Slaten said he got a call from McKernan shortly after Pujols’ announcement, at about 10 p.m.
Slaten said McKernan told him, ‘Our company is doomed, we’re finished ... because I don’t have $15,000 (to cover the insurance deductible for a lawsuit). I said, ‘You don’t have $15,000 and you’re running a company?’ That’s scary. He says, ‘I’m walking around in circles in my house, my whole company is gone.’ I told him I didn’t believe that’s the case, that we should all go to sleep and see what tomorrow brings.”
McKernan would not directly address Slaten’s and Clark’s comments about being muzzled, told to lie about the phones and Slaten’s insurance deductible remarks.
“Obviously there are certain issues we disagree on, but the newspaper is not the place for us to address them, so we have no comment,” he said.
Slaten said he was shocked when the ax then fell in a midnight call.
“I couldn’t be more stunned,” he said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather. They teamed Jack Clark up with me so sparks would fly, then when Jack says something they run and hide under their blanket. McKernan asks like he’s some tough guy, some freedom-of-speech guy. He’s nothing of the kind.”
McKernan has not said who will fill the 3-6 p.m. slot this week.