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Media Views: Evolving KMOX sports department is a sign of the times

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Jack Buck, left, interviews baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson on KMOX (1120 AM) in this undated file photo.

Charlie Brennan didn’t cover athletics at KMOX, the station at which he was a stalwart for more than three decades in its news-talk arm.

But his recent retirement is having reverberations in the once-mighty sports department at 1120 AM, which has a rich tradition — arguably the richest of any radio outlet in the country.

Kevin Wheeler, who has anchored the station’s signature “Sports Open Line” program for the last 17 months in his second stint in that role, is moving to a general talk position on a new program, “The Show.” It will air from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays beginning Tuesday (KMOX has a daytime Cardinals baseball broadcast Monday — the Memorial Day holiday).

Meanwhile, the primary on-air focus of KMOX sports director Tom Ackerman long has been on the station’s morning drive-time news-talk show (in addition to hosting “Sports on a Sunday Morning.”) And his focal point remains there, as that program is being expanded to 5-10 a.m. to help fill the gap created by Brennan’s departure.

So KMOX, whose sports department had iconic broadcasters Jack Buck, Dan Kelly, Bob Costas, Bob Starr, Bill Wilkerson, Dan Dierdorf and Gary Bender on the roster in the 1970s — when it was the self-anointed “Sports Voice of America” — will have nobody devoting all their work time to sports until a replacement for Wheeler is hired.

“We posted the position immediately,” KMOX programing director Steve Moore said Thursday. “The response has been impressive.”

Even when that person is added, KMOX’s sports department will be in a position that most traditional media outlets face — downsizing from the golden era now amid the wild world of social media. Look at the constant turnover among TV news personnel and cutbacks such as popular longtime KMOV (Channel 4) anchor Steve Savard being dropped a couple years ago in a cost-slicing move. Newspaper circulation tumbles, magazines fold and radio stations dump local programming in favor of cheaper syndicated fare.

Long gone are the days when Robert Hyland ran KMOX however he wanted to, basically telling CBS Radio officials to leave him alone. He made the company so much money he could do that. That’s not the case anymore. Nobody in St. Louis is telling owner Audacy, a corporation that owns more than 200 other radio stations nationwide, to take a hike.

The big picture

This age of massive amounts of choices of not just TV programming but smartphone and other online entertainment options has massively changed the landscape.

“It’s hard for anything except NFL games on television to have the primacy it once did,” acclaimed KMOX alum Costas said Thursday. “I think in the next census one in every three Americans will have a podcast. I’ve been on more podcasts than I’ve ever listened to.

“Then people say, ‘Did you see that on Amazon? On Netflix? On Apple?’ How can you keep track of all this stuff?”

The station that once had stoic newsmen such as Bob Hardy and Rex Davis now is looking for its next employee to be versatile on platforms that weren’t even a pipe dream in those days. It has to.

“Social media is a big part of it,” Moore said of the job. “It’s not just about the games anymore. Whoever we hire has to have (engagement) in social media.”

He points out that branching out from sports isn’t a new concept at KMOX, that Buck, Costas, Wilkerson and Dierdorf also excelled in other roles.

“A lot of people put sports people in a box, that they have no interests beyond that,” Moore said. “But it’s bigger and more broad than the Xs and Os of the games. That’s what I’m looking for now.”

Lineup card

KMOX’s changes also include Chris Rongey joining Wheeler alongside Brennan’s former on-air partner, Amy Marxkors. Carol Daniel, who had been on the midday “St. Louis Talks” show that is discontinued will join Ackerman from 8-10 a.m. Out, at least from the full-time lineup, are Ryan Wrecker and Bo Matthews. They had been on with Daniel.

All three members of the new program, which isn’t being billed as a sports show, have significant sports-radio backgrounds. Wheeler and Rongey had fairly recent on-air stints at WXOS (101.1), the market’s FM all-sports radio station, and Marxkors had a weekly hockey show on KMOX when it broadcast Blues games before they moved to 101.1 three seasons ago. She also has hosted pre and postgame programs.

Wheeler said that while the new offering won’t be sports-specific, the plan is to talk a bit about the Cardinals every day.

“We want that to be a cornerstone,” he said. “The Cardinals are news every day, and about the only thing that everybody in St. Louis can agree on. But the show (overall) will be more daytime-traditional KMOX talk. We will have our twist on it.”

Moore concurs.

“The Cardinals and sports are part of the fabric of the station,” he said, adding that under this setup “we can talk sports throughout the day as stories unfold.”

Joe Pott continues in a fill-in role in KMOX’s sports department, and Ackerman, Wheeler and Rongey who can help. Wheeler probably will do some Cards studio shows when his new program is pre-empted for afternoon games.

Wheeler, who has worked in sports radio for decades at the local and national level, has been being eased into the transition. In recent months he has been appearing on Dave Glover’s news/general talk show, which airs on KMOX from 2-6 p.m. weekdays in addition to serving as the primary host of “Sports Open Line” and Cardinals ancillary game coverage.

“Talking about things outside of sports has been fun,” he said. “You’re not sure you’ll enjoy it. But it’s actually a lot of fun.”

And he said the new trio should mesh quickly because they all are friends.

“It’s not hard to have fun with two people you enjoy,” Wheeler said.

Bottom line

Costas, who remained in St. Louis for decades after leaving KMOX and ascended to network excellence, has been gone for several years now. But he succinctly summed up the situation.

“Baseball still matters in St. Louis. Baseball on the radio still matters in St. Louis,” he said, pointing out his admiration of Cards announcer John Rooney.

“KMOX has a glorious history. There was a time its sports department could almost stock a network,” he added. “... When you think of what the heyday of KMOX was or is, there are many people there now who could have a place on that roster.”



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