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Media Views: Remember when radio shows took calls? They're back on KMOX baseball program

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Matt Pauley is on the air Wednesday, July 27, 2022, on KMOX (1120 AM) with the "Extra Innings" show, which now is taking calls from listeners.

You’re back!

You, the sports fans, again can have a voice on local radio.

KMOX newcomer Matt Pauley has reinstated a key element that helped mold the station’s lofty status in broadcasting history, putting callers on the air to interact with the host. Legendary KMOX (1120 AM) general manager Robert Hyland is credited with founding the call-in format, with “At Your Service” and “Open Line” programming in the 1960s. It was social media before there was social media.

But in recent years, it has been more of a “Closed Line” approach, as interactions with listeners have been few. That path is followed at other stations in the market, on which jabber from the hosts and their guests also is the preferred method.

But Pauley, a native St. Louisan who recently returned home after making his latest stop in Milwaukee, is bringing back listener involvement on the “Extra Innings” show. It’s the local portion of Cardinals postgame programming that follows the team’s radio network’s coverage, which he hosts on weeknights.

“This is what I live for, the baseball conversation and it absolutely 100% is a conversation,” he said on the air Tuesday, the first time he took calls. “You are going to be a big part of the ‘Extra Innings’ show moving forward. ... We are going to talk on an every-night basis.”

Great move. These recap shows usually are predictable and boring, a rundown of stats and game rehashes with perhaps a preview of the next day’s action.

Early explosion

Pauley was rewarded with fireworks from the first call he took.

A fellow named “Steve” was cordial at the start but quickly erupted about the topic of the week — the absence of the Cards’ top two players, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, because they are unvaccinated against the coronavirus and thus were not allowed into Canada for the team’s two games in Toronto.

“Appreciate the forum to talk,” the caller said after the Cardinals’ 10-3 loss before cutting loose. “I’m white-hot mad about this game, very frustrated that we didn’t come in with a full squad. I respect Nolan and I respect Paul but ... if you have to be vaccinated to do your job, get vaccinated.”

Pauley pointed out that it was the pitching that was the problem that night. But he did acknowledge that the game might have played out differently if the absent players would have been in the lineup. Had Goldschmidt and/or Arenado helped get the Cardinals the lead before the bullpen collapsed late in the contest (it was tied 3-3 in the sixth inning), the relievers used probably would have been different.

“I do find it interesting that the team gives up 10 runs — and you’re absolutely not alone in the way you’re thinking — but what leads you to first going to Arenado and Goldschmidt when you look at the way this game went down?” Pauley asked him. “They really lost because of pitching.”

The caller shot back: “... If you go into a game with two bullets in a six-bullet chamber, the whole team knows that you don’t have your best chance to win. And I blame that on Paul and Nolan.”

Next up was another “Steve,” who pointed out he is 56 and has kids who are the age of some of the Cardinals players.

“We have a major problem with this team,” he said. “You’ve got Yadier Molina that has disappeared, is getting in fights on basketball courts (in Puerto Rico). You’ve got Jack Flaherty who has made it very publicly clear he does not want to be in St. Louis, whether you guys want to acknowledge it or not. I know it for a fact, my kids don’t lie to me, that have sat in front of a Budweiser with him. You’ve got a team of malcontents right now.”

He went on to criticize Cardinals manager Oli Marmol.

“... This team on the field has flopped,” the caller said. “Absolutely flopped! ... This team is slop. This ownership group is slop! It’s a money-grabbing ownership and I am fed up!”

Pauley had had enough, ending the call.

“I understand the frustration, but at the same time I disagree,” he said. “... You look at the Cardinals and you look at their track record of winning, I don’t know how anybody could be really unhappy with the ownership group from the big picture.”

He went on to compare their way of doing business with the three other mid-market clubs in the NL Central Division and pointed out the Cards’ track record also is far superior to the big-market Chicago Cubs.

“I think this team needs to improve this year,” he said. “I think this team needs to make moves at the (trade) deadline. If it means they have to expand payroll a little bit, so be it.”

Another caller complained about the way Marmol dresses in the dugout.

The next night, the Cardinals beat the Blue Jays 6-1 as Albert Pujols had a three-run homer among his three hits, and the fickleness of fans was on full display. After angry calls the night before, “Barbara” massively changed the tone.

“Pujols is the greatest baseball player that I’ve ever seen,” she said. “He’s as good as Babe Ruth. ... This was one of the greatest games I’ve ever heard.”

Such is life in the call-in radio business. Like it or not, it certainly adds spice to what normally can be a bland program.

The background

Callers used to be the backbone of sports-talk radio. So much so that some shows became too reliant on them as those hosts became lazy. Instead of doing homework and preparing segments, they merely let fans babble and sometimes make ridiculous trade proposals (in today’s terms — the Cardinals should deal Paul DeJong and Andrew Knizner for Juan Soto). The same people called so frequently that they almost became cast members.

In fact, longtime “Media Views” readers might remember this space once called for a major reduction in the reliance on calls because the problem had become so profound.

When WXOS (101.1 FM) entered the sports-talk fray in 2009, management vowed to build on the expertise of its announcers and their guests, not callers. That was a welcome respite at the time and to this day 101’s listener participation generally is limited to texts and recordings of phone messages that hosts discuss. The station has been successful with that approach, which has been adopted elsewhere.

But it still is nice to hear from callers occasionally.

Rambunctious Kevin Slaten was on an array of other stations over the years and welcomed fans to call, often arguing with them. But he hasn’t been on the local sports airwaves for nearly six years and now does political talk on his website.

So it’s refreshing to have fans returning to local radio on a limited basis. The call-in segments will follow the Cardinals Radio Network postgame program, which generally runs for 40-50 minutes after the play-by-play coverage ends. KMOX’s “Extra Innings” show, when the fans are heard, then airs for about half an hour.

Bring ’em on!

Tirades are part of the lore of call-in shows, and Pauley is all for that.

“It was a lot of fun,” he told the Post-Dispatch about the wild comments he already has had from participants.

Pauley, who started in St. Louis last week, also is host of the station’s “Sports Open Line” show (which airs on nights KMOX has no live game coverage) as well as the weeknight Cardinals pregame and postgame programs. He is integrating calls back into “SOL,” too, although it won’t be the focal point as it was years ago.

“I’ll pick and choose spots where I think it will work best,” he said.

He took calls when hosting Brewers postgame programming in Milwaukee, and said that is “the best time” to do so, adding that station program director Steve Moore and sports director Tom Ackerman are encouraging the approach.

“There’s not a better time than right after the game ends to do it,” Pauley said. “That’s when spirits are running the highest. It’s a great opportunity to be conversational with listeners, with Cardinals fans. I love it.”

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