The year is ending, one in which two longtime St. Louis sportscasters said goodbye. They top the list as we look back at major developments in the local sports media scene for 2021.
On Oct. 3, Mike Shannon’s half-century run in the Cardinals’ radio booth concluded, and it was an emotional day. A guy who never seems at a loss for words was this time, as he was honored on the field before his final broadcast before retiring. He choked up, couldn’t speak, walked away from the podium and sat down, assisted by his wife, Lori.
“It was too emotional,” he said later. “I wanted to thank the fans and the players and it was a real tribute that they were out there. I’m not like that, really.”
Shannon, 82, had cut back considerably on his schedule in recent seasons and persevered this year despite being hit hard by COVID-19 last offseason, affecting his voice sometimes. But he was positive.
”I’m what they call a long-hauler,” he said. “Nobody’s ever come back from this (crud) like me,” he said. “I’m going to be the first one.”
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Just 11 days following Shannon’s final broadcast, Rich Gould signed off at KPLR (Channel 11) after 34 years. All of those were as its sports director, the record in the market for durability in that role.
“Longevity is important,” said Gould, 65, who also appeared on KTVI (Channel 2), which shares news operations with KPLR. “It means you got along with management, you must have done something right. So that is very (meaningful) to me.”
He had a warm, approachable style.
“I’d like to have people remember me as being respectful, professional and approachable,” he said. “I enjoy it when strangers talk to me, whether it’s in a grocery store, a bar, or anywhere else. There are a lot of people in this business who don’t like that, but I’ve never felt that way.”
Added competitor Frank Cusumano, sports director at KSDK (Channel 5): “Whether it’s in a pressbox or doing a live shot next to him, it’s a treat to be around him. He reminds me not to take the job too seriously. He has had a good a perspective not only on the business but life in general.”
We might have been able to add longtime St. Louisan Dan Dierdorf to the list of sportscasters retiring in 2021, but it remains to be seen if his final broadcast will be on New Year’s Eve or early in 2022.
Dierdorf got his sportscasting start at KMOX (1120 AM) in the 1970s while still a player for the football Cardinals before embarking on a distinguished TV career than included two stints at CBS and a long one on “Monday Night Football.” He is wrapping up his run this season as the analyst on Michigan football radio broadcasts and Michigan, his alma matter, is in the playoffs. The Wolverines’ season will end either Friday, when they play Georgia in the semifinals, or on Jan. 10 in the title contest.
All this comes after Michigan finally beat heated rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale after nine consecutive losses in the series.
“It’s a great way to go out,” Dierdorf said.
On the other end of the retirement spectrum, Post-Dispatch sportswriter Rick Hummel reached 50 years at the paper in July, when he was in his 49th season of covering the Cardinals and Major League Baseball.
“Hard to believe,” said Hummel, who is known throughout baseball as “The Commish.”
He got that nickname in the ’70s when he was put in charge of a league he and some friends formed to play APBA Football, a board game.
“Baseball players think it comes from my knowledge of baseball, which is fine — no need to correct that,” Hummel said, chuckling.
Bob Costas, one of sportscasting’s elite, got his start in St. Louis and has known Hummel ever since.
“I’ve never heard someone say about Rick, ‘You quoted me out of context,’ or ‘that was BS,’” Costas said. “... One day at a time he built his Hall of Fame statistics. There was nothing that flashy, just solid, well-written and reported stories” for decades. “Some guys are there to stir it up. But they don’t generally last 50 years.”
Steve Savard, longtime sports and news anchor at KMOV as well as the Rams’ lead radio broadcaster for the team’s final 16 seasons in St. Louis, was fired by Channel 4 in September 2020 as part of cost-cutting layoffs by its owner.
Last January, he moved into sports-talk radio on KFNS (590 AM) and was on the air for just one day before being KO’d after testing positive for coronavirus. But he returned and quickly settled into a role he hadn’t done before, hosting a daily two-hour radio program. But he acknowledged TV wasn’t out of his picture.
“I’m not itching to leave my hometown after building a brand here for 26 years,” he said when he joined KFNS. “But if the right television news situation came along and it was a good integrity and journalism fit, I would consider it.”
That opportunity came along in May, when he took a news-anchoring job at KOLR, the CBS affiliate in Springfield, Mo. His KFNS run was brief, but he enjoyed that.
“The two hours I spent at the mic every day were fun,” he said. “But, the challenge of filling two hours of content kept me on my toes. I really did enjoy the research aspect of preparing for each show, the same way I enjoyed the research component of prepping for Rams games.”
There were other significant moves in the seemingly annual cavalcade of sports-talk radio upheaval, the most notable at year’s end as the long-running “The Morning After” show is leaving KFNS and will begin airing Tuesday on 105.7 HD-2, a high definition channel of KPNT (“The Point,” primarily a rock music station). KFNS’ lineup is being shuffled to accommodate the opening, with part of the moves resulting in Jim Hayes returning to the morning drive-time slot.
Meanwhile, Jim Heuer emerged as sports-talk radio’s ironman as he appears on multiple shows daily as a host or co-host.
Behind the scenes, John Hadley resigned in August. Hadley had been on the air and also held a variety of managerial roles at the station for nearly 4½ years. He previously had a long run on the air at KTRS (550 AM). And talks that have gone on for months appear to be leading to KFNS being sold early in 2022.
Doug Vaughn, the lead sportscaster at KMOV (Channel 4) and a key member of radio’s “The Morning After” show, has been fighting a tough battle for months.
Over the summer he developed an irregular heartbeat, which led to him also being diagnosed with vertigo. Vaughn, who had been hospitalized, later rejoined “TMA,” for which he can work from home, and has returned to TV with some taped episodes of his comedic “Doug Unplugged” bits. There is no word yet about him being back on a regular basis.
He said on the radio that it has been a harrowing experience.
“It’s like you are in an airplane that has been shot out of the sky and you are barrel-rolling towards the ground, towards your death, and you don’t have a seat belt on,” said Vaughn, who added he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. ”And all you see is the plane going round and round just as fast as it can go and you have no balance and there is no way to stop.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, he said he developed a debilitating case of the hiccups that he said lasted for nine consecutive days while he was hospitalized. He estimated he was hiccupping about 43,000 a day at one point before the hiccupping finally ended.
“I got to where I was timing my hiccups,” he said on the air. “I put the stopwatch on it and I was hiccupping at one point 30 times a minute . . . about every other second. I was on a record pace.”
Buck’s big run
It was another big year for St. Louisan Joe Buck, who this summer was honored with the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s annual recognition of a broadcaster for “longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.” He joined his father, Jack Buck, in becoming the only father-son team to be honored.
In the fall he broadcast his 24th World Series, tying analyst and former partner Tim McCarver for most times calling the event on TV. That was part of his annual October marathon of broadcasting postseason baseball and regular-season NFL games as Fox’s No. 1 play-by-play announcer for both.
He was philosophical when discussing the milestone.
“I’m only continuing to do it because Fox continues to pay for the rights,” he said then. “I think that’s the big story. To do this long run, 22 in a row, is something I’m really proud of. But it’s because Fox continues to have it.”
He also had a stellar stint as a guest host for five episodes of “Jeopardy!” that aired in August. He was unflappable, using humor to break the tension when appropriate, and was a natural at keeping the venerable TV game show moving along.
The big winner from this was KidSmart, a local organization that provides basic school materials to children whose families have financial difficulties. Sony Pictures Entertainment, which owns “Jeopardy!,” donated an amount equal to the contestants’ winnings to the charity of each host’s choice. KidSmart reaped nearly $160,000 and board member Stephanie Widaman said about 90,000 students would benefit from that donation.
And Buck, his wife, sister and daughters also appeared on the celebrity version of “Family Feud.”
Longtime St. Louis sportscaster Skip Erwin (real name, Erwin Braverman) died in November after a brief illness. Erwin, who was 96, broadcast the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks and University of Missouri-St. Louis basketball games among his many jobs, which included hosting a sports-talk show on WGNU (920 AM) and writing a sports column for the Jewish Light.
• Darren Pang, analyst on Bally Sports Midwest’s Blues telecasts, increased his schedule by being hired at TNT to serve in a similar role for some of the NHL games it added this season. Former Blues defenseman Jamie Rivers, a member of the afternoon show at sports station WXOS (101.1 FM), is filling in when Pang misses Blues games.
• In a sign of the times, Bally Sports Midwest has its worst Cardinals ratings on record but was No. 1 among U.S.-based MLB regional telecasters.
• Erica Weston left BSM, for which she had been a reporter and host, at the end of the baseball season. She has been replaced by Alexa Datt, who most recently was on the air at MLB and NHL networks.
• KTVI and KPLR sportscaster Charlie Marlow is set to sign off Friday after nearly 14 years. He has gotten into the rental property business but also will stay involved in sports media by co-hosting KFNS’ new morning drive-time show and continuing to operate his YouTube channel.