Call this a “think piece” or just a “tl;dr” but I think I’ve finally plotted out a gameplan to claim victory in #RadioWars.

However, to first win the war, you must have a clear understanding of history.  Kansas City Sports Radio History…

It all started with Don Fortune.

Sure, there were other “sports talk” hosts, but the center of the universe was Don Fortune in the 1990’s.  Fortune was the afternoon drive-time sportscaster for 980 KMBZ.  980 was the Home of the Royals, Home of the Jayhawks and was the center of the sports world.  He was part of my afternoon listening everyday, and I wasn’t alone.

Then… along came Union Broadcasting, KCTE 1510 and a guy named Kevin Kietzman.  Kietz, like Fortune, came from television and both had the ability to sensationalize the sports news of the day.  However, Fortune has started to show his age, and his show began to slow down.  The live reads about Tippins Pies and Marina Grogg and Galley started to get longer. He took fewer calls. He started to wander with his stories.

They tried to bring in co-hosts to work with him, one of them, a young up-and-comer named Soren Petro, who also did pre- and post-game for the Royals broadcasts.

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To understand the present, you must first understand the past.  For instance, when I asked Nick Wright for his favorite Kietzman / Fortune story he said “Dude, I was like 12!!”

One man who does remember the battle was a guy who was there and witnessed it first hand.  Greg Hall was a writer for the Kansas City Star and also was working on a radio show at KCTE.

He recalls the atmosphere in the mid-90’s, “Fortune was the ONLY sports talk radio voice in Kansas City in the early 90s. When Pete Enich and Soren Petro started up 1510 to offer an alternative voice, it was akin to taking on LSU football with Shawnee Mission East’s debate squad. It might have even been a bigger mismatch than that. When Kietzman became affiliated with Chad Boeger and 1510 about 1997, the disparity between Fortune’s fame and Kietzman’s was so great it was laughable—literally.”

While 1510 gave 980 next to no real competition, they were working harder and smarter than 980. Hall mentioned this during a meeting with Entercom (980) execs about starting a Jason Whitlock/Greg Hall show at their station. “The three guys in suits from Entercom were amused at my admiration for what Boeger and Kietzman were doing. I repeatedly mentioned how impressed I was with their aggressiveness and how Kietzman appeared to have an uncanny ability to tap into the very topics that the sports talk audience was thirsting for each day.

“‘You need to start paying attention to those guys,’ I warned. ‘They are going to put Don Fortune out of business.’
“A roar of laugher floated from across the lunch table from all three suits. I will never forget the comment that followed from the head suit.
“‘Maybe in your little world, Greg,’ he chuckled. ‘Maybe in your little world.'”
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In a small studio tucked inside a residential neighborhood in Independence, Missouri, Kietzman waged an ugly ground war against Fortune. He dared listeners to “make the switch” and tune into 1510 during the summer. (The station had a “day only” license, however, so in the fall, the show went off the air sometimes at 4:30.)  When he was on, though, the attacks were relentless and sometimes mean-spirited.

I recall one day when Kietzman dared his listeners to call into Fortune’s show. He also would actively monitor Fortune’s show and ring a bell when Fortune took his first phone call (often late into the first hour.)  He railed against a “corporate” company (Entercom) calling them “conglomo” and saying it was cold, impersonal radio. Sports talk should be about the fans. It was must-listen radio. It was #RadioWarsI and it was beautiful.

Soon, Kietzman started to see gains in the ratings. Billboards sprouted up around town imploring listeners to “Lose A Fortune.” He came up with more creative ideas such as the milestone event in the battle between the stations – The Walkout. The idea was to protest the New York Yankees payroll by filling the left-field General Admission stands at Kauffman Stadium and then, all at once, walk out in protest of the inequity between large-market and small-market baseball.

The $hare The Wealth event was classic. It turned into a wonderful party and celebrated not only our hometown teams, but also our hometown, homegrown radio station, now known at 810 WHB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most importantly, his assault was creative. Fortune’s program had become a caricature of a stock sports radio show.  Kietzman showed massive balls making fun of his competition, out-thinking his competition and out-working his competition.

Fortune didn’t stand a chance and quickly 980 began a local political show up against the 810 juggernaut of Kevin Kietzman’s Between The Lines in the afternoons. Fortune faded away for Florida to enjoy his well-earned retirement.

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Both stations have fallen into a trap. 610 is the “Home of the Jayhawks” and the “Home of the Royals” while 810 is the “Broadcast Partner of the Kansas City Chiefs.” This affords them an opportunity to put out information that the other station can’t, or can only on delay.

This also puts them in the pocket of the teams they are covering.  All that news is fed to them by the teams’ Public Relations and Media departments.  Investigational reporting is at an all-time low.  Even the 8-page Monday edition of the Kansas City Star isn’t helping.

#RadioWars has also been about breaking stories.  810 was at its best when it had an impromptu interview with just-fired KU Athletic Director Al Bohl from his driveway.

Days where managers and coaches are fired are the best days in Sports Radio. Stories are broken live and news is flying fast. The news is real, not fed from PR departments.

Those days, however, are few and far between and stations that are “The Home Of…” rarely ask the tough questions. The other station, looking to sign that contract the next time it’s up also pulls back in order to keep good relationships.

It’s not just radio, this is an epidemic across all kinds of journalism. But imagine a sports talk station not affiliated with anyone, free to ask the tough questions when given the opportunity.  Not holding interviews with people because they pay them, but holding interviews with people because the fans have a right to know.

It’d be a cold walk to the parking lot, but it would get more questions answered.

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Jump to today. Many parallels exist between then and now. However, it is Union Broadcasting that has settled into a groove and upstart 610 that needs to be more creative and more maneuverable to win the battle.

On paper, this fight is extremely one-sided. St. John, Bukaty, Petro, and Kietzman – unstoppable against a lineup of retreads and never-heard-of’s – Fescoe, Parkins, Harrison and Wright.

So far, I’d characterize 610’s on-air broadcasts as somewhat static.  They do an outstanding job of putting on a sports talk show that has all the makings of what you want in a talk show. You have callers, you have witty hosts, you have news, you have reporters.  What you lack, however, is creativity and balls. You even have the controversial Bob Fescoe who can stir up shit with one tweet or comment on his show.  The whole thing plays very stale, though.  You don’t see them taking any chances outside of what their corporate overlords will let them do.

The best radio has always been about going outside of the comfort zone and giving an audience a show.

810 finds themselves in that same position Fortune was in so many years ago. They’ve gotten comfortable. Their guests are the same every week. They seem to have gotten complacent.

Now is the time to pounce.  But you can’t just yell louder than the other stations.

The winner of the #RadioWars is going to be the station that is more creative than the other.  Whether 810 wakes from its slumber, or the new blood at 610 can out-maneuver the new “conglomo,” you’ve got to get more creative.

  • What if one station gave away $10 to a caller for every phone call the other station took in an hour?
  • What if you held a protest outside the other radio station? Served BBQ. Took the war to the streets.
  • What if you had people take 810 or 610 signs out to the Royals game and you gave free T-Shirts to people who brought them (Circle me, Bert!)
  • Bulletin boards across town advertising “You want trivia? Or do you want Sports?”
  • Online voting for #KUBoobs.
  • Even more integration with Twitter.

These are just things I’ve spitballed in 5 minutes. You both have dozens of analysts working for you. Come up with something dramatic. Make an impact.

What if you fired Jim Rome by blowing up a picture of him in the parking lot? That kind of shit.

These aren’t just for 610, 810 can easily go on the offensive and absolutely wipe 610 off the face of the planet. They’ll show up one day and 61 Country will be reborn.  It seems Kietzman plays it a little more conservative as observed by Greg Hall, “Kietzman has never made this mistake [of underestimating the competition] as far as I can tell. He takes every threat that Entercom tosses his way seriously. He knows firsthand how David can slay Goliath when it comes to radio.”

Winning the war means more exposure to listeners, higher ratings and more advertising revenue.

Winning the war, however, is going to require a level of creativity not seen in 15 years since the once and future king took it to another level.