From all the indications I'm getting, and the words of some people I trust to know what they are talking about, we might not recognize what station we're listening to when we turn to 550AM after December 31st.
"The Big 550-KTRS", as it has been billed for several years, may be getting ready for a pretty thorough house-cleaning. Of course, I don't work there full-time anymore. I haven't for almost two years now. But, all the signs point to a "blow-it-up-and-start-over-again" format change. Talk will stay. People will come and go.
The ownership change when the Cardinals came over with the baseball broadcasts.
There is a new man in place calling most of the shots. Bobby Lawrence was put in place by the Cardinals people.
There is a new Program Director. Al Brady Law, who's been all over the country at other stations, was hired on. Usually that's an indication that upper management wants to do something different with programming but would rather bring in someone to "put new ideas in place". Of course, implementing change in radio programming inevitably means lost jobs for those currently on the air.
On-air auditions by people unknown in this market. Several times over the past month, Scott St. James and Meme Wolff (9am-Noon) have been inexplicably absent with individuals, and teams, heretofore unheard of taking their place. There have been other strange appearances in other dayparts, including evening sports programming. So far, there have been no unusual personnel switcheroos in morning or afternoon drive, but I wouldn't take that to mean there is no possibility of change there either.
Wendy Wiese and Bill Wilkerson (morning drive), Brian Kelly (News Director), Jim Holder (Sports Director), St. James, McGraw Millhaven (Noon-3), Randy Karraker and John Hadley (evening sports)all could have targets on their backs because of their one-time employment at KMOX. I understand that Brian Hartmann, an excellent voice and commercial production talent, has already been jetisoned. It would seem that the new regime is not necessarily interested in the best talent available, but is interested in new, different, energetic and "non-KMOX/KTRS tainted" individuals.
I would not expect the Frank O. Pinion show to be tinkered with, unless the new management is prepared to deal with an all-out revolt. Frank's show has carried the mail at the station for a long time. His show, even without the recently departed Terry Dailey, not only has huge numbers on a consistent basis, but obviously has connected with a fiercely loyal group of regulars. He could take "The Large Morning Show in the Afternoon" to about any other station in the market and blow a big hole in 550's good lead-in to Cardinals baseball in the Spring, if the management at KTRS doesn't deal with him carefully.
My opinion? The new management team had better be very thoughtful, careful and professional with how much they clean house. It's been proven time and again that St. Louis market radio is a different animal than that of the rest of the country. Listeners here have grown up on a different brand of radio because of the influence of KMOX...and the competition that has grown out of that station's one-time overwhelming dominance. People here get to know, like and trust certain personalities and don't like it when someone "messes with their people". The radio hosts here aren't "plug-in parts" like they are in other markets. People here expect someone who knows how to pronounce Gravois road and understands life in the Midwest. Hosts here, much more so than elsewhere, become members of the family. Throwing in a syndicated show because of it's success in other markets has only worked in the case of the most popular syndicated show of all time, Rush Limbaugh. And Limbaugh is from Cape Girardeau, something not lost on the local populous either.
So, Lawrence, Law, and the other "programming tinkerers" in place now at Westport Plaza had better be very sure of themselves before they eject someone in favor of a less-tested, and likely cheaper, replacement from Cincinnati, Little Rock, or Tuscaloosa. The high-energy approach to talk radio is something that might be interesting at first, but it better have some substance to it if St. Louisans are to buy it on a consistent basis. I hope they realize that different, doesn't always mean better.
I do know one thing for sure, this whole situation has many very talented hosts, and quality people, walking on egg-shells during the holidays. It's the worst part of being a radio personality. I've been there...and I'm glad I no longer am. Best wishes, and my condolences to those who unquestionably will lose a job soon.