Monday, April 24, 2006

Opportunity Lost

-I read with interest this morning that Mike Anderson's contacts are telling him that Cardinals baseball will be back on KMOX by '08. Well, I'm sure you could get arguments on both sides of that issue, depending on who you want to talk to. But, there's one thing that I don't think anyone can argue, that the Cardinals' transition from KMOX to KTRS hasn't gone anywhere close to as smoothly as either entity had envisioned. Can KTRS fix what's broken? Can the Cardinals afford to continue the association? I'm willing to give it some more time....maybe more than the Cardinals are.

One of the comments I read recenly, and apparently uttered by someone in the management mix at KTRS with regard to their strategy, goes something like this. "We already had a KMOX in St. Louis, so we thought it was best to try something different". What he/they apparently, and disastrously, overlooked was that KMOX, or what many of we St. Louisans remember as "The Voice of St. Louis" in it's hey-day, had already moved to 550 on the dial in the last number of years. Adding Cardinals baseball to the station would have largely made KTRS into KMOX. And "The Voice" would have just switched dial positions. Sure, more work was needed. But, the framework and the essentials would have been in place.

With the proper tweaks to programming, and the right type of promotion, The KTRS folks could have convinced many St. Louisans that Robert Hyland's once wildly successful radio station had been re-created. And, that what KMOX had so foolishly abandoned in the corporately-controlled years after Hyland's death, was now once again available. Of course, that would have required someone with Hyland's business savvy, programming instincts, aggressiveness, awareness of market history, and connection with the community.

Instead, the now, easily-questionable strategy has been to blow out all of the old and bring in a collection of cheaper, and, obviously less-seasoned, talent from out of town to go for a thorough makeover in an appeal to a younger demo. Throw in some bells, whistles, rock bumper music, a voice guy who sounds like he's puking every time he says BIG 550, promote it heavily within Cardinals games (where you should be sold out), and VOILA!'ve got a dominant station. Uhhh, you mean that's not working? What do you mean there's no substance? Who wants substance?

In my humble, and no-longer-in-the-business opinion, many of the elements that were needed to move KTRS to the place it wants to be in the market were already there before last December when they decided that 13 of our market's finest professionals were expendable. I would admit that the morning show was struggling, but Bill and Wendy have been St. Louis icons for many years and were never properly promoted by the KTRS regime. If deemed necessary, you could have re-located an already successful morning show, i.e. (Corcoran or Phillips, etc.) to 550, and let B&W lead into Frank O. Pinion in the afternoon. (Frank will never go back to mornings) McGraw could have stayed put. (Of course, they've already brought him back to his old time slot). The sports guys they brought in could have been added to the stable...instead of replacing respected people like Randy Karraker and Jim Holder. Deals could have been made with Bob Costas, Dan Dierdorf (one of the KTRS owners for crying out loud), Joe Buck and other notable St. Louisans, to host on occasion. Hyland always had some ratings-grabbing trick like that going on.

But, not many in broadcasting these days see the benefits of loading up the broadcast day with the best possible them the tools they need to be successful...and then letting them perform. If KTRS had done that, as Robert Hyland used to, the current billboard campaign could have actually been successful, and accomplished more than just informing Cardinal baseball listeners where they can hear the games. It could have given listeners a blockbuster station populated by this market's most recognized and respected talent to enjoy again...and one that would have provided the warm glow of the old KMOX days.

Yeah, you might say, those would have been over-50 listeners and undesirable to the ad salespeople. Point taken. But, in it's days of dominance, KMOX skewed older...but was also such a juggernaut that it had big numbers in every age group. I listened faithfully in my teens and twenties to much of what The MOX offered. Who in this market didn't? Sure, we listened to other stations for our favorite songs. But when it was important...or often just because they had great broadcasters who were interesting and fun...we listened to 1120.

The Hyland KMOX was, sports, gossip, humor, personalities, sports updates, and whatever brought about good radio....a true full-service station with all local broadcasters and content. When something of any importance was going on, we automatically turned to "the MOX" to get the skinny. Because we knew somebody we respected like...Jack Buck, Bob Hardy, Wilkerson, Wiese, Dierdorf, Costas, Jack Carney, Gary Bender, Jim White, Bruce Bradley, Anne Keefe, Randy Karraker, Bob Burnes, Bob Broeg, Ron Jacober, Dan Kelly, Mary Phelan, Mike Kelly and about five-hundred others during the glory years... would be all over the story and taking phone calls. KMOX news was always read by someone whom we had grown to know and trust. Unknowns were not allowed, unless they were auditioning at midnight on a Saturday. Sports updates were part of every newscast, not limited to thirty or sixty seconds, and had to have fresh sound.

As I look back, I find my days there as an intern in the early 70's...and an announcer/producer in the sports department in the late 80' be some of the most rewarding of my radio career...mostly because of the important position in this market, and in broadcasting, that KMOX held during that time.

Hyland didn't do it on the cheap. He did it on the very expensive. But he made money. Lots of it. And, wasn't it good? No, wasn't it great? Maybe you just can't do that kind of radio any more...or convince the people who sign the checks that it's a good idea...but I'll bet if Hyland were still alive, the good old "At Your Service" KMOX would be too....somewhere.


Anonymous said...

Nice summary Tom. I love the current commerical tht KTRS is running, with some woman from Columbia, MO proudly and loudly claiming how great her reception is, and at the same time she tells the rest of us to "Get over it". Living 20 minutes away from the Arch and unable to pick up the station after 6:30, I have chosen to turn off the station completely. Why listen to a station with sub-par talent and a signal that stretches a whopping 10 miles into some sections of the metro-east at night? When sending the same comments to KTRS, they blew it off completely, supporting their airing of the commercial. Well, even though I love the FOP show, I have removed the station from my presets on my radio because of the station's arrogance. I truly hope that KMOX finds a way in the near future to re-land both the Cardinals and the Blues, and rekindle the flame of those teams that so many have lost due to their hijacking by KTRS.

Card fan said...

Wow, I have thought that I was being just a stick in the mud about all that was happening there at 550. Part me feels like they must be living in some nightmare marketing world. I picture a sales meeting when someone points out the rating problems management makes the statement, "Well, at least their talking about us." or "Did they say the BIG 550?",I can't believe their arrogance to assume we will all just take it and go with it. Your remark about the ads for the station during the game is telling. Are you really saying they can't sell that time space or do they need to fill it with their own ads to boost ratings? Whatever, I hope they continue to fall on their kiester as long as they treat this community with contempt.

Anonymous said...

Well stated, Tom! Like you, there's plenty about the current situation that has me scratching my headphone-laden head. The ineptitude at THE BIG 550 (man, I HATE those liners...the voice guy belongs back in the 50's...UGH!) is amazing. Maybe we'll see something happen like Philadelphia's situation where the Phillies went from a 50,000 watter to a 5,000...and then back to the 50,000 watt station after a public outcry. Maybe. Maybe not. We can only hope!