It is with a galvanized but humble spirit – one that can only be attained through first-hand experience - that I write what I am about to write.
Sports Radio 810 WHB, as a former employee and now a fan, I recognize thee not.
Once, it was about fans. All about fans. All about
You were exactly how I envisioned myself, and the chance to join your ranks, despite leaving behind a promising public relations career, is still remembered fondly. Your workmanlike persona was one I could identify with, that I wanted to identify with. It was the reason I sacrificed everything I could to move from a part-time weekend board operator to a full-time employee and eventually sacrifice even more as I tried to prove my worth.
I felt it was worth it to find a way, any way, to contribute to your sports coverage, to identify an area where improvement could be made, and do it.
And so began my many late-night miles to and from Manhattan – and many pots of IHOP coffee while working on my blogs long after the K-State partiers had come for breakfast and left. Lonely dark stretches of Interstate 70, sometimes at three or four in the morning. Frightened, song-based screaming in the middle of the night – an attempt to fight off falling asleep behind the wheel…again…because a hotel room was only an option if I wanted to pay for it.
Just to make it back in time to appear on an early show. Or, sometimes, just to steal some sleep before getting back to the station for another 10, 11, or 12-hour day because I was told “just being there” was a key to moving up.
You’ll listen to and believe anything that involves moving up when you’re grossing $22,500 a year.
So, imagine my confusion when I was approached on two separate occasions by Union Broadcasting President Chad Boeger, who was aware that my work had proven its value in terms of coverage, and told me my work wasn’t really necessary.
Work I wasn’t being paid for (because, as it was explained to me, I was only technically hired to be a board operator), providing both audio and written content that fans welcomed – unnecessary.
I took that to heart, and continued to provide my effort to 810’s cause.
It was about that time, three years ago, maybe because my senses were heightened as some of the “dream” wore off, I began to hear a growing sentiment among 810 WHB fans: the 810 they had listened to and actively participated in help grow was growing stale.
I saw it from the inside.
Nothing ever changed. Nobody ever moved on. Nobody ever promoted. People left for other jobs and their positions, other than a secretary or two, went unfulfilled.
Like air slowly escaping a balloon, the energy was dissipating. People worried about jobs instead of doing a great job. “Entrench” replaced “innovate.” But, it didn’t matter. Just after I left last August, the first layoffs in Union Broadcasting history took place. Friends of mine lost their jobs. Talented friends. Friends who should still be in radio.
It was the economy, and I understand that. And part of the down economy is an increase in the number of ads played these days. Clients don’t pay as much for ads, the station has to make up the difference somehow.
Fans would understand the ads, I think, if only it wasn’t for the additional live reads and stumping in already-reduced segments. Fans will give, but it’s the station taking on top of it that irks many. Almost everyone has had their 10 minutes in the car where they don’t hear one minute of content.
It is too much. It makes fans respond, just as Chris “fakenedyost” Kamler did with his open letter to Kevin Kietzman, host of Between the Lines.
Kamler isn’t the first and won’t be the last to air his displeasure with Kietzman’s show, but for the first time, the sentiment wasn’t singular in nature as hundreds of people retweeted or commented that 810, Between the Lines specifically, had lost its bite, become out of touch with the listenership and come full negative circle in that it has become the exact replica of the stale sports talk Kietzman had succeeded in running out of town.
Kamler said that Kietzman has become Don Fortune. I do not agree. I do understand why fans examine the parallel nature of the two stories and then compare the characters. However, Fortune was never was the entertainer nor the interviewer that Kietzman still is today. Between the Lines, on its many good days, is still far and away the best show in the city, perhaps in the middle part of
It was extremely disappointing to hear Kietzman’s reaction to the letter during his opening segment on Wednesday. I hate to tell you, friend, it ain’t the Kansas City Royals and the club’s losing ways that has fans deciding to turn the dial. Unless Jim Colbert and Jim Cotty are now throwing cookies for Ned Yost instead of pitching products, that's all smoke and fire.
First, the problem is the acknowledgement and then immediate denial. By inviting callers to provide ideas, Kietzman gave nod to the notion that something does need to improve with the show that has dominated sports talk ratings for more than a decade. But then, for the most part, nearly every idea was eventually dismissed – a subtle but noticeable hint that the conversation would likely go no farther, not for awhile anyways, if ever.
After the first hour of Wednesday’s show, I talked with Kamler over Twitter, asking his opinion of Kietzman’s response. We both held the same basic opinion that the true point for the letter was missed. It’s not anything little and specific that needs to be addressed, and it’s sure not about the threat to change stations. Look, fans don’t want to change 810 if they don’t absolutely have to. They’re loyal, and they just want their old, small-us-against-the-world, out-work everybody, anti-corporate 810 WHB back.*
*It’s hard, maybe impossible, to reverse that path. Kietzman and Vice President of Sports Operations Todd Leabo were just in Bristol, Conn., taking in the sites and sounds as guests representing ESPN stations. Kietzman said on BTL the difference between Union Broadcasting and the other stations is that UB is locally owned. Technically, that’s true.
But, over the years the company’s working relationships with ESPN, Westwood One and others have grown as the want and need for programming (the NCAA Tournament, The Masters and the NBA playoffs, for example) those entities own is sought after. Eventually, you become the company you keep. It’s inevitable. You can sleep in the same bed and not have to change your name.
Kietzman argued that the show “has not changed,” and that’s the problem. Things are not the same as they were 15 years ago when BTL started. To not change is begging to become stale, summer programming or not.
The biggest rub, it seems, is with the middle and lower portion of the coveted 18-54 demographic. They were the ones most likely on Twitter, agreeing with Kamler’s take that BTL has lost them. Taking the medium into consideration, you then have to ask: what percentage of BTL’s audience did Twitter represent? Was it the majority’s voice?
I would then ask this: how many 43-54 year olds do you think are jumping anywhere on the internet, let alone Twitter, to voice their opinion? Not nearly as many 18-40’s, I guarantee, so chances are yes, a majority’s voice was heard, but only the younger side of the demo - which is where the gap exists.
The old guys, the ones with money, are just fine with golf deals and fancy dining. The teens and early 20s maybe aren’t thrilled but are okay with 610’s Nick Wright, Keitzman’s competition, because, well, at least he's their age and mixes in pop culture world they can identify with even if they aren't overly impressed with his show.
But, that leaves us in the middle - the ones who make okay money but not enough to influence ad sales, the ones who still have youthful energy and passion but like our intelligent conversations. Who do we identify with? Right now, nobody, and as a sports fan, that sucks, because we’re too young to want to hear what 810 is pimping in the afternoon and the alternative, while having shown improvement, still feels a little immature and unpolished.
So then, how do I end this piece when I, myself, feel this conversation is just beginning? The answer is I don’t. I’m not ending it. Instead, the hope is that this will rekindle thought and spur the necessary conversations to turn the arbitrary into tangible.
If it’s a rededication to the craft by those currently going, fine. If it means burning the thing down and letting something fresh have its go, so be it.
All I’m after is to find a way to bring back to balance the hardworking, straight-forward, no-nonsense attitude that shapes our city’s fans with legitimate, passionate sports coverage this city wants and deserves. Boeger and Kietzman did it in the late ‘90s with radio, and it was brilliant.
There is no reason it can’t be done again but with today’s technology and mediums.
Just need to find me the next Jerry Green...