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KFNS Goes Off The Air

Jason Barrett

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After more than a year of angst, turmoil and even fisticuffs, the end apparently has arrived for once-mighty St. Louis sports radio station KFNS (590 AM).

Its signal has been off the air since Friday, and operations manager Mike Calvin said Sunday that he doesn’t expect it to return until after the station is sold, and that almost certainly would be in a different format from the jock-talk approach it has had for all but one of the last 21 years. KFNS parent company Grand Slam Sports is in the process of selling it to a religious group that would have church-related programming.

“It is off the air due to nonpayment of operational bills,’’ Calvin said. “I do not see it coming back on the air until the pending sale to the religious organization is finalized.”

He said the company’s debt is about $580,000 and the knockout blow came Friday when Ameren shut off power to KFNS’ transmitter because it is owed about $1,200.

Calvin said there is an outside chance that a decision could be made to pay Ameren to restore the signal temporarily, but that merely would be postponing the inevitable. And he said KFNS being on the air would not benefit the sale negotiations.

Grand Slam’s other outlet — KXFN (1380 AM) — operates out of the same building as KFNS but has a separate tower and has remained on the air, with Calvin saying that side of the business paid its bills this month. The company is focusing on 1380, which has an “extreme” format.

“The fact we’ve built up this other radio station in the meantime as our new entity has been a good thing,” he said.

KFNS, which at many times over the years was home to the market’s biggest names in sports talk, was down to two local shows — Charlie “Tuna” Edwards in the morning, Kevin Slaten in afternoons.

“Of course no one told us anything,’’ said Slaten, whose show also is carried online at talkstl.com and remains there. “It is keeping with the low-class operation since (boss) Dan Marshall left. The investors, I don’t know how they look themselves in the mirror.”

KFNS has suffered since WXOS entered the format in 2009 and benefited from a strong FM signal, at 101.1. And 590 gained stiff competition on AM from WGNU (920). It moved into sports on weekdays after Tim McKernan was ousted at KFNS last year and his company bought control of 920’s weekday programming. WQQX (1490 AM) also has sports, mostly national. So Calvin is philosophical about the plug being pulled.

“There are other great sports outlets in the city for people to go to, and they’ve been exiting 590 for quite some time,” he said and added that when KFNS is sold, “Grand Slam plans on paying off a large amount of their debut, which is fantastic.

The station began broadcasting in the format in April 1993, when it was known as KEZK, changed its call letters to KFNS two months later and thrived under the ownership group of Greg Marecek. For many years it had little — or no — competition in the round-the-clock jock-talk business. There have been several owners since, with Grand Slam being in control for the last four years.

Marecek and his company sold the operation, which included KRFT (1190 AM), to Atlanta-based Big League Broadcasting in 2004 for approximately $11.5 million for the stations, about $6.5 million going toward debts — leaving about $5 million for Missouri Sports Radio investors. That is farbeyond the current value of the station.

Big League had a rocky tenure, which included a couple high-profile battles.

It started with the dismantling of the “Morning Grind,” which featured Martin Kilcoyne, Tim McKernan and Jim Hayes. It had been KFNS’s top-rated program.

Kilcoyne left after a rift in 2006 with program director Jason Barrett, Hayes eventually was fired and replaced by Bob Fescoe, McKenran was unhappy and ratings plummeted before McKernan eventually left and reunited with Hayes at 1380 — which was under different ownership than it has now.

Then there was the firing of Slaten in 2008 following his verbal skirmish with Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, who said he didn’t know he was on the air when he was talking with Slaten. Putting someone on without their knowledge is against Federal Communications regulations and station general manager Evan Crocker said the company had to fire Slaten and his producer, Evan Makovsky.

“This is an unfortunate situation, but we have to make decisions to protect our licenses,” Crocker said then.

Balderdash, Slaten said, claiming the reason he was dumped was because management was pressured to do so by the Cardinals because he often bashed them.

“The Cardinals are at the very root of this, and 590 has thrown me under the bus to curry favor with the Cardinals. From now on when people listen to 590 they can understand what they are getting,” Slaten said. “This is a First Amendment under-attack situation. … In other words, if you say what the Cardinals don’t like, this is what’s going to happen to you.”

Crocker said that was not so.

“There was no pressure from the Cardinals,” he said. “It didn’t matter who was on the other end of the call’’ when the interview in question occurred.

Crocker added that even if the incident had happened with someone from another organization, “the outcome would have been the same” — termination.

Slaten eventually sued and contended that KFNS used the incident with Duncan as an excuse to dump his $130,000 annual salary. The wrongful termination lawsuit finally was settled, 2½ years later.

Terms were not announced, but Slaten said then, “I’m very happy, I feel vindicated.’’

By that time, Big League’s involvement with KFNS had ended as Dave Greene had taken over running the station — and brought back Slaten.

Green and associates formed Grand Slam Sports, which bought KFNS in 2010. But Greene was ousted in 2012.

“We’re ready to take a new direction, we’re trying to grow, we’re trying to expand, we’re trying to take it to the next level, and sometimes you need to make some changes,”Grand Slam lead investor Todd Robbins said then. “We’re very excited where we are. We have a solid investment group … that is behind the product 100 percent. Sometimes you have to shake things up to go to the next level.’’

But things went downhill, and Marshall was put in charge of the operation in March 2013 and had no radio experience other than buying advertising for his wireless communications business. Hebankrolled much of the operation with his own money and switched KFNS from the sports format — in which it had been for two decades — to “guy talk” and converted 1380 to female-oriented programming.

“I felt the content of the shows was not drawing the audience, ” Marshall said then. “I thought if we could change the formats, we could make better content. I’m very good at sales, I think we can do better on the content and create more stable radio stations.”

Even though KFNS still had some sports-talk, it had mostly a low-brow approach that often had a frathouse mentality. The syndicated “Bubba the Love Sponge” show replaced the popular local morning drive-time program with McKernan, Jim Hayes and Doug Vaughn and predictably was amajor flop.

The station already was on the decline before Marshall took over, but moves such as that accelerated the fall and tension among staffers intensified. Missed payroll, complaints about Marshall having a brash, cavalier attitude toward employees and other points of contention led to a long letter being sent to his wife detailing many of the complaints. Then a column about the “mess at KFNS” appeared June 6 in the Post-Dispatch that detailed distinct pro- and anti-Marshall camps. That led to 1380 host Nick Trupiano bad-mouthing some of 590’s on-air personnel who were critical of Marshall in that story. Trupiano also got personal.

KFNS morning show host Brian McKenna, one of those who spoke about the station’s troubles, came to the studios to confront Trupiano — who among other things suggested that McKenna had exaggerated his recent skin cancer diagnosis in order to gain sympathy. McKenna was intercepted and eventually got into a fight with Marshall. McKenna ended up spending that night in jail and Marshall went to a hospital, then soon thereafter stopped running 590. Calvin took over and returned it to sports-talk.

And the wild developments have continued, with two prominent former St. Louis athletes who have been Grand Slam investors— the Rams’ Orlando Pace and the Blues’ Keith Tkachuk — being accused in court by Triad Bank of being deadbeats to the combined tune of approximately $320,000.

Triad said Grand Slam defaulted on loans totaling a little over $1.1 million and asked that nine investors each assume a percentage of the amount owed, demanding Pace repay 18.55 percent of the debt (about $204,000). Tkachuk’s share was 10.6 percent (about $116,000) and the bank sought about $583,000 from lead investor Todd Robbins.

The investors have wanted out for quite a while, as Robbins underscored in the June 6 story.

“(We) have a very influential investment group that is prepared to go do other things because we just don’t need the headaches, we don’t need the bad press, we don’t need any of the things going on from an investor (standpoint), ’’ Robbins said then.

He was asked if the melodrama is taxing on the investors.

“I think that is very accurate reflection, ’’ he said. “You don’t want that in any of your life.”

Slaten on Sunday had a different take.

“Some of these people have names in the community and they don’t care if their name is run through the mud,’’ Slaten said.

He added that he has more than two years left on a contract and also plans to sue if it isn’t honored. He knows there have been multiple court judgments against the company.

“It’s get-in-line time, but I’ll be in line,’’ he said.

Credit to the STL Post-Dispatch where this story was originally published

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Sean Pendergast: I Didn’t Know Brian Windhorst Had This in Him

“He destroyed Luka in the postgame after Game 3.”

Barrett Sports Media

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Brian Windhorst
Courtesy: Juan Ocampo, ESPN Images

The Boston Celtics are preparing to take the court Friday night with a 3-0 series lead in the NBA Finals, only needing to secure one more victory to obtain the 18th championship in franchise history. Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Dončić, who helped lead the team to the NBA Finals with a strong postseason performance, has struggled throughout the series and been on the receiving end of criticism about his conduct and play on the court. Seth Payne and Sean Pendergast of SportsRadio 610 in Houston spoke about how Dončić was evoking a similar sentiment to that of former Rockets guard James Harden in that he is an offensive-minded player who demonstrates minimal effort on the defensive end.

Payne expressed that Rockets fans had been frustrated that Dončić would be praised for his style of play while Harden would be somewhat castigated over the years. The plaudits that he has received though seems to have taken a turn amid this series because of the lackluster play.

“This is not a great Finals – [it] could get closed out tonight – and Luka in Game 3 was a mess,” Pendergast said. “He’s arguing with the refs, he’s arguing with his bench… yelling like a child at his coaches. Not a good look.”

The criticism of Dončić from ESPN senior NBA writer Brian Windhorst on SportsCenter with SVP gained notoriety on Wednesday night because of the tone used and the way in which Dončić was called out for carrying himself. The Payne & Pendergast morning drive show played audio of Windhorst delivering his analysis of what occurred on the court and the sentiment surrounding the team.

“Brian Windhorst, man,” Pendergast said. “I didn’t know Windhorst had this in him. He destroyed Luka in the postgame after Game 3.”

Windhorst believed that Dončić put himself in an unacceptable position fouling out of Game 3, specifically in how he looked at his bench after committing his sixth foul and stating that they “better bleeping challenge it.” Within his report, he stated that he was standing in the Mavericks tunnel and that the winners are within the Celtics tunnel and then referenced what Dončić would have to do in order to render the Mavericks tunnel the location of the winners.

“His defensive performance is unacceptable – he is a hole on the court; the Celtics are attacking him,” Windhorst said. “They are ahead in this series because they have attacked him defensively, and you’ve got a situation here where Luka’s complaining about the officiating. They have begged him – they have talked with him, they have pleaded with him. He is costing his team because of how he treats the officials.”

Windhorst continued to voice that Dončić was going to have to get over it, but the fact that he blamed the officials after the game demonstrated to him that he is not close. The performance he had in Game 3 is one that Windhorst called “unacceptable” and attributed it to a reason as to why the Mavericks are not going to win.

“So maybe over the summer somebody will get to him because nobody with the Mavericks or anybody else in his life has, and that’s where the Mavericks are at this point,” Windhorst said. “They’re never going to get to this tunnel with the trophy if he doesn’t improve those aspects of his game.”

The comments from Windhorst elicited further discussion on SportsRadio 610 about the similarities and differences between Dončić and Harden. Whereas Dončić is gaining a reputation for complaining to the officials, Payne conveyed that Harden was “surgical” in his understanding of how to create fouls during the game. Although everyone in the league “begs for calls at some point,” according to Payne, he never recalled Harden having an issue with the officials throughout an entire series.

“If they get swept out of the Finals, that’s going to be a huge story,” Pendergast said. “That’s going to hover over him all summer, like the poor performance in the Finals [and] just the complete fade. You could argue Luka would have been better off playing heroically in a seven-game loss in the Conference Finals than making it to the Finals and getting destroyed.”

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Joe Davis Discusses Landing Dodgers Play-by-Play Job, Plays Voicemail from Vin Scully

“I called my wife and I told her, ‘Hey yeah, I’m one of four people they’re considering,’ and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re moving to Los Angeles.'”

Barrett Sports Media

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Joe Davis
Courtesy: FOX Sports

Throughout the last decade, Joe Davis has established himself as one of the preeminent play-by-play voices in Major League Baseball through his work with FOX Sports and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Davis was hired by the Dodgers ahead of the 2016 season to call road games on Spectrum SportsNet LA and became the full-time play-by-play announcer the next year following the retirement of Vin Scully. Yet Davis had learned of the potential job opening two years before he called his first game for the team when his agent asked if he had any tape of him calling baseball games. Once he asked what the purpose of providing such material would be, he learned that the Dodgers were considering him to fill the play-by-play job following the retirement of Scully.

At this point, Davis had only called a couple of Major League Baseball games and recently moved to FOX Sports after working at ESPN. Within his broadcast career, he had called hundreds of minor-league games and was surprised to be in consideration. A few months later, Davis was in the Los Angeles area for FOX meetings, and he decided to go to the Dodgers offices to introduce himself amid the process and went in assuming that the organization did not genuinely know who he was.

“Well I go and I sit down and I meet with them and they tell me that I’m one of four people that they’re considering, so now it’s like, ‘Wow,’” Davis recalled during a recent appearance on the Rich Eisen Show. “It’s still, ‘No chance. I’m sure it’s a who’s who of broadcasters, and I’ve done two games at this point.’ I called my wife and I told her, ‘Hey yeah, I’m one of four people they’re considering,’ and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re moving to Los Angeles.’”

Davis’ agent received a voicemail while they were playing golf together to call Lon Rosen, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rosen then informed him that the team wanted to hire Davis, but after a few months of negotiations, he decided to turn the job down. The rationale behind his decision was that the Dodgers were not going to allow him to continue calling national games, which is what he had always wanted to do. The team ended up calling his agent back and asked what Davis wanted, looking to materialize a deal to hire him as a play-by-play announcer.

“I go, ‘Well, we’ve been for a few months kind of discussing what I want, but okay. I want the ability to do this and this,’” Davis recalled. “Lon Rosen with the Dodgers said, ‘Okay, put it in an email.’ We’re like, ‘Okay, we will,’ and by the end of the night, we had agreed we were doing it.’”

On the day before Davis was officially announced as a play-by-play announcer with the team, he saw an unknown phone number call and sent it to voicemail. Upon playing the voicemail, he recognized that it was Vin Scully and figured he was off to a great start in the new role. They spoke the next day, and although they did not have a deep relationship, Davis cherished the time he spent with him and still implements the advice he received to this day. Eisen asked Davis what kind of advice he received from the team’s broadcaster of 67 years, one of which involved how to handle climactic moments.

“‘If your house is burning down and you’re trying to get everybody out safe, you can’t be freaking out,’” Scully said, utilizing an analogy. “‘Your heart rate can’t be spiking. If you’re going to save the cat from the top floor, you’ve got to be cool,’ and he said, ‘Think of the big moments kind of the same way as that. You got to be the coolest guy in the burning house,’ so an amazing part of doing Dodger games is they’ve been so good since I’ve been here, there’s been a lot of chances to practice that.”

In addition to his role with the Dodgers, Davis is the lead play-by-play announcer for the MLB on FOX and calls marquee matchups and events throughout the season, including the MLB All-Star Game and World Series. Davis also calls NFL on FOX games during the football season, most recently working with analyst Daryl Johnston and reporter Pam Oliver. Davis has fond memories of Scully, who passed away in August 2022 at the age of 94, and played the recording over the air upon finding the voicemail message on his phone.

“Joe, it’s Vin Scully in Los Angeles,” Scully said on the recording. “I tried to get you earlier in the day, so I start off the year 0-for-2, but I was calling just to welcome you to the family, to wish you great success, and I know you will love the ballclub and the way they treat people. I look forward to seeing you somewhere along the line, although I doubt if it’ll be on the road. Anyway, good luck. I’ll see you, I’m sure, soon, and I’ll be thrilled to wish you all the best wishes possible. I know what it was like to be 27, 28 and starting out with a big club, and I know it’ll be a great marriage, so congratulations and look forward to seeing you.”

“It is cool,” Davis reflected, “and that’s the first time I’ve listened to it in a while, and it feels good to share because it’s almost like bringing him back a little bit for people; something that people have never heard that they hopefully get to hear and enjoy today.”

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Dan Patrick: ESPN Was an ‘Echo Chamber’

“When I was at ESPN, you’re told what you’re supposed to talk about, you’re told you have to have ESPN analysts on.”

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Screengrab from OutLick.com's Don't @ Me with Dan Dakich and guest Dan Patrick
Screengrab: Don't @ Me/OutKick.com

Dan Patrick was a guest of Dan Dakich on his OutKick.com show Don’t @ Me and the two talked about several topics including Patrick’s plan to retire at the end of 2027. Patrick shared a story with Dakich about the day he first realized he didn’t want to continue at ESPN.

“There was one day when I was doing the 6 o’clock SportsCenter and I remember I threw it out to Sal Paolantonio with the Eagles. He’s doing his report and I’m not listening to anything he is saying because in my mind I am thinking, ‘I am going through the motions here, I am not getting any better.’ I remember coming home that night and I said to my wife, ‘ I don’t think I want to stay at ESPN…I don’t know, I think I might want to leave after this contract’s up, because I wasn’t getting any better.

“And that’s why I went on my own, because I needed to get my ass kicked. And we did the show for three years in my attic at my house, it wasn’t anything glamorous that I was leaving for, but I needed to jump start that again. And I accomplished it. I’m the first person to get out of Alcatraz and swim safely to the shore and live to tell about it and I’m good. I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and it’s time for somebody else to come in and do this, somebody younger.”

Dakich replied, “You’re great man, you’re not good, you’re great. And what you did was be a trailblazer…People don’t leave ESPN unless they ask you to leave. You know why I left? Other than the fact that I maybe was too controversial. I got bored. I get bored easy, and I got tired of ‘Don’t do this’ and ‘Don’t do that’ …so I go to OutKick where they let me say whatever the hell I want, and I don’t get in trouble.”

Patrick agreed with Dakich about the way ESPN dictates most of the topics and decides who can or cannot come on for analysis. “When I was at ESPN, you’re told what you’re supposed to talk about, you’re told you have to have ESPN analysts on,” he said. “It’s an echo chamber. And I just kept thinking that we needed to have people from outside instead of just our analysts on and that was not met well. It just felt like when Disney took over, the walls kind of got tighter, things shrunk, it wasn’t as much fun there…I felt like I didn’t graduate, I didn’t progress, I didn’t get any better.

“Berman left, Bob Ley left, Olbermann left, Kilborn left, Tirico left, Chris Myers left, Rich Eisen left. They all left, and I was just there going, ‘ Oh my god, I don’t want to be laughed at, I want to be laughed with. I gotta get out.’

Patrick said he turned down a five-year contract extension and that his boss “couldn’t believe it.”

Patrick said he believed he had been selfish long enough and that it was time to be able to spend more time with his family.

“You have to be selfish to be good at just about anything it feels like, and I thought I had been selfish to get to this point and I didn’t want to continue to be selfish to my family,” he said.

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