The call letters of KTRS (550 AM) -- taken individually -- might serve as a short history of the station since its inception in early spring of 1996, when KTRS general manager Tim Dorsey and a posse of investors raided longtime ratings leader KMOX (1120 AM) of some key staffers and took on "The Fortress That Robert Hyland Built."
"K" is for "kinetic" -- which is exactly what Dorsey's opening raid on such KMOX personalities as Wendy Wiese, Bill Wilkerson, Diana Proffitt and Kevin Horrigan was.
"T" is for "troubled" -- which is exactly how one could describe the early months of KTRS, which was still WIBV back then and still on the weak 1260 AM signal from Illinois. The station found that moving bodies wasn't the only key to good radio. It was a matter of strengthening signal, getting people in the right places and competing against an angry news/talk radio giant that had dominated St. Louis airwaves for decades.
"R" stands for "ruffled" -- which is exactly what happened to the feathers of many folks at the station as KTRS struggled to find a voice on the stronger 550 AM signal that once carried KSD-AM. Some early hires departed from the airwaves (John Carney, Diana Proffitt). Others were openly discontented or jealous of a sweetheart deal cut between Dorsey and afternoon jock John Craddock -- a.k.a. Frank O. Pinion -- that essentially made the 550 frequency a virtual afternoon mint for Craddock (who sells some of his alotted advertising time himself and reaps its profits). A vow to feature all local programming was also dumped in favor of (among other features) the syndicated moralistic mewling of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the alleged advice-show host and inadvertent Internet porn star.
"S" represents "seriously competitive" -- which appears to be the latest stage of the KTRS saga, exemplified best by the dumping of Dr. Laura and the announcement that ABC football analyst and former St. Louis Cardinal football great Dan Dierdorf would be joining the station's morning team.
It's a bold but surefire move, and not merely because Dierdorf is (after NBC sportscaster Bob Costas) the most prominent broadcast voice who makes his home in St. Louis. Dierdorf is also a KTRS investor, and lending his presence on the station is a nice insurance policy for that investment.
On the station's Web site (www.550ktrs.com), Dorsey played up Dierdorf's years as a fierce and hulking presence on the Cardinals' offensive line for yucks, joking, "If you don't listen, Dan will come to your house and want to know why! You need to remember that Dan Dierdorf is approximately the size of the country of Bolivia. He can palm a Lincoln Town Car."
Reached Monday, however, Dorsey turned a bit more serious about the new building block for the station's morning format. He says that the idea for Dierdorf to do mornings came from a Dorsey request that the ABC Monday Night Football announcer check out talent in cities that he visited in his travels.
"About five hours later," Dorsey continues, "it just hit me. Who on earth would be better than Dan Dierdorf? So I called back and told him that I'd got the perfect guy, and it was him. He said, 'I could do that. I don't know if I want to, but that would be a good show.' He loves radio."
Dierdorf, in San Francisco for a Monday Night Football broadcast this week, did not respond to an RFT phone call by press time.
When football or other ABC commitments don't intrude, Dierdorf will be on every morning with a revamped team that includes Wendy Wiese and Kevin Horrigan, veteran radio news personality Jim Bafaro, sports director Jim Holder and farm director Dave Schumacher. Bill Wilkerson -- who recently departed from full-time duties at the station -- will fill in when Dierdorf is on the road.
(Unlike Dorsey's deal with Craddock, Dierdorf is being paid "a straight number," according to the KTRS general manager.)
Over at KMOX, which remained at No. 1 in mornings in the 12-plus and 25-54 categories in the summer Arbitron ratings, program director Tom Langmyer refused specific comment on the Dierdorf deal. He preferred, rather, to say that the station "is confident in our team and our position."
Dorsey hints that one of the changes that listeners might be hearing is a less busy show on KTRS in the mornings.
"We're going to find more time for Dan to do things that Dan wants to do," Dorsey says. "Dan's not here to do school closings. Dan's here to have fun and make sure that it's fun for everyone around him. If it's not fun, he's not going to do it."