The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

13 April 2006

Seattle Weekly, Riverfront Times, St Louis, Talk Radio


After Meltdowns, Two Troubled Stations Ripped To Shreds

After two damning, feature-length investigative newspaper pieces hit stands today, the Radio Equalizer wonders: what's it like to have your talk radio station ripped to shreds by the media?

That's exactly what's happened in St. Louis and Seattle, where cover stories detail major crises at The Gateway City's KTRS and The Grande Double Mocha Latte City's KIRO-AM.

Between the two, you may recognize a few faces and names.

In St Louis, Mike Anderson has been holding talk radio's feet to the fire, taking a lot of heat in the process. STLMedia, his site, somewhat resembles a blog and has consistently beaten the mainstream media to stories about these crazy characters.

In this sad tale of KTRmesS, Anderson is prominently featured.

Here's an excerpt:

(Riverfront Times- Chad Garrison)

Former talk-show host Dave Lenihan's well-publicized gaffe last month was more than a colossal blunder. For those who've lost patience with KTRS ("The Big" 550 AM) and its general manager, Tim Dorsey, it reaffirmed a long-standing conviction that the station and its founder have lost all control.

A brash, cocksure advertising salesman once destined to take control of KMOX (1120 AM), Dorsey struck out on his own in 1996, launching KTRS to rival his former employer. But ratings floundered, and the station failed to attract any real attention until last August. That's when, to great fanfare, the ownership group of the St. Louis Cardinals announced they'd purchased a 50 percent stake in KTRS and planned to make it their flagship broadcast station.

Many in the media trumpeted the move as a grand slam for KTRS and a potentially lethal blow to KMOX, which rode its 51-year run with the Redbirds into becoming the nation's most dominant regional radio station.

Though the merger was billed as a union of equals, the honeymoon didn't last long. Immediately, the Cardinals ownership set about dismantling everything Dorsey and his group had built during their ten years at the reins.

Radio insiders say that the 59-year-old Dorsey, who is accustomed to calling the shots, now plays little more than a bench role. It's KTRS newcomers Bobby Lawrence and program director Al Brady Law who actually control the station, with the Cardinals sending Dorsey to the mound only when they need him to mop up one of the station's many publicity flops.

The plot thickens:

Forget the Cardinals. Forget popular KTRS host Frank O. Pinion.

Forget even for a moment the guy who referred to Condoleezza Rice as a "coon."

The new voice of KTRS is Keith Kramer.

He's white. He's from Alabama. He identifies with the Confederate flag. He's been fired or let go from a half-dozen stations. And from noon until three every weekday afternoon, he'll talk to you about whatever's on his mind — including such scatological topics as how he likes to hang his toilet paper. (As any "P1" listener — code for his most devoted fans — will tell you, Kramer insists his toilet tissue spill off the top of the roll, and he'll habitually place his left hand on the paper as he rips it with his right hand, thus ensuring a clean tear.)

In front of him sits a keyboard full of canned wisecracks and sound effects. But Kramer's also quick with his own comebacks, the words "gay" and "retarded" being two of his favorite barbs. In the case of men living with their parents, Kramer has just one thing to say: "That's retarded!" he shrieks into the mic.

As well as lambasting his callers, Kramer really enjoys making up a good story — sometimes, too good a story. In 2001 he lost his job at a Dallas station for concocting a tale that Britney Spears died in a car crash.

In the Emerald City, meanwhile, the downfall of ultraliberal host Mike Webb provides an in-depth cover story for the Seattle Weekly's Geov Parrish (excerpted here):

Michael Kenneth Webb had a good thing going. After 35 years in radio, he was a weekday talk-show host from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on 50,000-watt KIRO-AM (710), a once-legendary leader in the nation's 14th-biggest radio market. As a self-proclaimed "liberal with a loud 'L,'" Webb, 50, was by far the most politically progressive radio host in town.

One night in December, Webb was abruptly gone from the airwaves. His listeners would have had no idea why unless they read blogs about radio or caught one of the two articles about him in The Seattle Times. Webb says he's not sure himself why he was fired. You could call that disingenuous considering he's up on a criminal felony charge and faces a trial next month, but this story's not that simple.

On Dec. 6, a warrant was issued for Webb's arrest on suspicion of felony insurance fraud. An additional investigation, of possible forgery, apparently has been dropped. On Dec. 20, Webb was arraigned in King County Superior Court and pleaded not guilty. He was initially released on personal recognizance, then on bond of $5,050. After several postponements, a pretrial hearing is set for April 21. Webb's trial is scheduled to begin May 4.

Those are the seemingly straightforward facts. But the tale that precedes Webb being charged with a crime is a twisty one. It's about a radio talent who alternately impresses and pisses off co-workers, whose work habits have been questioned, whose firing is tangled up in the demise of once-legendary KIRO-AM, and who helped decertify his union. On top of everything else, some question the liberal credentials of this irrepressible talker.

The local, lefty talk-radio blog BlatherWatch ( broke the story of Webb's court proceedings in December. It was great fodder. The Seattle police probable-cause report details a bizarre story.

On June 28, 2005, in the Eastlake neighborhood near the studios of KIRO, Webb's black 2000 Lexus was hit by a motorist who ran a yield sign. Webb showed police a proof-of- insurance card from National Merit. A report was filled out, and Webb was left with an estimated $4,000 in damage to his car.

Despite all of this, how did Webb remain on the air?

Be sure to read the entire story, it's truly astounding. And look for more investigative work on the subject from Blatherwatch.

Thanks for your continued and vital Radio Equalizer support, via Amazon orders that begin with clicks here, regardless of what you ultimately order!

Tangled Mike: Seattle Weekly, top right Kramer photo: Riverfront Times, KTRmesS graphic: STLMedia


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