2001 was not rife with sexy local sports stories, but that didn't stop Kevin Kietzman from occasionally throwing a tattered wet T-shirt on a pig and calling it Britney. When presented with no story, Kietzman has quickly learned that the way to the top of talk-radio ratings is to invent one. Kietzman painted the sexy but inaccurate picture that David Glass favored building a new downtown baseball stadium. This shock-jock ploy unleashed a torrent of controversy throughout the local media that is still reverberating. Kietzman built his radio reputation breaking stories and outworking his competition. He also enjoyed and profited from an almost freakish run of tantalizing local sports stories that ran from 1999 through 2000 -- Ethan Lock's profane tirade at Carl Peterson, Marty Schottenheimer's surprise "retirement," David Glass' decision to buy the Royals, Tamarick Vanover's and Bam Morris' legal woes and Derrick Thomas' deadly accident to name a few. Whether you love or hate his style, it compels people to listen to 810 during the afternoon drive just to hear which way the wind is whistling through KK's microphone.
Forgettable Sports Talk Radio Host:
Don Fortune, KMBZ 980
How sad is it that a guy who put in almost forty years in the biz has an on-air "retirement" celebration in his honor and then is doing live commercial cut-ins for his old show a few days later? When athletes hang around the game too long, we all wish they had left with some dignity. When old broadcasters like Don Fortune refuse to hang it up, we're just glad our radios come with a scan button.
Outstanding Talk Radio Show:
"Crunch Time," 810
The teaming of Bill Maas, Tim Grunhard and Frank Boal on a midmorning sports-talk show is the biggest blow 810 has dealt its competition since Jerry Green shocked the local radio landscape in 1999 by dropping $8 million to buy a 50,000-watt signal. While much of the local sports-talk radio scene has flattened out and become about as exciting as Tony Muser's mug, "Crunch Time" reminds its audience just how much fun Marconi's invention can be. Maas, the featured stud of this three-horse hitch, has no qualms about discussing any topic; the more controversial the better. Grunhard has dropped the Chiefs' cheerleading skirt he wore right after he left the team and will be missed if he takes a job coaching at, say, the University of Kansas or Notre Dame. Boal is little more than the metronome for this ensemble, but even he is beginning to shed his conservative skin and speak with an edge. These three appear to be having the time of their lives, and their laughter is both genuine and contagious. No one expects this show to stay out of drive-time for long.
Forgettable Sports Talk Radio Show:
Fortune and Rose, 980
This was an ugly pairing from the start -- and not merely as seen through the eye of the 980 Web cam. Entercom tried to resuscitate Don Fortune's falling Arbitron numbers by pairing him with Jim Rose, a Nebraska know-it-all. That Fortune and Rose never hit it off personally or professionally was apparent to anyone listening to their radio show -- especially their bosses at Entercom, who blew up the experiment in August. Rose landed on his feet when he was chosen to replace wimpy Warren Swain as the official radio play-by-play voice of University of Nebraska football. Fortune continues to haunt the halls of Entercom as the Ghost of Careers Past.
Outstanding Sports Reporter:
Todd Leabo, 810
Todd Leabo's on-air role at 810 almost disappeared during 2001. Unfortunately, the addition of the more Kietzman-friendly Danny Clinkscale to "Between the Lines" reduced opportunities for Leabo to enlighten listeners with his personal brand of inside information. But it is the sliced sound bites that Leabo delivers fresh from Truman Sports Complex that make the commute home enjoyable and informative. The likable Leabo always has a story to tell about the quotes and interviews he has scored, and he usually delivers it in an unassuming, seen-it-all voice that was made for e-mail.
Forgettable Sports Reporter:
William Jackson, KCTV Channel 5
William Jackson came to Kansas City in August 1994, the same month that Jason Whitlock started at The Star. In the seven years Jackson has been the sports director at Channel 5, I can't remember a sports story that he has broken or even made a meaningful contribution to. His slick smile and buddy-buddy handling of athletes betray a seventh graders' understanding of sports journalism. His work on the "Chiefs Locker Show" with Donnie Edwards and Tony Gonzalez is just embarrassing. How can you sit beside Donnie Edwards for four months without asking him why his performance has continued to deteriorate for the past three years?
Outstanding but Underrated Talent:
Dave Borchardt, alias "Davey B," 810
Davey B first made a name for himself as the Cricketmeister on Whitlock's morning show. He is the Picasso of sound drops, never missing an opportunity to embarrass a caller or poke fun at a show's host. Borchardt also works feverishly at updating the "Crunch Time" Web site with interviews and sound bites so that it dwarfs the sites of the station's other two shows. It is no mystery that the decline of Whitlock's show coincided with Davey B's departure from it.
Outstanding New Talent:
Mick Schaffer, Metro Sports
Mick Shaffer is a reporter/photographer who Metro Sports moved into the studio this past year to report on local teams and host its popular Sunday Chiefs postgame and weekend wrap-up shows. He has an awkward schoolboy look that's more Jughead than Archie and an even goofier on-air delivery, but the guy is so casual and friendly you can't help liking him. He's the opposite of the "professional broadcaster" Hollywood has made famous.
Bill Maas, 810
Maas doesn't just ask questions that few others have the balls to ask; he gets answers. His recent interview with Dallas' Jerry Jones is a great example. When he asked Jones whether star players deserve to be treated differently from their peers, Jones gave him a startlingly frank answer that detailed how the Cowboys look the other way when infractions are committed by a star rather than by a borderline player. Maas also never takes himself too seriously during his interviews, an attribute few others in the media can claim.
There may not be a person in America more miscast for a job in sports radio than the self-proclaimed Magnificent Megan. Compared with this twentysomething Ohio native, Chad Boeger sounds like Edward R. Murrow. Even if we overlook the fact that MM had no clue who the owners of the Chiefs or the Royals were when asked live on the air back in March, how can we be expected to put up with the stammering, inane questions that are a staple of a Miss M interview?
Five KC Media Personalities On the Rise in 2001
Jason Whitlock: Not only does Whitlock's girth cast the biggest shadow on this town's media but so does his sudden rise to national prominence as a sports personality. Whitlock became a regular on ESPN and Fox Sports during the past year. His national TV appearances along with his weekly radio show and column in The Star put Whitlock in a class to which no other KC media type has ever aspired.
Bill Maas: This town's hottest sports-radio personality has unlimited potential and loads of talent. He has already made a name for himself nationally as a Fox Sports NFL analyst and as the host of his own TV show. If Maas stays in KC, look for him eventually to replace Kietzman as the afternoon host on 810 when KK kicks himself upstairs to oversee all that he has made.
Paul Splittorff: When the long-retired Royals pitcher first started in front of a camera, Splittorff was almost as bad as Magnificent Megan is on the radio. He debuted on ESPN but promptly ended up on the farm -- where he has blossomed into one of the best sports broadcasters in the area. His work with the Royals, Metro Sports and Big-12 basketball is good enough to deserve a promotion. He'd make a great replacement for Len Dawson when the quarterback retires from KMBC Channel 9.
Bob Gretz: After years of licking the boots of King Carl and the Chiefs, Gretz took out on his own -- at least occasionally -- this past year and stated opinions that were (GASP!) negative about the Chiefs. His work on the team's postgame show is excellent. Gretz is a huge local talent who has been hindered by his pro-Chiefs stance. Maybe this nudge in the right direction will set off an avalanche in 2002.
Joe Posnanski: JoPo is far from my favorite writer, but the guy is more persistent than poison ivy. He also writes more columns, features, death notices and party invitations than anyone. I'm not sure whether JoPo is rising like an eagle or like a clay pigeon.
Five KC Media Personalities On the Way Down In 2001
Don Fortune, 980 -- Can you sink any lower than hiding your pee-stained carpet from the buyer of your house? And that's old news -- the guy did even less that was noteworthy in 2001.
Dave Stewart, Metro Sports -- Out of sight, out of mind. Stewart has been sitting out the past few months as he awaits the expiration of his noncompete agreement with Channel 9. He won't reappear on camera until March 1 and then will be seen only on Metro Sports, one of the lowest-rated channels in local television. Even his radio gig on the Johnny Dare and Murphy show has lost some of its edge.
Chad Boeger, 810 -- After Whitlock forced Boeger off their morning show in 2001, El Presidente has been relegated to doing commercial reads and keeping Whitlock and Kietzman from strangling each other.
Len Dawson, Channel 9 -- HBO Sports' "Inside the NFL" has quietly reduced Dawson's role on the popular show by replacing him as the show's host with Cris Collinsworth. He continues to be a likable and venerable KC sports personality, but he is way past prime time in a very profitable career.
Duke Frye -- Has anybody disappeared from so many places so quickly? Frye was once the heir-apparent at 980 for Fortune's job as the evening sports-talk host. He is credited with putting the ownership group together that eventually bought 810. He was the original host for Metro Sports Talk. He was the general manager at KCTE and 810. He did the play-by-play for UMKC basketball. He produced a golf show for ESPN. Today, he may as well be living in Osama's cave.