Stewart has spent seventeen years in Channel 9's on-deck circle while Len Dawson has taken his turn (and his time) at the plate. Stewart is tired of waiting. "I've been patient for seventeen years," says Stewart. "That's a long time to wait. Lenny's not going anywhere. Can I wait three more years? No."
Dawson is one of Kansas City's few sports heroes. He led the Chiefs to their two Super Bowl appearances and was Super Bowl MVP in 1970, and his bust has been enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. Local viewers love the guy no matter how many surnames he mangles. "Len Dawson does Mondays through Fridays here, and that's not going to change," states C. Wayne Godsey, Channel 9's president and general manager.
Why would Stewart bolt from the city's top-ranked television station to take a job with a cable-only station that is about as well-known as the Royals' bullpen? "Their offer and the counteroffer [from Channel 9] were not close at all," says Stewart. "I told [Channel 9] that 'You really decided for me.'"
"I never considered it a bidding situation," says Godsey. "He may have told somebody else that, but he didn't tell me." No "counteroffer" was made, according to Godsey. "Dave's contract is up in September, and we simply offered him another contract," says Godsey.
Channel 9's loss is the local viewer's gain. Stewart is Kansas City's best writer in the electronic media. On KQRC 98.9's Johnny Dare and Murphy in the Morning, Stewart's likable personality and critical humor have been in evidence for seven years. But personality and humor are rarely on display during local TV's four-minute sports segments. In Dawson's case, this is a good thing. For Stewart it was stifling. "I don't see going to the cable channel as a negative," says Stewart. "I see it as a chance to do stories the way they should be done."
John Denison, executive producer at Metro Sports, approached Stewart last July at the Chiefs' training camp. "He told me they've wanted me for the past five years," says Stewart.
"I asked him if he'd rather be on a station with 100,000 viewers who were there to watch the weather or a station with 5,000 people watching who care about sports," Denison says.
How can an outfit that doesn't even own a TelePrompTer afford to raid the local ABC affiliate for talent? "We ran the numbers and thought we could get it covered," says Denison. "This is just another commitment Time Warner has made to us and their viewers."
Denison previously stated that he forbids his studio talent from being critical of athletes and coaches on the air. "The only people I allow to criticize athletes on our air are people like Jayice Pearson and Rich Baldinger, guys who have played professional sports and know what they're talking about," he said. Muzzling Stewart would be a huge mistake and a waste of Time Warner's money. "You know me, I like to push the envelope, and I'm going to push the envelope," says Stewart.
Metro Sports is terrific at covering live sporting events and news conferences. But its washcloth-limp sports commentary is one reason it has 5,000 viewers instead of 50,000. Being soft and sweet toward local teams is easy -- and even easier to turn off. Jason Whitlock slapped this town in the face in 1994 and taught the local media how to garner an audience.
Hiring Dave Stewart is a giant step in the right direction for Metro Sports. The power of television is immense and wholly untapped for local sports coverage. It is time for Metro Sports to expand and become the area's leader in sports coverage. Anything less is wasted air.