Jim Rome's talk-show fanbase wasn't built in a day.

Early Word 

Jim Rome's talk-show fanbase wasn't built in a day.

Jim Rome, the most-popular sports-talk show host in America, will draw a mob of 15,000 fans to Kemper Arena on June 8. Why would Kansas City, a town whose sports teams are about as impressive as Bud Selig, rate a rare visit from the Pimp in the Box? Credit Peter Yates Enich, the father of modern sports-talk radio in Kansas City.

In September 1994, Enich first slid behind the microphone of "The Team," KCTE 1510. "We had no sponsors," he recalls. "We had no sales staff. We had no program director. We had no boss. I had nobody to answer to. Soren [Petro] was on the other side of the glass, and that was it. It was a sports-talk-show host's dream and what any talk-show host with any balls at all would relish."

Enich did what had rarely been done in Kansas City sports talk: He told the truth. At the time, both KMBZ 980 and KCMO 710 had huge signals, budgets and staffs. On afternoon and evening talk shows, sports fans got nothing but the company line, streamed from the teams' PR offices through radio talk-show hosts. KMBZ was contractually tied to both the Royals and the Kansas Jayhawks; 710 was home to the Missouri Tigers.

Enich's daytime-only station was lucky to have electricity, never mind team affiliations. The Independence studios of 1510 had holes in the drywall you could fit your head through. Yet it was this setting that produced the radio market now enriching 980 and WHB 810.

"I knew if I could just talk to people about sports and be normal with them that they'd respond," Enich says. "The day I knew we had gained an audience is the day I bashed [former Chiefs kicker] Nick Lowery for being a self-serving jerk. I said I thought his community-service shtick was just an act to get his name out in public and that he was not a very genuine person. The phones just lit up. Everybody started calling in with their own Nick Lowery story. That was the day I knew we were on to something."

Controversial sports talk is the rage locally and nationally. But what passes for controversy now compared with what Enich would say back in the mid-'90s is laughable. Kevin Kietzman of 810 talks up building a downtown baseball stadium to revive the city's inner core. Enich called for a red-light district -- and he meant it. Unlike hosts such as Kietzman who bluster to invent controversy, elicit phone calls and increase ratings, Enich just said whatever he thought -- ratings be damned.

"I've never attended a meeting to plan a show in my life," scoffs Enich. "If you really do talk radio right, generally you're not going to have a job. I can look in the mirror and know that I was true to myself, but it's not the best way to stay employed."

Enich isn't impressed with the nationally syndicated Rome, whom he calls a "shill for athletes." On the air, Enich routinely knocked other members of the media, and he still has thoughts to share about the children his show has spawned locally on the AM sports-radio dial.

"I'm very biased about Soren, my old partner," Enich says. "I think the sky is the limit for that young man. He works very hard and knows his subject matter. Kietzman is eloquent and well spoken ... and like most TV people, his hair is always perfect. He's been able to parlay a good career out of a very limited amount of sports knowledge. If Jason Whitlock were white, I don't know what he'd be doing. He's gotten more out of less than anyone I know. I had a caller ask me about Don Fortune one day, and I told him that in Chinese, Fortune means on too long.

"I really didn't have an affinity for the people in my business," Enich adds. "So I could say whatever I wanted."

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