St. Louis sports-talk radio station KFNS plans to drop local programming: Media Views (2024)

Dan Caesar

The long and sometimes rocky history of St. Louis’ longest-running all-sports radio station is on the verge of taking another twist, and it’s a big one. KFNS (590 AM) intends to drop local programming at the end of this weekend in a cost-cutting move.

Owner Dave Zobrist said that beginning Monday, the station will air national shows throughout the day from Fox Sports Radio, which it already uses when it does not carry local programming, while he tries to find a buyer. KFNS currently airs St. Louis-based programs from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. most weekdays and a few local shows on weekends.

That would leave WXOS (101.1 FM) as the market’s lone all-sports outlet that primarily focuses on St. Louis talk in peak hours, although other stations have a local athletics presence.

“It became apparent in April that marketing budgets are shrinking in this economy,” Zobrist told the Post-Dispatch. “590 not being a Nielsen-rated radio station for national business attention was too tall a task to overcome.”

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Zobrist, 36, said eliminating local shows was something he “had not considered (doing) until recent months.”

Affected are many veteran local sports media figures who dot the weekday lineup, which includes: Frank Cusumano, Charlie “Tuna” Edwards, Jim Hayes, Jim Heuer, Cam Janssen, Charlie Marlow, Bernie Miklasz, Kevin Slaten and Andy Strickland. Plus, Nate Lucas and Cole Bartemes are newcomers who had been ascending at 590.

So it shapes up as a reflective next few days on the station’s airwaves.

There have been rumblings in recent weeks that the station was in trouble. And when longtime St. Louis sportscaster Bob Ramsey departed last month for a general news-talk role at KTRS (550 AM), he left no doubt about a key factor in his decision.

“The security at 550 seemed like it made more sense for me short term and long term,” Ramsey said then.

Still, the news of local programming being suspended at 590 was unnerving for some.

“It came as a big shock,” said Slaten, who is a little more than 10 months into his sixth stint at the station. “Dave’s done all he can do.”

Zobrist has owned 590 for a little more than two years and ran it for several months before that while the transition was being finalized. He plans to continue airing NASCAR races and Illinois sporting events but said the decision to halt local programing is difficult.

“It’s disappointing that the shows are ending because the guys are all incredibly talented,” he said. “I’m bummed out that I couldn’t make this financially stable because I still believe in each and every host.”

He said talks for selling the station are just starting, but he intends to keep KFNS on the air throughout that process, unlike in 2014 when it went dark for more than a year. Zobrist said he does not plan to file for bankruptcy, as also was the case when it was off the air.

“Neither of those options have been a consideration,” he said.

Cusumano has been on the local sports-talk airwaves for three decades, the vast majority at KFNS, and is the longest-running such host in the market.

“All the owners in my 30 years at KFNS have been wonderful, including Dave Zobrist,” he said.

Cusumano, also the sports director at KSDK (Channel 5), is philosophical about the developments.

“It’s been a great run,” he said. “If this is it, no regrets, and I will look at other options.”

Local shows to return?

Randy Markel, a shoot-from-the-hip native Texan, and Scott Gertken bought KFNS out of bankruptcy and returned it to the air in late 2015. Zobrist then bought it in 2022.

Markel now is interested in returning to the operation.

“I would entertain buying back into it,” he said. “I’m looking at rounding up some people and see if we can get the old gang back together.”

Slaten is confident that local shows can return to KFNS. In the interim, he will move his program to the kevinslatenshow.com website, where he already has a political program, with the sports show to air from 4-6 p.m. weekdays beginning next week.

“There is a way to save it,” he said of KFNS. “It can be a very profitable station at the right price. We have to have a decent sales staff. ... You have to have good content and also be able to sell it.”

Slaten also said he is working on assembling a group to try to buy 590.

“I’m willing to be involved myself,” he said. “The thing about our station is that every show is different, nothing sounds the same. You just don’t find that anywhere else.

“I’m sure we’ll be back on the air (with local shows), whether it be next week, next month or not long after that.”

KTRS evidently is not a potential new owner for KFNS. The KTRS general manager, Mark Dorsey, said last month he had looked into acquiring 590 and running it out of his station’s facilities in Westport Plaza. A deal didn’t materialize.

“We’re too happy with the direction we’re going,” he said, emphasizing his local lineup and status as the St. Louis affiliate for Mizzou football and basketball radio broadcasts. “But I feel for everybody there.”

‘A big challenge’

The jock-talk format at 590 began in early 1993, when it was KEZK before changing to the current call letters a few months thereafter. It later thrived under an ownership group headed by Greg Marecek, which in 1998 bought KFNS for a reported $3.5 million before selling it six years later at a $5 million profit.

But by 2014, the AM radio business had deeply declined. And KFNS’ owner at the time — Grand Slam Sports — was embroiled in a mountain of turmoil so large that unpaid bills and stiffed staffers weren’t the most high-profile issues. Widespread employee unrest and on-air taunts arose, leading to fisticuffs in the studio that sent the man running the station, Dan Marshall, to a hospital and an on-air host, Brian McKenna, to jail. Several months later, the station went off the air.

A little more than a year later, Markel and Gertken bought it in bankruptcy court and restored the signal. Markel eventually bought out Gertken and later sold the operation to Zobrist. Zobrist had been involved in the family’s soft drink business in New Haven but got the radio bug when he interned at KTRS in 2011, whetting his palate for his current role.

“I wanted to choose my own path and sports radio has always been a passion of mine,” he said shortly after buying KFNS.

That interest remains despite the recent troubles.

“I do enjoy the radio business, but I’m going to take some time to weigh my options for my future,” Zobrist said Wednesday, adding that he would be “open to partnering as a minority owner.”

He ran into the types of problems facing most traditional media outlets in the evolving communications landscape.

“The AM standalone category is absolutely a big challenge,” Zobrist said. “I invested into the signal strength when I first purchased it, and it didn’t seem to be a worthwhile investment in the end. I do still believe St. Louis is big enough for two sports radio talk format stations.”

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St. Louis sports-talk radio station KFNS plans to drop local programming: Media Views (2024)

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