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"Johnny boy!" Dorsey yells. "How ya doing? Yeah, I'll be down tomorrow. Do you have dinner plans that night? No? Well, you do now. Terrific!"
Friends say Dorsey has aged noticeably in recent years. He's lost weight; his hair has grown gray and thin. Although he insists he has the last say in the station's transformation, those whom he canned in December say the tears in his eyes told another story.
"I'm pretty sure if he had his druthers, I'd still be there," notes sports anchor Randy Karraker, one of the many on-air hosts ousted in December. "We had a great relationship. We played golf together. We were friends. But it's Al Brady Law who's calling the shots."
"I remember seeing a tape of the press conference announcing the merger. [Cardinals president] Mark Lamping said for the record that the flagship radio station doesn't mean as much anymore," Absher says. "There's Dorsey standing there in all his glory, and his new partners are saying the station doesn't mean much?!"
Others offer an even harsher assessment of the Cardinals-KTRS partnership and Dorsey's tenuous position within it.
"Dorsey put together a deal he's not intellectually equipped to run," opines Steve Mosier, station manager at soul station WESL (1490 AM) and a former sales manager at KTRS. "Some people, instead of asking for help, they scratch and claw. Dorsey would rather say he's captain of a sinking ship than fix the ship."
To make sense of the criticism directed at Dorsey and KTRS these days, it's important to review a little history of the radio station and its ties to KMOX.
It was under the tutelage of legendary KMOX general manager Bob Hyland that Dorsey entered radio. An autocratic ruler who ran KMOX from 1955 until his death in 1992, Hyland hired Dorsey as a salesman and quickly went about teaching his understudy the industry. For the next fifteen years, Dorsey would work his way through the ranks, eventually becoming station manager of KMOX and the rumored heir-apparent to Hyland.
That transition never happened. In 1991 Dorsey left the station after the Cable Advertising Network of Greater St. Louis presented him a "godfather offer" he says was too good to pass up.
In 1995, three years after Hyland died, CBS sold KMOX to Westinghouse Inc. The new owners demanded the station turn a 40 percent profit margin. Unlike Hyland who kept CBS largely out of the station's affairs new general manager Rod Zimmerman seemed only too pleased to assist ownership in its cost-cutting. On Valentine's Day 1996, the station laid off nine full-time staffers, and morale sank to its lowest in memory.
Sensing opportunity in the upheaval, Dorsey brokered a deal with Charter Communications to join him in launching a station to rival KMOX. In April 1996 Dorsey persuaded popular KMOX hosts Wendy Wiese, Kevin Horrigan and Bill Wilkerson to join him in the venture, originally broadcast on Belleville-based WIBV (1260 AM).
It was a decision the former KMOX hosts soon came to regret.
"We were upset about Zimmerman and suckers for the sales pitch," laments Horrigan, one of many casualties from KTRS' recent format change. "What we failed to recognize was that the signal in Belleville was so terrible that even if people wanted to listen they couldn't, and particularly at night west of Highway 270, which is a huge market for KMOX."
Realizing WIBV was fading fast, Dorsey compiled a new group of investors. Taking their name from the Charcoal House, a smoky Rock Hill eatery where the group first met, CH Holdings emerged in January 1997 with a reported $10 million in financing enough to purchase KSD (550 AM).
Dorsey changed the call letters to KTRS, short for "Talk Radio St. Louis." But even with the stronger frequency and new Westport digs, the station failed to make a splash. Why? Former staffers and radio insiders blame Dorsey, whose meddling in station affairs, they say, prompted the running joke that the call letters stood for "Tim's Radio Station."
"The place was like the Bermuda Triangle for broadcasters," comments Horrigan, who adds that Dorsey let go and later rehired all three of the original KMOX staffers who joined him.
"Tim's a pure salesman. Best I've ever seen," Horrigan adds. "But he never had a strong radio guy running the place. Your dime-store psychologist would say Dorsey was trying to emulate Hyland, but Hyland had a gift for the business."
Dorsey's mercurial hirings and firings are something of legend. The station's morning-drive slot alone featured thirteen different hosts during a six-year span from 1998 to 2004.
Former employees say Dorsey was also exceedingly parsimonious, failing to provide shows with producers and not even handing out the standard trinkets key chains, coffee mugs to promote the station.
"In my five years at KTRS, the station did only two months' worth of advertising," recalls Karraker. "We didn't even have T-shirts to give away. Management's philosophy was word-of-mouth would provide ratings. Sometimes you can do that. When you're going up against a station like KMOX, with 75 years of history, that's not the case."