Foul Frequency

PR flops. Staff upheaval. Shrill talk-show hosts. The Cardinals' flagship station can't seem to find the strike zone.

But for most staffers — especially those who Dorsey lured away from KMOX — adding the Cardinals to KTRS made all the troubles worth enduring. Finally, they reasoned, the station would possess the clout Dorsey had long promised.

Those thoughts vanished with the addition of Bobby Lawrence.

A handsome playboy and bird hunter who travels the globe in pursuit of quail and other feathered game, Lawrence wowed the staff the first time he breezed into KTRS' studios. Dressed in Italian slip-ons, a tailor-made suit and flashing a gold signet ring on his pinky finger, the station's new chairman spun visions of a glorious future.

Critics say The Kramer Show represents all that's wrong with KTRS.
Jennifer Silverberg
Critics say The Kramer Show represents all that's wrong with KTRS.
For years Tim Dorsey wanted the Cardinals on KTRS. But is it a dream come true or a nightmare in the making?
Jennifer Silverberg
For years Tim Dorsey wanted the Cardinals on KTRS. But is it a dream come true or a nightmare in the making?

"KTRS has ranked in thirteenth place in the market for much of its life," Lawrence says. "If we can do the things we've done in the past, we're going to have a winner for sure."

A part-owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Lawrence owes a good deal of his fortune to his Ohio neighbor, Cardinals general partner Bill DeWitt Jr. In the early 1980s, DeWitt invested in Lawrence's Cincinnati-based radio venture, Republic Broadcasting Inc., which later sold to Jacor Communications for $34 million.

As for DeWitt's return on investment: "He did great by us, and we did great by him," says Lawrence.

Lawrence went on to work for Jacor, serving as president and chief operating officer until its sale to Clear Channel in 1999 for a whopping $6 billion. During Lawrence's time at Jacor, the company gobbled up stations but earned a less-than-stellar reputation for its use of "shock jocks" and voice-tracking technology — the practice of producing radio programs that are designed to sound local but can be run in multiple markets.

"Did we dare to be different at Jacor? Absolutely," says Lawrence. "But I don't want to be maligned for something we're not doing in St. Louis. For the most part, our shows are all locally produced. And about us using shock jocks at KTRS, that couldn't be further from the truth. We're not going to do dirty radio, but that doesn't mean we can't be controversial."

Lawrence claims it was his idea that the Cardinals buy into KTRS, back some seven years ago, when the team was negotiating an extension with KMOX.

"I called Bill and said, 'Listen, I don't know if this would make sense, but would you have any interest in pursuing a station that could broadcast the Cardinals?'" Lawrence recalls. "He said he was interested, but by then it was too late. They'd already struck a deal."

Lawrence made a similar call last year during a protracted rights-fees negotiation, in which KMOX wanted to reduce the reported $6.7 million it paid the Cardinals for broadcast rights in 2005.

While terms of the deal remain hush-hush, the word in radio circles is that their half in the station cost the Redbirds a paltry $2 million — or one-seventh of what they're paying Albert Pujols this season.

As recently as 2001, Dorsey told the Post-Dispatch he'd received offers for the station approaching $20 million. Why, then, would he sell half of KTRS to the Cardinals for such a bargain? Because, say media insiders, Dorsey needs the Cardinals much more than they need KTRS.

"It doesn't matter if it was $2 million or $20 million," Dorsey says of the sale price. "We looked at this as affecting the long-term value of the property, and we think we'll really see the dividends three to five years down the line."

For the Cardinals, the acquisition of KTRS provides the club a powerful new revenue generator, allowing for even greater marketing incentives and corporate tie-ins.

Take, for instance, the new Saturday-morning show The Law in Your Life. Hosted by attorneys Michael Angelides and Jeffrey Simmons, the show is supposedly set up to offer listeners insight into the legal ins and outs of the major issues of the day.

On a pre-Valentine's Day show this year, Angelides and Simmons excoriated a U.S. Senate bill that would restrict the amount of claims asbestos victims bring before the courts. Not mentioned in their argument was that their Alton-based law firm, SimmonsCooper LLC, has won hundreds of millions of dollars representing asbestos victims — and ranks as one of the biggest asbestos litigators in the country.

Also unmentioned is the fact that SimmonsCooper pays for the hour-long block on the station, and that the law firm happens to be a major advertiser with both the Cardinals and KTRS.

"It's a brilliant move to control the influences that help brand your product," says Lawrence. "That's why the Cardinals owners bought the minor-league team in Springfield. They want to be able to control all the aspects of Cardinals baseball."

Media's ownership of baseball clubs is nothing new. The Tribune Company owns the Chicago Cubs, and the Atlanta Braves answer to the shareholders of Time Warner. But a baseball team buying a media company represents something of a first — though it probably won't be the last.

In February the New York Daily News reported that New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was looking at the Cardinals' investment in KTRS as a possible blueprint for the Yankees' acquisition of a radio station. Lawrence says he's also had two other owners approach him to seek help in obtaining a station.

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