Foul Frequency

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

Not everyone welcomes a wave of team-owned radio stations. Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz turned down an offer to work for KTRS following news the Cardinals bought into the station.

"At first I was flattered they wanted me," says Miklasz. "But then I started thinking about it. Ethically I didn't know how I could work for a station owned 50 percent by the Cardinals. Of course, the Post-Dispatch also owns a small percentage of the Cardinals, and many people said KMOX was a 'house organ' for the team, but in working for both I was never told to pull punches.

"I hope it's the same way with KTRS," Miklasz continues. "But I have my doubts. From the times I've listened to the station, the people hosting shows are very defensive of Cardinals management and very harsh to criticism."

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?

Forget the Cardinals. Forget popular KTRS host Frank O. Pinion.

Forget even for a moment the guy who referred to Condoleezza Rice as a "coon."

The new voice of KTRS is Keith Kramer.

He's white. He's from Alabama. He identifies with the Confederate flag. He's been fired or let go from a half-dozen stations. And from noon until three every weekday afternoon, he'll talk to you about whatever's on his mind — including such scatological topics as how he likes to hang his toiler paper. (As any "P1" listener — code for his most devoted fans — will tell you, Kramer insists his toilet tissue spill off the top of the roll, and he'll habitually place his left hand on the paper as he rips it with his right hand, thus ensuring a clean tear.)

On a recent Friday, however, the hot-button issue has moved from the bathroom to the bedroom. Sporting a goatee and a black bowling shirt with the words "Psych Ward" stitched across the back, Kramer wants to talk about grown men who live with their parents. As caller after caller rings the studio to rat out a friend or defend the filial bond that keeps him tied to his parents' domicile, Kramer responds in abject horror.

In front of him sits a keyboard full of canned wisecracks and sound effects. But Kramer's also quick with his own comebacks, the words "gay" and "retarded" being two of his favorite barbs. In the case of men living with their parents, Kramer has just one thing to say: "That's retarded!" he shrieks into the mic.

As well as lambasting his callers, Kramer really enjoys making up a good story — sometimes, too good a story. In 2001 he lost his job at a Dallas station for concocting a tale that Britney Spears died in a car crash.

"Just Google the words 'Kramer and Twitch' [his former on-air partner in Texas]," Kramer notes proudly. "The story got picked up around the world. It was crazy!"

Minutes after exhausting the subject of men and their parents, the 35-year-old host switches gears entirely, launching into a skit in which he pretends to be an effeminate caller named Bill. For reasons unexplained, "Bill" has taken offense to the show's producer, Laurie Beakley, and launches into a lispy tirade, berating her work on the program.

"She's just a whore!" bellows Bill. "Nothing but a whore!"

National Public Radio it is not. But then, that's the last thing program director Al Brady Law wants KTRS to be.

It was with Law's arrival last October that KTRS staffers say they first felt Lawrence's true impact on the station. A radio vagabond who's worked with such broadcast raconteurs as Don Imus and Howard Stern, Law wears his moustache just as he does his hair — long, slick and jet-black.

Some say he's a dead-ringer for the saloon keeper on HBO's Deadwood, a guy who feeds his adversaries to the pigs. Others draw comparisons to the Grim Reaper and say it's no coincidence that his first day on the job was Halloween.

"Am I a hatchet man?" replies Law. "Perhaps. No one hires me for a great station. My lot in life, for whatever reason, has become somewhat of a hired gun — to clean up the town and hope to God no one has a faster gun than me."

With Lawrence and Dorsey's blessing, Law began to tinker with the station's programming. Cardinal Nation may span generations, but for Law the only segment worth catering to is males aged 35 to 44.

"This station was modeled after KMOX, but the problem is there already is a KMOX, and unless you can do better, why fight it?" Law muses.

On December 16, Dorsey, Law and station manager Craig Unger summoned the majority of the station's on-air hosts and fired them one by one, including such popular personalities as Wendy Wiese, McGraw Milhaven, Bill Wilkerson, Randy Karraker, Jim Holder, Scott St. James and Kevin Horrigan.

Surviving the purge was John Hadley, a sports reporter whose acerbic rants fit Law's new model for the station, and Frank O. Pinion, whose late-afternoon show — a combination of homespun tales and puerile jokes — has long been the station's most popular program. In place of the disbanded staff, the station would hire edgy, out-of-town talent, more interested in Hollywood gossip than local politics.

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