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But broadcasting proved his true love. Friends remember Slaten calling all the major sports — football, soccer, baseball, basketball — at Christian Brothers College High School. "He was a star by the time he got to j-school," remembers St. Louis Post-Dispatch online sports editor Mike Smith, Slaten's classmate at the University of Missouri's prestigious school of journalism. "I remember Channel 4, or whatever they were called then, was already using him — he was already larger than life."
Straight out of Mizzou (class of 1976), Slaten signed on as a sports reporter at a television station in Portland, Oregon. But, recalls LeGrand, he soon came back to St. Louis, "homesick." LeGrand remembers picking up his buddy at the airport, marveling at how bold Slaten was to quit "a dream job" without first lining up a new gig.
Slaten promptly made a name for himself in television sports broadcasting. Then, during the mid-1980s, he quit and enrolled in law school at Mizzou.
But during his three years in Columbia, Slaten couldn't stay out of the sports arena. Joe Castiglione, then Mizzou's assistant athletic director, hired him to do play-by-play for virtually every sport. From Slaten's tempo to his enthusiasm to his knowledge of the game, recalls Castiglione, "He could make just about anything work, and work well. He pulled things off with aplomb."
Slaten tried practicing law in St. Louis fresh out of school in 1988 but left in late 1989 when a Denver TV station tapped him as its sports anchor. After only a month out west, a custody battle brought him back to St. Louis in early 1990. (Slaten has one son, now in his mid-twenties.) This time he was home to stay.
Over the next two-plus decades, Slaten would ply his trade at an alphabet soup's worth of broadcast outlets, including KFNS, KTRS, KDNL, KASP, KSD-FM and KSDK. He worked as a commentator for FOX Sports Midwest's Midwest Sports Report and presided over news, entertainment and sports-talk shows on numerous radio stations, both AM and FM.
Slaten performed with gusto, on the radio, especially, where he was loud and boisterous, blustery and sometimes bombastic. "CARRR-PAAAY DI-EM!" he would trumpet into the microphone, elongating the first two syllables of Robin Williams' war cry — Latin for "Seize the Day" — in one of Slaten's favorite movies, Dead Poets Society.
"Carpe diem!" callers greeted him in response. Or, "Hey there, King."
Slaten styled himself as "the only journalist to ask the tough questions," someone who'd never suck up to management — not his own or that of the teams he covered.
In that respect, he sometimes took it on the chin.
In 2004 FOX Sports suspended him from commentating after he harshly criticized Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and shortstop Edgar Renteria, saying they shouldn't start in the All-Star game because their stats weren't comparable to those of other ballplayers at their positions. FOX was paying the Cardinals for broadcasting rights and worried about offending the team, Slaten claims. Rather than feel forced to slant his coverage in favor of the network's bottom line, Slaten says, he quit. At the time, FOX Midwest's operations director, Jack Donovan, told the Post-Dispatch, "We don't comment on personnel matters."
That same outspoken nature made Slaten a valuable commodity. Under new management in the summer of 2004, the two local all-sports signals, KFNS and KSLG, dueled to bring Slaten aboard for their coveted afternoon drive-time slot. After KFNS secured the host, station managers coined his show The Bottom Line.
He cohosted with Mike Claiborne, and later Bob Ramsey, before leading the show on his own. The typical broadcast, which flip-flopped between three and four hours during its nearly four-year run, covered a broad swath, from sideline scandals to strategy. "The Rant," a regular segment, featured a breathless Slaten blasting off on a topic of the day.
As "The Rant" implies, Slaten acquired a reputation for rabble-rousing. He aired strong opinions on everything from pitching strategy to players' paternity scandals, all of which sent many a caller into fits of rage or hysteria. Promos for the show warned, "sensitivity training not required," and joked about the high insurance premiums put up by KFNS to keep the show.
"I wish I had the guy's talent as a broadcaster," offers longtime rival Bernie Miklasz, who in addition to his duties as a Post-Dispatch columnist puts in broadcast time at FOX Sports Midwest and "Team 1380." "He's tremendous and really knows how to push people's buttons, which is funny.
"No question," Miklasz adds, "he's been a true lightning rod."
Kevin is the epitome of everything that's wrong with the new genre of sports-talk radio," counters Miklasz's Post-Dispatch colleague, fellow sports columnist Bryan Burwell. "He panders to the absolute lowest common denominator. He's part of the dumbing down of America. He has a lot of opinions, but they are uninformed.
"Kevin is not part of the sports media in this town," Burwell continues. "He is not. He doesn't operate under the same journalistic rules and ethics that the rest of us do. He sits there and rants and raves and says all sorts of unchecked things about athletes, managers, coaches and front-office people, but he is never held accountable for the comments' accuracy, nor does he do what all of us who are real professionals do, which is: If we write or say something critical of an individual, we are in the locker room the next day in front of that person."