By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Anne Valente
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
It sounds like Kevin Slaten's head is about to explode.
"If the story goes like that, there'll be a lawsuit against you and the RFT, and when I get back on the air I'm going to destroy you," the exiled sports-talk radio host's voice seethes from the telephone. "I'm telling you right now, I'm coming after you with guns blazing.
"I'm telling you. I'm not threatening you. I'm promising you. You go ahead and write bullshit about me, and you better not have one skeleton in your closet. I'll go back and find every guy in your life you've ever dated and I'll destroy you with it," he says. "I'm promising you that. I'm not telling you that. I'm promising you.
"I can't stop you, but I can make it hell to pay.
"Do not ever stub your toe. And I hope you've never stubbed it in the past. I'll hire private investigators to find everything on you. I'm going to show you how it feels coming back the other way. You're a public figure: You're a newspaper writer. You think that means anything in someone's life is fair game. That's bullshit. People's personal lives are not fair game.
"Go ahead and write. But I am promising you: There'll be consequences for the newspaper. Unless you've lived a perfect life, you better watch out. I'm gonna find things on your editor. I'm going to make them as public as I can. I'll find every single thing you and your editor have done. And I'll hire a private investigator, and believe me, I've got good ones. I am going to expose everything. Everything you've ever done in your personal life."
This is not the same Kevin Slaten we'd come to know over the past several weeks. That Kevin Slaten had been affable, clever, charming even. The person on the other end of the line now sounds like someone else entirely.
"I'll do everything I can to run your ass out of this town."
For a St. Louis sports-talk radio veteran who hosts a call-in show, 54-year-old Kevin Slaten, a.k.a. "The King," could stand to brush up on his telephone etiquette.
Or maybe he was just having a bad day.
Only hours before venting his spleen to Riverfront Times, Slaten had lost his first court battle against KFNS (590 AM "The Fan"), his former employer.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the KFNS controversy can be traced back to a telephone call.
On March 27, four days before the St. Louis Cardinals opened their 2008 season, Slaten was broadcasting his afternoon drive-time show, The Bottom Line, from Ozzie's at Westport Plaza. His producer and board operator were back at the KFNS studio in Webster Groves. Shortly after the program began, talk turned to then-Cardinals pitcher Anthony Reyes and pitching coach Dave Duncan made a brief on-air appearance, allegedly without his knowledge or consent — a violation of Federal Communications Commission rules.
The transcript in the court file appears to indicate that Duncan may well not have been aware his words were going out over the airwaves:
Slaten: [...]Could we grab you for a couple of minutes to talk a little bit about the Reyes decision.
Duncan: Kevin, I'm not going to go on your show.
Slaten: Why not?
Duncan: Because you're a nasty man and I don't like you.
And minutes later:
Slaten: [...]What you're doing right now is slandering me based on other people telling you lies.
Duncan: I'm not doing it publicly like you do other people.
Slaten: You're not? You're on the radio.
Slaten: You're on the radio.
Duncan: Well I hope not.
Slaten: Well sure you are. I told you we were on the radio.
Duncan: No you did not.
Slaten: Of course I did.
Duncan: And if I find out we are, you're going to be in big problems with me.
On April 2, KFNS fired Slaten's producer, Evan Makovsky, and suspended Slaten without pay for two days.
Makovsky and Slaten each blamed the other for the mistake. Subsequent court testimony would show that Makovsky changed his story several times and that Slaten told station managers the mishap "wasn't intentional."
Testimony would also show that KFNS management made little effort to discern who was to blame for the violation, which can incur a fine of several thousand dollars from the FCC. (No complaint has been filed with the federal agency.)
In considering whether to keep Slaten, however, the station did apparently take into account its own bottom line.
Guys, we need to have a big picture conversation this afternoon. Here's the thing-we are projecting to be down another $50K for 2nd quarter. That is down from what we JUST gave the bank! Slaten has handed us an opportunity on a silver platter. We just have to weigh the pros and cons and decide what we want to do. We intentionally left it open-ended with him yesterday. He is suspended without pay and we will let him know tomorrow what our next step will be.
Do we reduce our overhead now or is his salary plus risk worth more than those savings?
KFNS fired Slaten via a couriered letter the next day.
Slaten sued for wrongful termination. KFNS countersued and sought an injunction preventing Slaten from working in sports broadcasting in St. Louis for six months. To do otherwise would have been a violation of the non-compete clause in his contract, the station's lawyers argued.
Slaten and KFNS had inked the contract (their second) in 2007. It called for a base salary of $130,000, with extra wages for publicity and appearances and potential bonuses that could bring it up to $195,000 annually. The contract would not have expired until December 31, 2009. Radio stations do not typically reveal salary information, but Slaten's fellow broadcasters say his compensation was among the highest — if not the highest — in his peer group, KSLG ("Team 1380" AM)'s Tim McKernan and Bernie Miklasz included.
According to court testimony, Slaten was KFNS' highest-paid employee and biggest moneymaker.
"Kevin was our biggest revenue generator," station comptroller Harris testified. "We really didn't want to have to fire Kevin."
Axing Slaten was like a shot in the heart to the station. Court testimony would subsequently reveal that advertisers immediately canceled deals totaling more than $80,000. Afternoon ratings plunged. According to the Arbitron book, the industry-ratings standard, KFNS' afternoon drive-time lineup sank from the eighth-most-popular show among men ages 25 to 54 to nineteenth after Slaten was dumped. (Arbitron declined to reveal the actual number of listeners.)
"Their egos told them they would win without me," Slaten gloated to Riverfront Times the day the ratings were published. "They didn't realize what a butt-whupping they'd get!"
One of the first things anyone who knows Slaten will mention is his love for a good fight. "He often chooses the hardest route to go, on purpose," explains friend and fellow broadcaster Bob Ramsey, one of three sports talkers who've taken over Slaten's 590 slot.
"I always likened him to Don Quixote," Ramsey goes on, referencing the famous literary hero whose black-vs.-white, right-vs.-wrong world-view prevented him from understanding life's nuances. "Most of us, I think, try to choose the battles that we fight in life and, quite frankly, we choose the ones we think we can win. I think Kevin prefers the battles he can't win — or the ones that if he were to overcome the odds and win, would be an unbelievably tremendous victory."
During proceedings in Slaten v. Archway Assets LLC, there was no question that the plaintiff was savoring the taste of war. He took fast and furious notes throughout several days of witness testimony and often could be seen sporting a wide grin. "This is an old-fashioned barbecuing," the exiled radio host remarked with a smile after Harris stepped down from the stand.
On August 7, Slaten awoke at 1:30 a.m. to take more notes — points he wanted his attorneys, led by prominent local defense counsel Chet Pleban, to raise during closing arguments. After testimony concluded that day, Slaten, bursting with confidence, joked, "I told Chet last night: 'If they rule against me, you might as well never come to a courtroom again!'"
A moment later Slaten sounded more humble: "If the Lord is with us, and I believe He is, He recognizes there's a wrong here. But, He also challenges us, and if that's the case, then it's meant to be another way."
Slaten lowered his head and rested his forehead in his palms. "I hope not, because I don't need any more challenges."
Dr. Rick Lehman, a personal friend who made frequent guest appearances on The Bottom Line, swears Slaten cares more about "putting out a good product" than about attaining celebrity status. As the sports orthopedist puts it: "He has virtually no aspirations to be famous."
Lehman thus chuckles when describing his patients' reactions to the photos that bedeck his Kirkwood clinic: "We've got pictures of all the athletes we've taken care of, people like Wayne Gretzky, Jerome Bettis. Kevin's picture is hanging up there, too. You can't believe how many people look at him and say: 'That's the guy I wanna meet.' I'm always like, 'Really? You don't want to meet Mia Hamm or Michael Jordan or Albert Pujols?' Nope. They want to meet 'The King.'"
From an early age, the boy who would be "King" seemed destined to spend his life sitting behind a microphone talking sports. "In grade school he already knew he wanted to be a play-by-play announcer," recalls Mark LeGrand, a pal since fourth grade. "He wanted to be Harry Caray. Kevin and I used to take the Redbird Express to Cardinals games when we were like fourteen years old, and he would have a tape recorder, with real tape. We'd sit in center field, and he'd do play-by-play of the game, as an eighth grader! He was so serious about it, it was unbelievable."
Slaten grew up in Bellefontaine Neighbors, the fourth son in an Irish-Catholic family with five kids. His was a typical 1950s middle-class childhood. Mom stayed at home; Dad worked for Western Electric and helped coach his kids' sports teams. Kevin, who played football, basketball and baseball (he was a pitcher), was the family's most talented and passionate athlete.
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."
Slaten counters that keeping his distance enhances his objectivity. "I'm a journalist," he says. "I don't go into the locker room. I don't have to, because I don't cover a team on a daily basis. But I wouldn't even want to, because I don't want to be their friends. The other [media] guys in this town — all they want to do is be friends with the players!"
Slaten's daily homework consists of reading three newspapers, watching ESPN's SportsCenter and putting in a few calls to teams' front offices. "This job's too easy," he jokes. "They give me way too much to work with! Michael Vick killing dogs, NBA ballplayers fathering ten different children from three different women, Mizzou administrators' wives on jailhouse conversations with convicted felons.... The biggest misconception about me is that I'm intentionally controversial. The reason people say that is because I say what I think."
Quin Snyder (former Mizzou men's basketball coach), Mike Martz (former St. Louis Rams head coach) and Floyd Irons (dethroned boys' basketball coach at Vashon High School) are just a few of Slaten's favorite targets during his recent years on the air. Slaten regularly called Snyder a liar when it came to his recruiting practices, referred to Rams Park as "The Kremlin" under Martz's watch and alleged that Irons was a cheater for packing his decorated state-championship rosters with kids who didn't live within Vashon's attendance boundaries.
Slaten's repeated attacks drew the ire of many, both inside and outside broadcasting circles. "Kevin paid a high price from his peers and his listening audience for the allegations he made on the air about Floyd Irons," notes Wendy Wiese, who cohosted a morning news show with Slaten at KTRS for roughly six years, until 2004. "He was perceived as trying to take down this legendary inner-city coach and squashing the dreams of these beautiful young athletes. But all those allegations were borne out this past year," Wiese adds, referring to investigative articles in Riverfront Times and the Post-Dispatch that led to a federal indictment for real estate fraud, a twelve-month prison sentence for Irons and forfeiture of three state championship titles, plus five seasons' worth of games, at Vashon.
Slaten may have been correct on more than one occasion, many in the business concede. But, they say, his message got lost in his delivery. "I think his critique gets too personal too quick," sums up KTVI-TV (Channel 2) sports director Martin Kilcoyne. "Instead of saying, 'That was a terrible decision so-and-so made last night,' he'll literally start by calling a guy a jerk."
Take Tony La Russa. In 2006 Slaten famously called out the Cardinal manager for failing to lodge a formal protest when the entire nation spotted a foreign substance on the pitching hand of Detroit Tigers veteran Kenny Rogers early in the second game of the World Series. Slaten has also long been irked at La Russa for consistently refusing to be interviewed on his show.
According to recent court testimony, this year alone Slaten has referred to La Russa as a "liar," "punk," "fraud," "piece of crap," "long-haired creep" and "the biggest coward and jackass that walked the earth."
Off the air Slaten is quick to point out that he defended La Russa last year when police in Florida arrested the manager for driving under the influence of alcohol. Slaten also claims he was the only broadcaster to take La Russa's side. ("Team 1380"'s Miklasz also sought to quiet La Russa's "sanctimonious haters," writing that the manager was more than likely beating himself up for the mistake.)
"Look," says Slaten, "I say things that people don't consider, because they're afraid to consider them. Now, if God appeared to me and said, 'I don't like what you're saying,' I'd be concerned. The fact that Tony La Russa — who, by the way, thinks he's God — doesn't like what I say, I couldn't care less. I've never seen a more arrogant person in my life. My defense was: Look, anybody out here who wants to call out La Russa, make sure you look in the mirror and ask yourself if you've ever had three drinks and gotten on the road. La Russa, in his arrogance, never called me to thank me for the defense.
"I think La Russa is everything that's wrong about the human race."
And if someone were to levy the same charge against Slaten?
He shrugs. "I'd be happy to debate them."
"I'm not the guy whose kids, after their parents' divorce, never wanted their father to contact him again. I'm the guy who raised my kid by myself. That gives you an idea of the kind of human being he is," Slaten will say during a subsequent conversation.
Sunday services at First Baptist Church-Harvester in St. Charles begin at 9:15 a.m. Slaten, who lives two miles away, likes to arrive early in order to greet some of his elder fellow parishioners.
On the August morning after news breaks that KFNS' ratings have tanked in his absence, Slaten is rejoicing.
"Praise the Lord!" says an older gentleman upon hearing the news. "You know we're praying for you." The man asks how Slaten is faring in exile.
"I can always practice law, and I am," Slaten replies. "But it's a little different, because there you have a judge telling you what you can and can't say!"
Slaten and his girlfriend of three years, a teacher in the Francis Howell School District, take their usual seats: fifth-row center. The sanctuary lights dim, the 37-piece musical ensemble is cued, and two large video screens illuminate:
"Evangelize the Unbeliever, Strengthen the Believer."
It is nearly 30 minutes before the foot-tapping, finger-snapping succession of Christian songs ends and the preaching begins. The minister, with whom Slaten says he developed a strong bond, has recently relocated to Kansas City. A pastor from Jefferson City is filling in.
The day's lesson will come from the New Testament, specifically from Paul of Tarsus' letter to Philemon, a slave-owner in Colossae, asking him to forgive Onesimus, believed to be a runaway slave.
Paul says Onesimus deserves Philemon's forgiveness because the slave has accepted Christ as his savior.
"We're going to talk about dealing with your past, coming unchained from the shackles of your past," says the preacher. "We all have one.
"Whatever person denies his past is stepping into a future that is scarred forever," the preacher adds.
In the course of the sermon, the pastor asserts that the acts of "cursing," "nursing" or "rehearsing" the past lead to bitterness in our hearts, prolongation of our sins and paralysis in our souls. The best way to deal with the past is to "reverse it": by letting Christ into one's life.
Further, we must ask for forgiveness from those we have enraged and upon whom we have committed sins, the pastor instructs.
"God does change us, from the inside out," he promises. "He allows us to have peace within."
Afterward Slaten laments the departure of the former pastor, and the fact that a new one probably won't be appointed for at least another month.
"I was just saying earlier this morning I could've made that decision in two weeks!" says Slaten, with a laugh.
"Pretty good, though, huh?" he adds.
Slaten appears to have no difficulty unshackling himself from his past. One also gets the sense that he'd just as soon deny it. Many who know him are unaware that he has been married more than once.
"He'll get mad at me for saying this," observes friend Bob Ramsey, "but I wish he made better choices with women.
"His current significant other is a terrific gal," Ramsey goes on, echoing a sentiment shared by other Slaten confidants, "so I would want to make sure that's clear that I don't mean her. But he attracts — or is attracted to — trouble when it comes to females."
Asked to clarify Ramsey says, "For example, if a couple guys were sitting around talking about it, they'd say, 'This girl's crazy.' The relationships are volatile. Drama ensues."
Some of that very volatility has found its way into the public record.
Back in 1992 Slaten was arrested for second-degree assault after his Mitsubishi 3000 GT collided with a Frontenac man's Ford Bronco outside the old arena late one evening after a St. Louis Blues hockey game. Slaten punched the man and his girlfriend, temporarily blinding the man in one eye.
"The state was recommending five years in prison," recalls attorney Paul D'Agrosa, who defended the radio host in the ensuing criminal trial. "And Kevin was very worried — which he ought to have been."
St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Mike Calvin found Slaten guilty and imposed a suspended sentence and two years' probation.
"He's a big guy, and he squeezed me and hugged me very hard after the case was over," says D'Agrosa. "Later he was very close to having his probation revoked and going to jail a couple times, but I bailed him out." (Following a stern lecture on second chances from Judge Calvin, D'Agrosa says, Slaten successfully completed his probation in 1995.)
The incident also resulted in a $90,000 civil judgment, and it cost Slaten his law license for a while, too. In 1996 the Missouri Supreme Court suspended him from the bar for four years.
Mike Claiborne, a former Bottom Line co-host, recalls that Slaten carried his head high after the debacle. "Some people would be convicted of a crime and become a recluse," says Claiborne, who now works at rival KTRS and speaks of Slaten in restrained terms. "That's not Kevin. He's going to live his life and move right on."
But seven years later, in 2003, when Slaten applied for reinstatement, his dirty laundry received a thorough airing at the hands of the Supreme Court's Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
Officials inquired into a January 2002 incident involving an ex-girlfriend, in which he was arrested for driving while intoxicated and disturbing the peace. In July of that year, with his friend Chet Pleban representing him, Slaten had pled guilty to both counts and received a suspended sentence and two years' probation. In interviewing Slaten, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel's Office found that his account of the incident differed from the police department's. As a result, the agency requested that Slaten undergo psychological counseling in order to have an independent opinion of his "potential alcoholic consumption and violence issues."
Slaten complied and successfully completed ten hours of counseling. On July 25, 2005, the Supreme Court gave him back his law license.
Friends say folks always have one question when it comes to Kevin Slaten: Is "The King" an act?
"I didn't work with 'The King,'" asserts Wendy Wiese, formerly of KTRS. "I worked with Kevin. He could really connect with people. He could be unbelievably lovable and hysterically funny. There were plenty of times we would laugh ourselves sick, truly sick."
Adds Wiese: "But when you disagreed with him, you'd better come prepared. If you argued with Kevin, you were not going to win."
Most agree that the off-air Slaten is as opinionated as his on-air incarnation. Almost unanimously they describe him as "brutally honest," "committed to the truth," "principled" — in short, "a tempered version of 'The King.'"
Says Bob Ramsey: "Kevin really views things as black or white, good or bad. There are no grays with him."
There's also a side to Slaten that, in the words of several friends, "most people who listened to him would never believe or expect."
This is Slaten the softie — a sentimentalist who's a sucker for musical productions like Mamma Mia! (he's seen the stage version three times and the movie version once) and tearjerker sports flicks like Rudy.
Slaten the traditionalist — who insists on hosting his family's Thanksgiving dinners and on hoisting a huge, fresh-cut Christmas tree with old-school colored lights and chintzy tinsel.
Slaten the romantic — who showers girlfriends with flowers, candy and other symbols of doting.
Slaten the devoted single father — who sacrificed career opportunities to raise his only child.
And Slaten the good son, known for signing off his radio shows with "Love you, Mom, love you, Dad," and who delivered the eulogy at each of his parents' funerals. ("There was not a dry eye in the place," recalls his friend Mark LeGrand.)
Friends say Slaten is misunderstood. "I think everybody thinks he's a mean guy," offers Rick Lehman. "That he's hard to deal with, and so negative, and blah, blah, blah. But I think he's one of these people who are extremely honest with himself, and honest in general.
"I think the most interesting thing was to watch Kevin at his son's basketball games," Lehman goes on. "You could see how impassioned he was, because he'd get all pissed off at the refs and the coach. Well, as a single parent, it's a hard ride. And one way to look at it would be to say: 'He's a wack.' I took it as: 'Boy, Kevin really loves his son.'"
Among peers, on the other hand, Slaten has earned a rep as a shit disturber.
"He's not a victim. He's not a casualty. He's a bully. That's what he is," says the Post-Dispatch's Bryan Burwell. "He bullies people who don't play by his rules."
Burwell and others point to the well-publicized scrapes Slaten has gotten into, dating all the way back to the time in 1981 when he took a swing at a major-league soccer player in the middle of a game he was announcing. Slaten said at the time that the player had spat at him on his way to the penalty box.
In 1992 Slaten and Randy Karraker (now of KTRS) nearly scuffled after arguing about a Cardinals trade during a Sunday-evening sports show on KSDK-TV (Channel 5). "He pushed me and said something like, 'How dare you treat me like a dog?'" Karraker recalls. "I had said, 'Calm down, you're acting like my golden retriever.' But Frank Cusumano stepped in right away.
"His explosive temper is well known," Karraker adds, "but Kevin and I have gotten along since."
Bob Ramsey suspects the '92 fisticuffs in particular had a lasting impact on Slaten's career prospects. "Most management types don't care if their talent gets into a catfight with a guy from another station. But I think the arena legal issue haunted him for a while with industry management. I think that scared people a little bit," Ramsey says. "And I'm sure it frustrates Kevin. Regret is not the right word for it, but obviously he wishes it never happened. It's like, 'It's the old gunslinger' — you kind of get a reputation, create a perception, and all of a sudden it follows you around."
One gig Slaten would've relished was radio play-by-play announcer for the St. Louis Rams. Though he was among the top contenders for the job in 2000, Steve Savard of KMOV-TV (Channel 4) clinched the spot. "It's sad," Slaten told the Post-Dispatch in May of that year. "To think a Super Bowl champion would end up with an inexperienced person behind the microphone is nothing short of astounding."
In 2003 Slaten pointed to his "improvement as a person" in his application for reinstatement to the Missouri Bar: "I've learned to walk away from situations that could otherwise result in problems," he wrote. "This character change was all part of a life change for me that coincided with giving my life to Jesus Christ. My reaction today in the same situation that resulted in my suspension would be simply to walk away and realize what is at stake. In essence, I don't react anymore. I take a step back and consider the consequences of my actions. Maturity is a wonderful thing when it arrives in us."
But less than two months after being reinstated, Slaten revisited his feud with Savard during a Rams press conference. The screaming match nearly turned physical before Maurice Drummond of Channel 2 jumped in to separate the pair.
"It is very fair to say that Steve told Kevin: 'Hey, you keep saying all this stuff on the radio, why don't you discuss it with me?'" recounts John Hadley of KTRS. "Because Slaten had been making personal attacks on Steve, to the point where he insinuated that Steve was taking steroids."
Hadley says he and fellow broadcasters were on the edge of their seats watching the confrontation. "I would say that there's a good chance the good Lord was sitting on Kevin's shoulders that day. Because if Steve decided he was going to take action, it would have been a very painful experience for another individual."
Savard declined to comment for this article, explaining, "I don't want to waste my time."
Most recently Slaten got into an altercation at the Dubliner after a Rams postgame broadcast in December 2006. According to the Post-Dispatch, a man claimed Slaten hit him in the face with a bottle, but surveillance video proved it was a purse. Slaten was arrested, but no charges were filed.
"He's volatile," says Mike Claiborne. "Anybody who tells you he's not doesn't know him. We had one moment [at KFNS] where we were headed to 'DEFCON 2.' But we're both smart enough to realize nobody wins a nuclear war."
Some of these incidents provide regular fodder for a lot of Slaten's antagonistic listening audience, "the Slaten haters," as fellow broadcaster Tim McKernan calls them. "You should start a post on my [Internet] forum or Bernie [Miklasz]'s forum and watch all the threads that come in mentioning the arena fight or the Dubliner fight," suggests McKernan, who feels Slaten's bad rep is unjustified.
"I believe when he's out in public he's got a bull's-eye on his back, more so than, say, me or Rene Knott or Steve Savard or Joe Buck, or whomever. People think because [Slaten] screams on the radio that he's going to scream in person, and this is their opportunity to try to get him going and to say, 'Oooh, I got Kevin Slaten.'"
Likening Slaten's broadcasting shtick to "grade-A comedy," McKernan says of his colleague: "When it really gets down to it, he's got a bad rap from other media guys who might be envious of his success. It's like, 'Why are you hating on this guy?' 'Well, because he makes a lot of money.'"
Adds Miklasz: "I'll have people question me: 'Why do you stick up for that guy?' And it's really difficult to explain, but I've told him this: 'You know, in some ways we're kindred spirits.'
"We're kindred spirits because St. Louis is a real company town, very conservative in terms of anybody in the media questioning anything or criticizing anyone," Miklasz goes on. "It's very, very difficult to be the person who is always hollering about something. You really incur the wrath of a lot of people. And every time it happens, it's almost a bewildering experience because people just overreact and go crazy, and you feel like you're some kind of war criminal. Slaten is the only other guy in this town, in my opinion, who has been fearless about getting after people. So in that vein I respect him and feel a connection with him. I think he means to do well and just gets too fired up about things. I would say that as a friend, he makes me wince because I think he goes too far — but he would probably say about me that I don't go far enough."
Says McKernan: "I know by me vouching for Kevin Slaten, I'm going to get plenty of the Slaten haters hating me."
During a lengthy sit-down interview in mid-July at one of his favorite hangouts, the FOX & Hound Pub & Grille in Chesterfield Valley (or "the Valley," as Slaten refers to it — Chesterfield was his stomping ground until "it got too snobby for me," he says by way of explaining his move to St. Charles), a clean-shaven, sparkly eyed and golf-course-tanned Slaten covers a lot of résumé territory.
There's the Duncan/KFNS debacle, of course, and his general distrust of radio and television executives. The evenings he spends flier-ing cars outside bars like this one, aiming to drum up business for his law practice, which mostly consists of tickets and DWIs, with the occasional domestic issue and drug possession sprinkled in.
Slaten speaks lovingly of his son, who's now 24 and still lives with him. He talks about being a sucker for children in general: "They're the last arena in this world that hasn't become spoiled or jaded."
And he speaks of his conversion from Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism. "I've always believed, but never really believed until about five years ago," he says. "I believe every answer we need is in that Bible."
What brought about the spiritual reawakening? "A personal setback," he says, but declines to elaborate. "My favorite scripture comes from Jeremiah," Slaten offers. "He says: God has a plan for you. And you have to be patient. It's not for the bad, not for evil, but for good. The friend who baptized me pointed it out to me some years ago."
Asked if there's any significance to the bracelet emblazoned with "WWJD" ("What Would Jesus Do?") that he wears on his left wrist, Slaten replies, "It reminds me before I do something stupid to think about it. And trust me," he says self-deprecatingly, "I'm not even close to Jesus. That's why he's Jesus and I'm Kevin."
An interview with Ray Prosperi, who describes himself as Slaten's "spiritual advisor," fills in some blanks regarding the radio veteran's religious conversion.
"To do Kevin's life justice," Prosperi asserts, "you've got to take everything together: his good and his bad."
Prosperi, retired from the sales team at Mallinckrodt, says he and Slaten became friends in 1995 while on a sporting trip to Chicago with a mutual friend. The two connected instantly, adds the 68-year-old Prosperi, who was widowed at the time. "For some reason he just opened up his vault and shared everything that was going on with him," he recalls.
At the time Slaten was reeling from a "traumatic" divorce. Over the next half-dozen years, the men lunched together several times a week and talked constantly, increasingly about religion.
"One day we were in the parking lot at Krieger's, his favorite hangout, on Clarkson Road, and I said, 'Kevin, there's one thing left for you: You have to turn your life over to Jesus Christ.' He said, 'Yeah, yeah, that would be good.' Because we'd been talking about it for several years. We got into the car and prayed for him to receive what Christ had given him, which was forgiveness for his sins," Prosperi recounts, "and he was born again right there."
Slaten bought a Bible and began attending church. He would call Prosperi often with questions. At last came his baptism, in 2002. "I explained to him how John the Baptist was laid in the River Jordan and talked about how when I was 40, a friend had a pool, and a few of us guys wanted to be baptized again, we wanted to be immersed, to bury our old selves, and to rise anew, and he said: 'I want that.'"
Prosperi says Slaten phoned him out of the blue one morning soon afterward, saying he was ready to be baptized and asking his friend to meet him at the Jewish Community Center. "We had a little corner of the pool," Prosperi says. "I buried him there, and raised him back up.
"I believe we buried the old Kevin, and a new one was risen.
"Now, he's not perfect," Prosperi adds.
"Read the newspaper articles," he replies.
St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Larry Kendrick had promised to rule on the non-compete issue in Slaten's case on Monday, August 11. That same day Slaten learns the details of Prosperi's interview for this story and claims Riverfront Times misled him about the paper's intentions for a profile.
"To try to dig into what I perceive as dirt — I didn't agree to that, and in fact I never would've agreed to that," Slaten exclaims. "I'm not about rehashing the past!"
Later Slaten adds, "I've made mistakes in my life, but nothing of any consequence that some people have tried to make."
Slaten says that unless Riverfront Times limits the scope of its profile to 2004 (the year he began working at KFNS), he'll stop speaking to the newspaper.
The next morning Judge Kendrick's ruling is made public. Kendrick finds that Slaten knowingly placed Dave Duncan on the air without the pitching coach's knowledge, in violation of his employment contract. KFNS, Kendrick ruled, was justified in enforcing its non-compete agreement, meaning that Slaten is prohibited from broadcasting about sports over St. Louis airwaves until October 5.
The radio station had won. (A trial date of next summer is anticipated for Slaten's wrongful-termination suit. The judge has set a settlement conference for March 26 and is expected to set a trial date at that time.)
Later that day an increasingly bellicose Slaten tells RFT he's convinced the paper is set on doing "a hatchet job." Over and over again, he returns to the infamous fight of 1992. He sees no reason for it to be mentioned in a story about him. "Readers are sick and tired of it!" he insists. "I said to [Post-Dispatch sports media columnist] Dan Caesar, 'If you ever mention anything that happened ten years ago again, I'm never talking to you again!' He got smart! He quit it! Therefore we have a good working relationship. He gets a lot of shit from me that he wouldn't get from anybody else."
When Riverfront Times declines to drop the idea of profiling him, Slaten becomes enraged.
"I'm going to do everything I can to run your ass out of this town," he promises before hanging up.
It's technically correct, then, to note that when it comes to certain aspects of his career and background, the vociferous Kevin Slaten has no comment.