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Reality and myth at KTRS.

On July 5, 2005, Tim Dorsey, KTRS station manager and part owner, was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying the arrival of the Cardinals and an increase in Cardinals-related programming wouldn't mean the departure of existing KTRS shows.

Months later, 10 employees, including eight on-air personalities, were fired.

Ever since Dorsey left the employment of KMOX, he has made statements that are often contradicted by later statements or actions. Also media stories have characterized Dorsey as Robert Hyland's "golden boy" or "heir apparent." But no one who worked at KMOX at the time remembers Hyland employing those characterizations. For reasons not made public, Dorsey left KMOX and took a job in advertising at Charter Communications. Six years later, he held a press conference to announce that he was buying a suburban AM radio station and raiding employees from KMOX.

He lauded his first three hires, Wendy Wiese, Bill Wilkerson and Kevin Horrigan, saying the three were "the cornerstones of a St. Louis-based news, talk, information and entertainment format. We think Wilkerson, Wiese and Horrigan are the anchors of our program day.

"I would not be sitting here today were it not for the three people to my right," Dorsey said, gesturing to his new staff. "I have the three people I wanted. I have the heart and soul of KMOX.

"The KMOX listener will follow Wilkerson, Wiese and Horrigan," Dorsey said.

When the audience didn't follow his stars to the Belleville radio station, Dorsey blamed problems with the signal and its strength, problems that had been there long before he made the purchase. In fact, knowledgeable radio people had known this for years, which is why no one else was really interested in buying the station. How did Dorsey handle this reality? He came up with more dubious statements, none of which were challenged by the media.

"But Dorsey has plans to strengthen WIBV," read a Post article in 1996. "He says that a technical study is under way to determine how to improve strength and quality of the signal and that he will apply to the FCC for permission to increase its wattage.

"In the meantime, Dorsey said, an investment of just $150,000 in upgraded broadcast equipment will improve WIBV's sound and clarity."

Another article in April of that year said: "WIBV's new owners, led by Charter Communications cable company and Dorsey, want to make the station a regional force that can do battle with AM giant KMOX."

Another article on March 25, 1996, made an unattributed statement addressing the signal problem: "Carrying WIBV on cable could help the station overcome one of its biggest hurdles-its limited range."

The simple fact was that none of the station's previous owners had found a way to increase its coverage. What made Dorsey think he could do it, and why did the media accept his statements without challenging them?

The key to that second question may lie in the competitiveness of the media and the tendency to snipe at the guy on top. For years under the guidance of Robert Hyland, KMOX was the unbeatable force in St. Louis media.

The station was able to set the advertising cost-per-thousand in this market because of the huge audience it delivered. Now, here was some little guy challenging the big corporate behemoth and generating great quotes, and the media must have been clapping their hands with glee.

In the March 26, 1996, issue of the Post, gossipmonger Jerry Berger ran a Iong personality feature on Dorsey. Some highlights:

"'I'm just a low-key guy,' insisted Timothy Carroll Dorsey.

'As he took a drag from a Merit menthol, Dorsey explained, 'I can't smoke at home, I don't like to smoke in my car, and smoking is not permitted in my office building.

"'(Robert Hyland) was my tutor. He was my mentor, and he was just very, very good to me. Most of what I have done, if not all of what I have done in the industry in which I have chosen to work, is a direct result of my association with Mr. Hyland.

"'We haven't really decided where we're going to have the studio. We're thinking about either the old KWK studios on Hampton Avenue (where space will be available when WKBQ and other stations move to Westport) or Sunset Hills. The transmitter will always be in Belleville.'"

Once again, Dorsey was blatant in associating himself with the man many considered a St. Louis broadcast legend. And, as in the past, Hyland was not alive to refute what Dorsey was saying.

On April 4, 1996, Dorsey was quoted again with another statement that proved to be completely false: "Sometime in September or October, he said, the studios will move to a building near Hampton Avenue and Interstate 44 in St. Louis. Dorsey cited two reasons:

"'To attract the kind of on-the-air guests we want, we have to be centrally located- and when celebrities like actors and politicians come to town, they usually stay downtown or in Clayton.'"

When he did finally move the studio, it was to a site nowhere near downtown or Clayton. It was to Westport Plaza.

Then, beginning Nov. 3 of that year, Dorsey was back in Berger's column: "The broadcast buzz is that Tim Dorsey has nixed the purchase of KSD-AM for the switch-over of his programming on WIBV. Said a source close to the situation, 'The EPA would have required him to remove the lead paint from the KSD tower at a cost of $2 million, in addition to the $18 million cost of the station.'"

Within three weeks, on November 19, another Berger snip completely contradicted that piece: "AT PRESS TIME: At 1 p.m. Monday, WIBV radio's Tim Dorsey told his staff that he had obtained outside financing and had bought KSD-AM for $10 million. Dorsey has targeted Dec. 23-the Monday after the last Rams game-for putting his WIBV programming on the KSD band, 550 AM, and switching WIBV, at 1260 AM, to a syndicated format. The studios for the new KSD-AM will be in Clayton. Dorsey's last day at Cable Advertising Network will be Friday."

In April of that year, SJR's Larry Hoffman had asked Dorsey why he hadn't tried to buy KSD instead of WIBV. Dorsey's reply: "Because we're content with what we have at WIBV."

Notice the relocation of the studios from Hampton Avenue? And why wasn't Berger pointing out all these discrepancies/falsehoods? It took someone else at the Post to point those out, someone who had firsthand knowledge of the way Dorsey operated.

The information came in Bill McClellan's column Jan. 3, 1997: "At any rate, I looked at Jerry's column. Here is the way it began: Flash! Tim Dorsey will launch the first salvo of his KSD-AM on Jan. 27, with morning drive's Bill Wilkerson and Wendy Wiese signing on at 5:30 a.m. and the new team of Kevin Horrigan and Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan on the air from noon to 3 p.m.

"Now it is true that Dorsey and I talked and he was kind enough to ask if I were interested in doing some work on his station, and I explained that I am awfully busy-my real life revolves around soccer and seventh-grade girls basketball-and while I couldn't even consider doing any radio on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Fridays because of deadlines, I probably could squeeze in a couple of hours on Mondays and Wednesdays.

"Agreed, he said. Terrific, I said.

"It made it sound like I was going to have a regular, daily gig. Like I was going to be a partner, for gosh sakes. I spent the next couple of days explaining to everybody Jerry's column is well read--that while the item wasn't exactly wrong, it wasn't exactly right, either."

In late November 1996, Berger had written, "Dorsey has secured financing for the $10 million purchase of KSD-AM from EZ Communications Inc. of Fairfax, Va. He has agreed to operate the station until the Federal Communications Commission approves the transfer. 'This levels the playing field,' Dorsey said Wednesday in an interview at his office in Sunset Hills. 'We now have the best talent in St. Louis and the best signal in St. Louis.'"

(As we all know now, the "best signal in St. Louis" is woefully inadequate at night, so much so that the owners of St. Louis' hockey team demanded that Dorsey find other affiliates on the markets' outlying areas for their broadcasts so the games could be heard by everyone in the St. Louis metropolitan area.)

And then there was the question of who actually owned WIBV. Apparently nothing had been done to correct the perception that Dorsey was the owner. In fact, as was finally noted in the Berger column, "Dorsey doesn't yet own WIBV, but he's talking to Charter Communications about buying it. Dorsey is a minority investor in WIBV, with 9 percent of the stock."

Somehow, Dorsey had talked the cable company into buying a marginal radio station and then giving him free rein to run it. Whatever detractors may say about Dorsey, he is apparently very good at talking other people into investing thousands of dollars so he can run radio stations and lunch with the big dogs at Beffa's. In 1998, Dorsey spoke to Post writer John McGuire about the restaurant, making sure the big dog message came across.

"It's our club," Dorsey said.

But there may be good reason to remember that old T-shirt that said, "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch." Tim Dorsey, the man who liked to be portrayed as Robert Hyland's golden boy, would end up selling 50 percent interest in the radio station he'd just bought. His investors coughed up $10 million to buy it. Less than 10 years later he would sell 50 percent interest in the station for a reporting $2 million. On March 10, 1997, he made this statement to Berger: "Dorsey classifies his group as 'active investors; they're going to make sure that their investment is going to be a commercial success.'"

It was now time to unload the turkey in Belleville with the marginal radio signal. Again, the gossip column carried information implying that Dorsey was a successful businessman.

"CH Holdings, Inc. has received a letter of intent from Legend Broadcasting in Chicago to purchase its WIBV-AM for about $2.65 million, confirmed Tim Dorsey. Dorsey is topper of CH, which also owns KTRS-AM."

Less than a month later, in February 1998, the backtracking began: "'We have an offer for the station (from Chicago-based Legend Broadcasting), but if that doesn't work out there is a good-a very good-chance we'll switch to all sports,' Dorsey said. 'We should know by the end of this week,'" he told the Post.

"He said Tuesday that the chances of a deal being struck are 50-50. If the deal falls through and WIBV takes the sports route, it will rely heavily on syndicated shows but will retain Don Imus' program, which is not sports-related, from 7 to 11 a.m. Local sports talk could air from 11 a.m. to early evening."

In what appears to be a blatant effort to get some publicity, Dorsey was quoted again five months later: "KTRS' Tim Dorsey has parted company with sports guys Brian McKenna and Tom Casey, while he awaits word on the clock-in date for John Rooney, 'voice of the Chicago White Sox.'"

Three months later there was no more mention of bringing in Rooney: "But now, KTRS has de-emphasized sports talk, dropping its nightly call-in shows."

Seven months later, now May 2000, Dorsey was singing a totally different tune. "KTRS (550 AM), which gained the Blues radio rights for the next three seasons in a deal announced this week, plans to add a sports talk show on weeknights, general manager Tim Dorsey said.

"'We're going to have a big sports presence,' he said. 'This is the best thing that ever has happened to this station,' which has been in operation since January 1997. He said the sports staff also might be increased."

And on June 3, 2000, a glimmer of the driving force behind Dorsey came out in another quote: "'It's a new world,' said KTRS general manager Tim Dorsey, a longtime KMOX executive who left to start his rival station that began broadcasting in January 1997. 'This (the Blues contract) is the biggest thing the station has done since we started it. It truly legitimizes KTRS, if there are any doubters still left.'"

In December Dorsey fired one of those three people who were the "cornerstones" of his format and part of "the heart and soul of KMOX," Kevin Horrigan. Horrigan's published statement in the Post was one that would often be repeated in the future. "Dorsey said I would be part of the team and had a real future. I have no reason why I was fired."

Bill Wilkerson and Wendy Wiese, the other "cornerstones" also became ex-employees.

And Kevin Slaten: "'I was always told we were doing great. I just got a $35,000 raise, a one-year extension. No one told me to change anything, and there were no internal problems. Then out of nowhere I'm fired,' said Slaten, who has been on air since 1977. 'I really didn't see it coming. How could I?'"

Praise from Tim Dorsey, it appears, is the proverbial kiss of death. Here's what he had to say about his new morning talent in August 2000: "'The new show 'Ankarlo Mornings' will debut Monday and will sound looser and funnier than the station's current broadcast,' said KTRS owner Tim Dorsey. 'He's very quick and very funny and can be a little off the wall,' said Dorsey, who signed Ankarlo to a three-year deal. 'People will get a smile from him.'"

Ankarlo lasted less than a year at KTRS.

In December 2000, Dorsey's quotes began to border on the absurd. He explained personnel cuts made necessary by high overhead as an effort to broadcast a better product. In this line of reasoning, he's spending less money, his newsroom staff is being cut, and the news product will be markedly better because he's using audio from KSDK (Channel 5) news.

"KTRS already has fired reporters Matt Murphy and Bill Phelan in preparation for the move. 'We really wanted to beef up our news department and offer listeners more information,' said KTRS owner Tim Dorsey, who said the station still would employ two reporters.

"Dorsey says the move signals his willingness to do battle with KMOX-AM 1120 on its turf."

And he resurrected the ghost of Robert Hyland again in December 2001, still grasping for legitimacy in a not-so-subtle effort to imply that he was a big dog. "We certainly aren't just a tagalong," he said. "We're a big AM radio station that's going to be talking about the Rams 52 weeks a year. We've absolutely established ourselves as a sports powerhouse, what with the two teams and all our other (talk show) sports programming.

"'When Mr. Hyland was building KMOX, it was based on a foundation of sports,' Dorsey said. 'That's what we're doing here.'"

Two years later it was obvious that KTRS was not the second coming of, nor the new, improved version of KMOX. It had slipped to seventh place in the market.

Fast forward to August 2005. There's Tim Dorsey beaming with pride at a press conference announcing that KTRS would become the home of Cardinals' broadcasts. No one recalled a quote from Dorsey in an interview published in the April 1996 issue of SJR. He told columnist Larry Hoffman that play-by-play broadcasts don't "make sense economically. When you buy a rights package now you are buying the right to one thing, and that's the right to lose money."

It's up to the readers to determine if Dorsey's comments in the September 9, 2005, issue of Billboard Radio Monitor contradict that statement. "The Cardinals are going to bring KTRS an entirely new audience. Dorsey expects a 'dramatic' increase in KTRS' ratings and cautiously suggests that it might be able to overtake the No. 1 spot."

To No. 1 from No. 18, where it stands today? Well, stranger things have happened. Still, it was hard to tell whether Dorsey was smiling or gritting his teeth at the press conference announcing the ownership change of the station. He'd just accepted $2 million for 50 percent of a station that observers felt could have brought at least $14 million on the open market. And there was the team brass telling the press that the flagship station of the baseball network isn't really all that important in the overall scheme of things. So much for the big dog image.

By all accounts, Dorsey has very little influence in what's happening at the station nowadays. Some detractors may say that's a good thing. Back in 2001, the Post ran an article that showed some chinks in the armor of his operation.

"'The station held so much promise, but Dorsey did not know what to do with it,' said former reporter Matt Murphy, who now writes for the Suburban Journals. 'One day someone is the Next Big Thing, and the next day they're gone. You can't do that and remain credible with listeners.'

"'There would be long stretches when I would keep giving out the number and no one would call. It could not have sucked more,' recalled Horrigan, who hosted a midday show. 'That was the grand delusion-to believe that I was the show and not the station. I had been a jerk. I needed KMOX way more than it had needed me.'

"Said Wilkerson: 'To think that people would switch to a signal that was barely audible and then switch again was a critical failing of the whole situation.'

"Despite setbacks, Dorsey is proud of the station's niche in St. Louis radio and expects it to one day grab 7 or 8 percent of listeners.

"Board member Bill Frisella said the station has been a solid investment and that the signal alone is worth $20 million."

And 50 percent of the initial $14 million investment is ...?

Frank Absher is a St. Louis radio historian.
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Title Annotation:Tim Dorsey's opinion
Author:Absher, Frank
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:3034
Previous Article:Post fails to cover Jim Hightower's large St. Louis crowd.
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