Cardinals to cut long ties with KMOX

Friday, August 5, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- For more than half a century, KMOX has been synonymous with the St. Louis Cardinals. Not anymore.

The Cardinals announced Thursday that a new ballpark isn't the only big change for 2006: The team's broadcasting rights will go to another AM station, KTRS, severing the relationship with KMOX that began 51 years ago.

"Somebody pinch me," said KTRS general manager Tim Dorsey, who started the station nine years ago in a cornfield near Belleville, Ill. "Cardinals baseball is an institution. It is St. Louis."

The move involves going from a 50,000-watt powerhouse that can be heard in more than 40 states at night to a station with a considerably weaker signal. Even some St. Louis-area residents, especially in Illinois, often can't pick up KTRS.

Cardinals president Mark Lamping said that problem is already being addressed. WSMI, a 50,000-watt FM station in Litchfield, Ill., already has signed on to simulcast the games. And the Cardinals have reached an agreement with XM Satellite Radio for coast-to-coast coverage. The satellite radio requires a fee, but Lamping said the Cardinals will subsidize it, keeping the cost down. He said further details will be announced later.

For the Cardinals, the move simply made financial sense, Lamping said. As part of the deal, the Cardinals obtain 50 percent ownership in KTRS. That will mean expanded coverage of the Cardinals, including additional air time before and after games, coverage of additional spring training games, more offseason programming and additional marketing and promotion, Lamping and Dorsey said.

The move should generate more money, allowing the Cardinals, currently in first place in the NL Central, to remain competitive without substantial ticket-price increases, Lamping said.

The Cardinals plan to move KTRS studios from West Port Plaza in St. Louis County to Ballpark Village planned alongside the new ballpark, by 2007.

"What we're trying to do is improve our ability to put the finest baseball team on the field," Lamping said.

The Cardinals turned to KTRS after failed negotiations with Infinity Broadcasting, which owns KMOX.

The team is being paid $6.7 million in rights fees this year. Infinity had sought to drop the fee to $4.7 million, and split earnings beyond that with the team, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported.

In a statement from KMOX, the station called the loss of the Cardinals disappointing.

"We were not prepared to enter into an agreement which would have had substantial financial implications on the station and Infinity Broadcasting in the future," the statement read. "The recent proliferation of available outlets to hear Cardinals baseball games, including online, satellite radio and cellular telephone, has decreased the exclusivity for which we had been paying a premium. Increasing our rights fees at this time would have not been in the best overall interest of KMOX and its legion of listeners."

KMOX has been broadcasting Cardinals games since 1954, with Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola and a young Jack Buck at the microphone. In the days before games were common on TV, the station's powerful signal -- it can be heard in more than 40 states at night -- made Cardinals fans out of people in places as far away as Texas, West Virginia and the Dakotas.

Most Cardinals fans outside of the St. Louis area don't necessarily need to listen to the flagship station. The team's network of affiliates includes 110 stations.

The Cardinals, not the radio station, employ announcers Mike Shannon and Wayne Hagin. Lamping said both will remain next season.

Taking the Cardinals is the latest raid on KMOX by KTRS.

Dorsey spent 15 years at KMOX, much of it as the No. 2 man under legendary general manager Robert Hyland Jr. He started KTRS in 1996, borrowing KMOX's blueprint of talk radio, even stealing away some of KMOX's biggest names at the time -- Bill Wilkerson, Wendy Wiese, Kevin Horrigan.

Since then, KTRS has moved steadily into sports, along the way winning rights to broadcast Rams and Blues games. Still, the station lags far behind KMOX in the ratings.

Some fans lamented the loss of tradition and worried about KTRS's weaker signal. Others said they'll follow the Cardinals wherever they go.

Patrick Judge, 64, a retired accountant, counts himself among St. Louisans who listened to Cardinals games on KMOX every night "on the back porch with my Dad." He sees the move as an opportunity for Cardinals owners to "squeeze all the money they can get out of this."

Andrea Morrison, 43, usually watches the Cardinals on TV anyway, but does listen to games on the radio when in her car. She said she'll continue to do so "wherever they air."

All Cardinals games are now broadcast on television, most of them on cable's FSN Midwest or the St. Louis station KPLR-TV. Other games are broadcast on ESPN and on Fox.

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