by Chris Kamler
Kansas Citians know two things... barbecue and sports. And with that, they love their sports radio.
One of the most aggressive sports talk markets in the country, Kansas Citians have developed a passion for the hosts who talk about their Royals, Chiefs and college teams along with them. This week, a Northlander joined their ranks in one of the most coveted spots --afternoon drive.1 of Platte County joined Josh Vernier and Jayice Pearson on “The Big Show” on 610 Sports Radio. The Big Show’s debut was Monday from 2-6 p.m. and it will be on every weekday.
The move marks a giant leap for Binkley from the days where he was doing an internet radio show, literally out of his garage.
Born in Excelsior Springs and lifelong resident of Kansas City North near Line Creek, Binkley started his “radio” career working high school and college games while a communications major at Pittsburg State in the late 1990's.
Binkley then later worked with Nick McCabe doing high school football with 810 Varsity, owned by Union Broadcasting. Jay had always had an interest in sports broadcasting, but took various other jobs, one at Enterprise Rent-a-Car and another moving relocated military families, and was unable to pursue his dream of a career in radio.
“It's always been a dream to work at someplace like ESPN,” he says.
Then one night in 2009, the Oak Park High School product was performing the nightly ritual of sitting with his buddies in his friend's garage, drinking beer, talking sports, when it dawned on his friend “Mullet Mike” that they could put this on (internet) radio.
The “Three Guys In A Garage” show was born with Jay, Tawn “Tank” Katzer and “Mullet Mike” (for military reasons, we are unable to use his real name for the story.)
“We pitched it to a few places, then we decided once we were told 'no' to just do it ourselves. That's when we got hooked up with the sci-fi network, Jackalope.”
“I liked having them on Jackalope, but it was short-lived,” Todd Sheets, Jackalope Radio's program director, said. “I always liked the guys and wish them all success. Their show was smart, funny and full of passion and that is why I had it on our station. Sports didn't matter to me exactly, but to the guys involved it did.”
Binkley's show on Jackalope ran until April, 2010, when the guys started with 1510 AM radio.
“We knew somebody who knew Todd Leabo (sports director at WHB Sports Radio 810). Our demo tape was a mic hanging from the ceiling in the basement. We were drinking beers and cussing in the beginning. It didn't matter. We were doing three shows a week in the garage and never missed a show.”
While in the garage, they did do some interviews, mostly with “players” from the Lingerie Football League.
“We had these LFL girls come on and catfight,” Binkley recalls.
But Binkley also began relationships with names such as Bill Romanowski, Willie Wilson and even had “in studio” or “in garage” guests Bill Mass and a member of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, Ken Morrow, in the climate uncontrolled garage.
“Here's a guy with four Stanley Cup rings and an Olympic Gold Medal sitting in our garage. And we were sweating our balls off that day because there's no circulation in there. Tank is about to pass out. When Maas was in there, we had stocking caps and gloves on.”
Leabo and Union Broadcasting noticed enough promise in them to make them part of the 1510 lineup in the evenings through that summer and then moved them to the “Mothership” 810 in the fall when 1510's daytime-only signal went off earlier in the day.
By then, the show had grown from a listnership of Jay's parents and a couple others to a rabid cult status in the evenings.
“We started at 9 p.m. and then they kept giving us more work to do,” Binkley said. “The beautiful thing about it was that we had indoor running water and a bathroom so we didn't have guests coming into my neighbor's house using the restroom.”
Jay quickly began expanding his role at the station, working on Royals post-game shows, getting sound from Arrowhead Stadium and working college pregame shows on Saturdays. Jay also began longing for enough hours in the day to record interviews, prep sound for the show, book guests and still work his 40 hour a week “day” job.
Then, a few weeks ago, Binkley got the call from Ryan Maguire, 610 Sports station manager.
Kansas Citians are never at a shortage for reasons to talk smack. Centered in the middle of Jayhawk, Wildcat and Tiger country... Centered between the Big 12 and now the SEC... Centered in the heartland of Major League Baseball and the NFL... Kansas Citians have a lot to talk about and turn to the two major stations, 810 and 610 to do it.
WHB's Union Broadcasting and KCTE's Entercom Broadcasting have had a long history competing against one another. Sure, there were other sports talk hosts, but the center of the universe was Don Fortune in the 1990's. Fortune was the afternoon drive-time sportscaster for 980 KMBZ and was the Home of the Royals, Home of the Jayhawks and was the center of the sports world.
Then… along came Union Broadcasting, KCTE 1510 and a guy named Kevin Kietzman. Kietz, like Fortune, came from television and both had the ability to sensationalize the sports news of the day. However, Fortune had started to show his age, and his show began to slow down. The live reads about Tippins Pies and Marina Grogg and Galley started to get longer. He took fewer calls. He started to wander with his stories.
One man who does remember the battle was a guy who was there and witnessed it first hand. Greg Hall, columnist for the Platte County Landmark, was a writer for the Kansas City Star and also was working on a radio show at KCTE.
He recalls the atmosphere in the mid-90's, “Fortune was the ONLY sports talk radio voice in Kansas City in the early 90s. When Pete Enich and Soren Petro started up 1510 to offer an alternative voice, it was akin to taking on LSU football with Shawnee Mission East's debate squad. It might have even been a bigger mismatch than that. When Kietzman became affiliated with Chad Boeger and 1510 about 1997, the disparity between Fortune's fame and Kietzman's was so great it was laughable—literally.”
Kietzman toppled Fortune as the King of Sports Talk in Kansas City and never looked back. He has won his ratings period going away in nearly every demographic and nearly every ratings period going back more than a decade.
KCTE/610 Sports, the entity formed once KMBZ stopped doing afternoon sports talk, has sent dozens of lambs to the slaughter against Kietzman and WHB. Marty Wall, Jason Whitlock, D.A. Amendolora, Roger Twibell, Chris and Cowboy and Bill Maas have all had shows for a brief time on 610, only to lose the ratings war and eventually be fired or move along to “other opportunities.”
The man who held the mantle the past few years was a smart, mouthy kid named Nick Wright. A lifelong Kansas Citian, Nick boldly proclaimed in an article in INK Magazine that his show was superior to 810's Between the Lines. Nick now works morning drive in Houston.
The challenge now falls to three men, Vernier, Binkley and Pearson. Time will tell if The Big Show will be another casualty.
What makes good sports radio? If you ask 100 people you might get 100 different answers. But for many, those who report on the teams we know and love need to provide us some entertainment and information that we couldn't get ourselves. These guys have the access and the contacts to find out stories about our cheered athletes.
When asked the same question on Twitter, here are a number of responses:
•Aaron Boyd @fakecyrilfiggis - “A willingness to debate, to make an argument and to refute utter nonsense. To react the same as you or I would.”
•Shawn @VerifiedShawn - “Nice to have local ties/knowledge, be a fan but not a homer (i.e. Petro), have a firm stance on issues. Also stay away from talk such as food, diets & grilling.”
•Julian Fisher @JulianOchocinco - “Chemistry between hosts, relatability, consistency, authority on the subject and a controversial viewpoint.”
•Eric Clarkson @Eric_Clarkson - “1) Getting players/mgrs/owners to open up on interviews. 2) STOP BEING CONDESCENDING TO CALLERS & LISTENERS.”
•@Biking4Baseball - “Talk show hosts should say something that us normal people don't already know. Intelligent banter with insider knowledge.”
As you can see from some of these responses (and dozens of others from passionate sports talk fans), what's good for one is off-putting to another. So the three-man team of Vernier, from Milwaukee and a passionate baseball fan; Binkley a multi-purpose voice with strong takes on college and NFL Football; and Pearson, former collegiate national champion, Kansas City Chief and veteran broadcaster with FOX Sports and ESPN, hope appealing to this wide variety might hold the key to succeeding in this area.
Former Sports Radio 810 producer and now contributor to 610 Sports, Curtis Kitchen, gave this advice to the new afternoon drive host:
“The short answer, which unfortunately is also sometimes the laziest one for some broadcasters, is to just say something that has high shock value. It doesn't have to be profound, thought-out or even true; the idea is just to make people want to tune in. The talent piece to it is spacing out those types of comments just enough that you don't damage your overall credibility with listeners.”
Greg Hall, sports media critic, gave this take on what makes good sports radio:
“Forget about what Kevin Kietzman is grilling or who Soren Petro is calling two-faced. There is an enormous appetite for sports radio in Kansas City. While WHB is the hands-down ratings winner in afternoon drive, there are many listeners eager to switch their radio dial to an alternative voice -- if only one would emerge. Nick Wright has already proved you don't have to beat KK in order to claim victory. My advice? Have an ego but don't allow your listeners to know it. If you're funny, we'll know it. If you're not, you can't fake funny. Trying to be funny results in that fake laugh KK has never been able to mask. Work hard. Really, really hard. The harder you work at show prep, the more you will come off as incredibly spontaneous, witty and likable.”
Unbeatable odds, a diverse expectation of results and a brand new crew that's spent all of an hour together to prep their show. None of that seems to be important for Binkley, “I just need a timeslot and a microphone, man.” Success to Binkley is “following 810's model. I grew up in that era of seeing them grow. 810 had a good business model. I don't see how shying away from it is something you want to do.”
Binkley explains his definition of good sports radio.
“I think being really accessible to people, getting their thoughts on things and incorporating the listeners into the show is what people want.”
Many of us in the Northland and across the Metro will be listening.
(Follow The Landmark’s Chris Kamler on Twitter at Twitter.com/TheFakeNed)