Tim McKernan enjoys playing in the main event of the World Series of Poker, in Las Vegas. While chasing the huge payday there is a fun pursuit, he has cashed in nicely in St. Louis in his primary professional endeavor as he reaches a major milestone this weekend.
It is the 10th anniversary of the business he founded after leaving the St. Louis television sportscasting fray to go full-bore into radio. That led to the formation of what now is insideSTL Enterprises, LLC, which currently controls the weekday programming at radio station WGNU (920 AM), has the insideSTL.com website and also does promotional events associated with the company.
Sports is a focal point of the operation, but pop culture and general minutiae also are key elements of what is far from a traditional approach to the business.
The “Morning After” show, which airs from 7-10 a.m. weekdays, is the foundation of the company. McKernan and regular co-hosts Jim Hayes and Doug Vaughn (with Charlie Marlow often filling in) take an often irreverent approach that can veer into topics such as gambling, sex, drinking and the like. But there also are in-depth interviews of substance, as the company has found a successful, albeit unlikely, mix.
“It’s like a bizzaro-world variety show,” McKernan said this week. “Fortunately it works.”
The approach to the show, and the company, isn’t the typical corporate style associated with most stations. For instance, there is coarse language in online commentary and discussion of weird topics. It certainly isn’t for everybody. But there is a lot of interaction with the audience on many levels.
“Something has happened over the last couple years, (our audience has) gotten younger,” McKernan said. “It’s not like we’re all in our 20s — I’m the youngest guy on the show and I’m 38. But the audience — we still have the people who have listened for years — but when we do events it’s 20- and 30-somethings.
“The texting, tweeting and Facebook fan page … the audience is so involved in the show that they create” some of its content.
But it has been far from an easy ride, as the company has survived a series of wild twists that could only be described as soap-opera material — none bigger than the firestorm that erupted two summers ago when Jack Clark alleged on the air that fellow former Cardinal Albert Pujols used steroids.
“Understandably people assume — and I think to this day — that television pays more than radio, and in many cases that is reality,” McKernan recalled. “However, fortunately, I was able to make a lot more money doing radio and I liked it a lot more.”There is much more time for personal expression on radio.
He was working on radio with fellow TV sportscasters Martin Kilcoyne and Hayes, on what then was known as the “Morning Grind.” Still, when he made the full-time switch to radio …
“I was thinking to myself, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’” he said. “‘I had been (at KMOV) five years and I already want to move away from it. But radio, doing a show with Martin and Jim — it was picking up in popularity, it was fun and financially it was more lucrative”” than TV.
But he quickly discovered that there is a tough side to the radio business, too, as he was told he had to do some weekend Rams shows because he no longer was in TV — much to his chagrin.
“It’s not the way you’d want to treat people,” he said.
A television opportunity developed in Denver, which included doing a baseball show that would air nationally on Fox cable outlets. This wasn’t long after insideSTL had started, and Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds had offered to buy in to the operation that was growing.
“My addiction is the ‘Morning After’/’Morning Grind,’” he said, turning down the TV offer.
But then a key producer on the radio show was fired and Kilcoyne quit in a dispute with management. McKernan wanted Vaughn brought in to replace Kilcoyne (“Doug was clearly the best guy for the job,” he said) but management instead also fired Hayes and brought Bob Fescoe in from Kansas City to work with McKernan. Despite McKernan saying Fescoe is “a very nice guy’’ McKernan was miserable. They didn’t mesh.
“I couldn’t do it, it was so depressing,” McKernan said. “There were times I would look at the clock and wonder how we would make it to a commercial break because we had nothing. The station was losing money. It was a chaotic time. At that point I was ready to leave radio.”
His agent helped get him an audition for a TV sportscasting job in New York, and he was offered a job.
But at the same time in 2007, KSLG (1380 AM) was building what for a time was a St. Louis sports powerhouse lineup. McKernan and company were wanted there, and would be able to get out of the KFNS deal. So he had the choice of doing AM radio at 1380 or going to New York to do TV.
“Any observer in broadcasting goes, ‘OK, that’s a no-brainer,’’ McKernan recalls.
“I love the (radio) show and we had a business that was starting to gain traction,” he said. “So I turned down New York — and my agent went ballistic.”
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