A few years ago hockey announcer Dan Kelly of KMOX radio in St. Louis invited listeners to write in for free NHL schedules. The response all but floored him. "We got requests from 46 different states, five provinces of Canada and even a trickling from Europe." he says. "I realized then that we weren't merely the big voice of the Midwest, but maybe the No. 1 hockey station in America."
Better still, KMOX is very likely the No. 1 sports station in America. Whereas in other cities the broadcasting of local teams is divided among several stations, in St. Louis all the local clubs are carried by KMOX. At 1120 on your dial, it is the only major radio station in the country that allocates fully a quarter of its programming to sports. That comes to some 350 live events a year, including the full schedules, home and away, exhibition and regular season, of the football and baseball Cardinals, as well as University of Missouri football and basketball. Blues hockey. Steamers indoor soccer and a myriad of other pro and college events in which St. Louis teams aren't involved but which St. Louisans might enjoy. For instance, after broadcasting the Cardinals-Phillies and the Blues-Penguins games last Saturday, KMOX went live to Las Vegas for the Larry Holmes-Trevor Berbick WBC heavyweight championship fight. Says KMOX General Manager Bob Hyland, "Anything we do to keep the fans interested is a plus for us."
Hyland, who shows up at KMOX each day at 3 a.m. and stays until 6 p.m., spends copiously on coverage. When the NFL Cardinals played a 1976 preseason game against San Diego in Japan, Hyland not only picked up the tab for rights and line charges to cover the game but also sent three broadcasters and the entire Cardinal cheerleading squad to Tokyo. KMOX broadcast the game live, beginning at 4 a.m. St. Louis time.
Hyland's staff is easily the largest, most talented, best-informed in radio sports. No fewer than 35 broacasters are on the KMOX payroll, including athletes, coaches, newspapermen and eight fulltime professionals, half of whom moonlight for networks. During the football season, KMOX listeners can pop off directly to Cardinal Quarterback Jim Hart and Offensive Tackle Dan Dierdorf, who frequently field questions on the station's popular call-in show. Sports Open Line. Missouri football Coach Warren Powers, baseball Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog and Shortstop Garry Templeton are also KMOX performers. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bob Broeg and Bob Burnes of the Globe-Democrat arc regulars, too, as are Dick Young of the New York Daily News and Joe Buschbaum of Pro Football Weekly.
Among the fulltime broadcasters at the station, four are nationally known. The biggest name is Jack Buck, who for the past two years has been the play-by-play man for Monday Night Football on CBS radio. At KMOX he is the voice of Cardinal baseball. Canadian-born Kelly, who does the Blues games for the station, called CBS' NHL Game of the Week until the network dropped hockey in 1972. He is generally regarded as the sport's finest announcer.
KMOX's brightest young star is 29-year-old Bob Costas, who works some 45 events a year for NBC-TV. When Hyland hired him in 1974 to call games of the Spirits of the ABA, Costas was the youngest major league play-by-play man in the country. He now works Missouri basketball and co-hosts Open Line.
Open Line's other host is Bill Wilkerson, a golden-throat wit who does his homework. Wilkerson handles the color on Missouri and Cardinal football. You may have heard his voice analyzing the last two Senior Bowls for the CBS radio network.
All KMOX staffers agree that the most enjoyable assignment is hosting Open Line, which is on the air for at least two hours seven nights a week and receives as many as 2,500 calls during the course of a single show. Sometimes the hosts put everybody on hold to do their own thing. Three years ago Wilkerson created a segment called Great Confrontations, in which he'd phone two famous adversaries—Bob Gibson and Billy Williams, say—and let them go at it. "Most radio people are lazy." Buck says. "Everything's automated, pre-packaged. They work three hours a day and complain they're being overworked. Our guys love work."
Indeed, they often go out of their way to find it. Once an Open Line caller asked Costas which baseball team he considered better, the 1927 Yankees or the 1934 Cardinals. Costas was intrigued—Murderer's Row or the Gas House Gang. He told the caller to give him some time. That night Costas dusted off his Strat-O-Matic Baseball Game, matched up the two lineups and began rolling the dice. Several nights later he re-created the game, complete with play-by-play, anecdotes about the players, crowd roars and the crack of the bat. It was a two-hour broadcast, with New York winning 4-1 on Babe Ruth's two-run, seventh-inning triple off Yankee Stadium's 407-foot sign in deep right. Dizzy Dean took the loss.
Such energy keeps KMOX listeners close to their speakers. There are 37 radio stations in metropolitan St. Louis and, according to the latest Arbitron ratings. KMOX draws nearly one listener out of four. Its 23.4 audience share is the second-highest among all stations in the top 50 U.S. markets. Why? Maybe Wilkerson says it best. "We don't wait to hear what everybody else is doing," he says. "We just get on the phones and scratch where it itches."