Mourning the loss of KFNS

In sixth grade, I sat slumped over my baseball bag in the back seat of my dad’s sedan.

My grade-school baseball team, St. Gerard Majella, had just gotten knocked out of the CYC playoffs on that humid summer night. As we pulled out of the Assumption parking lot, my eyes swelled with tears that collected in my sweat-soaked green jersey.

Quickly, my father turned on the radio and rolled the dial over to 590 KFNS-AM to try to cheer me up. Kevin Slaten’s husky voice burst through the speakers. Of course he was on a rant and of course it was about Tony La Russa.

Soon the tears dried up and my dad and I were laughing. The lost ballgame at Assumption quickly faded into our memories as we headed north along I-270 back home. For once, Slaten had saved the day.

The laughs at KFNS, though, have ceased. This morning, I read the news in the Post-Dispatch that KFNS couldn’t pay its station bill and Ameren cut its electricity. The company’s debt is over $500,000. KFNS’ station manager doubts he’ll be able to put the radio show on air again.

I was heartbroken.

Sure, the station had its share of troubles, both financially and within its employees (Slaten, as you know, had many issues over the years). But a year before that playoff baseball game, I actually worked at KFNS for a summer that I’ll never forget.

In 2005, KFNS was enjoying its golden years in St. Louis radio operation. It was then the highest-rated sports radio show in town. Martin Kilcoyne, Tim McKernan, Jim Hayes, Bob Ramsey, Slaten and others anchored wildly popular programs. For some reason that summer, KFNS decided it would host the “590 the Fan Kidcaster contest” and select a local kid to do Cardinal radio previews.

I was 12 at the time and badly wanted to win the contest. After a successful interview inside Chevys restaurant at the Mills, I was called back for the finals at Chevys in the Crestwood Mall. My mom dressed me in an ironed button-down green shirt. My heart fluttered madly as I made up a mock radio script and interviewed KFNS employees impersonating Cardinal players. I asked “Jason Isringhausen” right after he “won the World Series” if he was interested in renewing his contract next season with the Cardinals. The judges laughed and the question propelled me to a first-place finish.

Then-employee at the time Hoss Neupert crowned me the winner. It was the happiest day of my childhood.

Later, I worked with Hoss on over a dozen radio reports, all prerecorded and played on the air during Ramsey’s show. I even got the chance to watch a game from the Cardinals press box and interview Tony La Russa.

I’ll never forget my question in the post-game press conference: “Mr. La Russa, how nice was it to have Reggie Sanders back in the lineup?” Tony answered the question and then asked what my name was. I said Jack. He thought my name was “Jeff.”

My family and friends tuned into my broadcasts and I realized then that I wanted to do journalism for a living. It was thrilling to work with KFNS, especially as a kid.

I will never forget the love Hoss Neupert and other members at the station showed me. They are part of the reason why I’m still working in sports journalism. Right now, I’m a sports reporter for the Columbia Missourian and studying print and digital journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

A few years after me, the success faded for KFNS. Some of the talent left. Other more popular sports stations crowded into the market. The bills went unpaid.

This summer, I gave KFNS a call for a story I was doing at an internship for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I told them I used to work as the “Kidcaster.” No one remembered me. It seemed like everyone I knew had left in the last decade.

The station aired its last show on Friday before the power was cut. I understand why KFNS is off the air, but that doesn’t make it any easier. For a station that gave me and others so much, it’s just sad that KFNS had to go.

So, goodbye KFNS. Thank you for those laughs that once dried my tears. I’m sorry to hear your station reduced to static.

But I promise you’ll never be forgotten.


Understanding “On the Road” in Columbia, Missouri

I sat with an old woman at Flatbranch bar last night.

Although not a Royals fan, she flailed her arms and cried at the flatscreen TV hanging above the bar’s glass bottles when Kansas City lost. I struck up a conversation with her asked why she was upset. She told me she couldn’t stand to see a team from Missouri lose.

This was her state after all and she told me stories of her German heritage and of her Catholic upbringing and of a Civil War battle on her property near Jefferson City. She then told me about her college days at the University of Missouri in the 1960s.

“On campus everyone was nicer then,” she said. “Nobody’s nice around campus anymore except, well, you.”

I laughed. That wasn’t true. But it was interesting to me that she felt that way. I had just finished Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and reflected on what life must have been like back then — Jazz music, drugs, women, cars racing up and down the roads. From the old woman’s perspective and Kerouac’s, people probably did seem nicer or at least more exciting.

Kerouac gives us rich description of his experiences in “On the Road” from the bustle of Times Square to the horn-honking Mexico City where ambulances zipped through traffic without slowing down. Maybe the old woman, too, remembered her days through that exciting beat-lens of happiness and freedom without a care for money.

Despite the rich descriptions of the adventures and people, “On the Road” ends with the main character, Sal Paradise, looking out into a New Jersey river and longing for his pal Dean Moriarty. It’s a sad ending to a book where Sal desperately tries to find his next “kick” for 300 pages but finally realizes the only thing that matters is his relationship with other people. The book ends like Tom Petty’s “American Girl” song, where a woman standing alone looks out into the ocean and thinks about an old lover. “God it’s so painful when something that’s so close is still so far out of reach,” Petty wails.

So, back at Flatbranch bar, the old woman thanked me for being nice to her. I grabbed her number and promised her I’d call. My buddies laughed at me for talking to the old lady as we walked along Broadway back home.

And, as we started to discuss other plans, I thought about Kerouac and how relevant “On the Road” is to people even today. Then, I thought about the old woman at the bar and wondered how she was doing.

Clear eyes, shirts off, can’t lose

When Kolten Wong stepped to the plate Sunday night, some Cardinal fans had lost hope in the game and in the chances of winning a World Series. Not me.

With Game Two on the line, I repeated what I did when David Freese hit a game-winning bomb in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series and what I did when the Cardinals rallied for four runs in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. I took my shirt off. Yes, I removed my tomato-red Cardinals gear from the top half of my body, exposing my chiseled (read: pale/unflattering) chest.

The baseball gods did not disappoint. In the ensuing pitch, Wong launched a solo shot to right field, winning the game.

Some call it magic. Others call it coincidence. I call it faith.

You see, I don’t really believe fans can alter the games with “lucky” socks or switching seats. That makes no logical sense. But what does make a difference is when a person or group of people unite in belief. Just like in the movie “Elf,” if we all believe, it will happen.

Faith, by definition, is an act of irrationality. Many of my rational friends who are Cardinals fans do not have faith in this team winning the World Series and often do not have faith even in their own lives. “It’s better to just be prepared for the Cardinals losing it all,” they say. “That way, it will be easier to move on.” Sound familiar?

Better question: Move on to what? Your average, pessimistic life? No, I refuse to live that way. In a world of faith, life is suddenly exciting and wonderful. And even if the Cardinals win the World Series, I still have faith that something good will come to those who believe.

So, yes, this October my shirt will be off for my team. I will be “Shirtless in St. Louis.” You may think I’m stupid or crazy but I’m just here to have fun and spread love for the cause.

Clear eyes, shirts off, can’t lose.

Sourcing and framing

Every article is framed, whether you like it or not. Journalists choose who to talk to and who not to talk to in articles which causes frames.

Since frames are unavoidable, journalists shouldn’t concern themselves with with whether or not their article is framed. The better question: is a frame transparent, so readers don’t feel deceived, and is the frame done effectively? Any educated reader knows to seek out multiple viewpoints on an issue, so reading both “Smell of money” and “Bad air” adds different perspectives on the same issue. Both articles are framed effectively, but, on their own, they do not give the complete picture.

“Ya’ll smell that? That’s the smell of money”

Bryan Mealer frames the beginning of the story from his family’s point of view. He openly talks about his own perspective on oil booms and then launches into stories from others involved in oil booms, giving his own commentary on those stories. Mealer also uses official sources in his story, including the University of Texas. I like the use of “I” as it adds transparency to his reporting process, and, although he didn’t interview or write about everyone who was involved in oil booms, at least his writing style was honest. The frame in the piece clearly demonstrated he was writing from his own experiences and observations of big oil in Texas.

There only photo in the piece was of an oil truck rolling down a Texas highway. The photo shows the pervasiveness of oil in Texas.

“Big oil, bad air”

It’s worth mentioning that the framing in this article is done by three different news agencies, meaning many different perspectives went into creating this piece. The story begins with a personal lede, focusing on a how oil and gas booms affect a couple’s health. The story then uses “official statistics” frames, citing researched facts, and talks to scientists, another “official” source. After reading “Smell of money” I feel like I have a more complete understanding of the oil and gas boom story in Texas. These two stories alone, though, do not give the whole story of big oil in Texas.

The photos in “Big oil” give a distinctly anti-oil feel, predominantly using photos of people suffering from the environmental issues and big, ugly oil flames burning into the blue sky.

Don’t fret, young journalists

Young journalists,

Let me tell you a story.I bumped into a woman today who recently left a journalism job without much hope for the future of the industry.

“Get out,” she growled. “Get out while you can.”

She then left without as much as a handshake. She was late to her new job.

Get out? Me? Get out of what? Where? When? Why? That’s all I could think.

Perhaps the response to her warning reveals a trapped journalist that cannot escape the five critical questions, stuck in forever in jurno-purgatory. Or, perhaps the 5-question response shows the only way my brain can process information, again a scary realization.

There are many fears (beyond the five-question “is this the way I should be thinking?” approach to life) surrounding young journalists right now but those fears shouldn’t scare people away from the industry. At the Missouri Press Association Convention this year, I was asked to sit on a “young journalist” panel and talk about some of these concerns. Call me an eternal optimist but I think we’re all fine.

My big three points:

1. Journalism is here to stay. People will always care about what’s going on in their community, and they want reliable information, not speculation. Journalism will always fill that void.

2. Journalism is changing. I don’t think we’ll be sticking quarters into a box for much longer to get a newspaper. We might see journalism being paid in a variety of ways depending on the news organization. Ads, paywalls, donations, Google surveys, etc. might all add up to pay for a “paper.”

3. Journalism isn’t about the money. At least this is true for me. I want to obviously be able to support myself, but I’m not looking to drive around a Ferrari. If you’re going to stick with this industry, I think you need to be okay with living on not too much.

if you love this job, you will be able to earn a living off it. Journalism will be needed. As we keep wading through this information-filled life, we need people who can sort it all out for us.

And to the people who warn you to “get out” because journalism is dying? Just ask where they heard that news from. I bet they read that somewhere …

Some pretty awesome ledes

So our journalism professor asked us to find three stories with some pretty awesome ledes. Here are some of my favorite:

1. Seth Wickersham’s “Awakening the Giant” The lede is a great portrait of a beat-up quarterback who doesn’t remember getting beat up. It’s honest and beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

2. Caitlin Flanagan’s “The Dark Power of Fraternities” A pun that landed very well (but didn’t take off that well) ended this lede that leaves you wincing in pain. The lede employs great description and sets the scene for the rest of the story.

3. Rick Reilly’s “When your dream dies” The lede is as descriptive as it is shocking and makes you want to read more.

Appreciating I-70’s billboards and Booches’ burgers

I grabbed the slick wooden edge of Booches bar, tightening my grip until my fingers turned white. Melted cheese on patties and Coca-Cola on ice waltzed into my nostrils. Beer glasses clinked and the grill sizzled as I stared at the bottles of liquor, resting easily on the shelf behind the bar.

Yes, today was one of those days. You know, the days when you a.) realize that you need to live in the moment and b.) try desperately to achieve that sense of now-ness. It was also a day spent regretting all the days I didn’t live in the moment since the last time I decided I should live in the moment.

But I can’t dwell on that regret. I’m Living In The Moment.

Why enjoy life the beauty of the present today? Earlier in the morning, an art professor told our class about a billboard project she’s working on. Driving from Kansas City to St. Louis, she’s taking a photo of every billboard along I-70 and wondering what each billboard means in the context of its environment. Artist Anne Thompson accepts billboards as a part of the American landscape and doesn’t see them as “ugly” or “uninviting.” Thompson believes billboards are just billboards, but still thinks the super-signs can benefit from art.

The billboards had me thinking: what else around me goes completely unnoticed? I mean, I would have never thought of billboards giving meaning to an environment, much less as a potential work of art. Failing to realize the potential beauty in billboards disturbed me to the point that I needed to live in the present immediately. After all, paying attention to everything around me will help me appreciate life’s beauty.

Quickly, living in the moment became difficult. Text messages, phone calls and Snapchats invaded my life. Loud noises and whizzing cars snapped me out of my present-mindedness. Even a simple hello on the street knocked me out of my rhythm.

Living in the moment all the time is hard. But, I realized the technique of focusing on the present was beneficial each time I started to get preoccupied. Nothing melts worries away quite like a slow bite through a cheesy Booches burger.