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.

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For the love of baseball

You have to love this kid's enthusiasm for the photobomb.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I went to a Cardinals game with this really sweet girl. The date was going well, she looked great and I had even taught her how to keep score.

Throughout the game, I was consumed with the thought of kissing her, but I knew that I didn’t quite have the guts to just go for it. I realized, though, that the Kiss Cam happened every game and there was just a chance, albeit slight, that a cameraman could help me out.

When the fifth inning rolled around, I clenched up as the Kiss Cam panned the stadium, and, despite finding some younger-looking couples, the camera never found us (an ill-advised choice of later consuming an entire bag of peanuts probably nixed the chance of getting a kiss after the game as well).

Even though I failed to secure a smooch, I have always associated love with the game of baseball. I used to love the game for its stats, instant replays and massive home runs drilled out by burly men. My dad would point to me as a kid at parties and have me recite the average, home run and RBI totals of every player on the team. In an era before a smartphone could quickly Google search statistics, the skill was fairly useful.

Cardinals’ victories meant everything for me growing up and a quick glance at the box score most mornings in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch affected my mood throughout the day. Looking back, I remember feeling acutely depressed for weeks as an 11-year-old kid after the Cardinals lost the 2004 World Series.

I’m not sure when things began to change and I started to find less value in the stats, highlight reels and wins. As I’ve grown older, I’ve cared much more about the stories behind the players and fans instead of religiously memorizing every box score. I’m more interested in slapping a Wiffle ball around with friends or hearing my grandpa tell me about watching Stan Musial hit than obsessing over the minutiae of numbers.

Often, when I go to Cardinals games now, I have no idea who St. Louis is playing because I’m happier about being with my friends and family at the game. For me, baseball is now about the relationships and love that the game forms more than anything else.

On a professional level, though, the game is a business, and it was sad to read about Allen Craig and Joe Kelly getting traded away a few days ago. I thought about their friends and apartments and neighborhoods that they were leaving. I thought about Joe Kelly dancing, his stand-off and that one time he interviewed Nelly as an old man. I recalled Allen Craig’s tortoise named “Torty” and I smiled.

I guess Kelly and Craig were traded to improve the Cardinals’ chances of winning a World Series. Right now, I could care less if the Cardinals won another won of those because I’m going to miss those two guys.

And, yes, my opinion about the trade is worthless because a.) I’m not a general manager and b.) I would be a “terrible” at running a team. If I did manage a ball club, I would focus on my squad’s chemistry and positive interaction with the community before I’d tally up wins and losses. You might not ever see a playoff victory, but our first basemen would always win the 5th-inning hot dog eating contest.

Anyway, good luck with the rest of the season, Cardinals. Sorry if I’m not completely paying attention to what’s happening on the field. I’m just trying to get the Kiss Cam’s attention.