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.

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.

Ballpark Village: A Successful Failure

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Soaked and cold, I waited outside the new Ballpark Village in a massive line last night.

“No more people!” A person yelled. “They’ve reached capacity.”

Well, that sucked, I thought as I walked back to the Metro and waited 20 minutes for my train. The rain continued to pour and, lacking windshield wipers, my glasses were useless.

But I couldn’t be happier.

After years of waiting, false hopes, abandoned lakes and a rentable softball field, Ballpark Village finally filled that parking lot outside of Busch Stadium.

Pessimism and proposed plan ideas shriveled in the rain as the Village jumped to Third Eye Blind. The affair was anything but semi-charmed.

Thousands of people lived up opening night. The support for downtown, particularly from young people, was intoxicating.

What some people had called a total failure had finally surfaced as a success. Sure, Ballpark Village was too late. And, yes, St. Louis looked bad during the All-Star game as Busch Stadium II’s death was still clearly visible.

Last night, though, it seemed Old Busch was buried and a red fern, a glowing, $650-million building, had grown over its grave.

Even as this new energy invigorated downtown, the city stayed true to its roots. In what might have been the most St. Louis thing ever, I boarded and departed Metrolink at the Clayton station with the same people last night.

I guess some things never change.