According to a highly-placed source, KNBR is exploring the idea of putting Gary Radnich and Damon Bruce on the same show, possibly as soon as August. No word on whether the two would work together during Radnich’s current 9-to-noon slot or if there would be further changes at the station coinciding with this experiment, a pairing that would span generations and surprise listeners from Chico to Salinas.
Back when I reported Mychael Urban was coming back to KNBR, it was a done deal. This situation? Let’s say it’s closer to when I wrote about Eric Byrnes taking over Sportsphone 680 duties, squarely in the rumor-that-sounds-really-plausible-considering-certain-circumstances category. Here’s why two guys who run their shows in completely different ways (Radnich playing the role of detatched veteran and Bruce as a guy you could picture playing NHL ’94 during commercial breaks) may very well spend the next few months/years trading on-air barbs.
1. Radnich’s ratings
Radnich simply doesn’t draw listeners, and things aren’t getting better. Call it the curse of going against Jim Rome, Tony Bruno’s segment starting too late in the morning to carry Radnich through the first two hours, Radnich’s refusal to go all Murph-and-Mac over the Giants or a physical inability to carry his own show for three hours anymore (kidney stones have been a frequent topic as of late), but “The Gary Radnich Show” has been dying a slow death for the last five years.
And full disclosure here: years ago, I used to love listening to Radnich. The “good knowledge” drops, the R. Kelly infatuation, all of it. But as I said in my last KNBR show rankings, where Radnich dropped from 1st to 4th in a two-year span (only ahead of the completely fraudulent, bought-and-paid-for “Fitz and Brooks Show”), “the thrill is gone.” Radnich’s radio apex was back before the Giants owned The City, when Barry Bonds was the dominant story. Radnich’s biggest radio highlight: a tour-de-force performance to start his show the morning after Larry Krueger was fired six years ago. Funny that Krueger’s resurgence may play a part in KNBR’s future plans (more on that later).
2. 95.7 has Cumulus freaked out
What is KNBR 680 right now, besides Giants games and the pre- and postgame shows that surround them? It’s The Razor and Mr. T, and the guys in the morning who do voiceover work for “The Franchise.” Fitz and Brooks aren’t taken seriously at all, and Eric Byrnes is using Sportsphone 680 as a way to feel important between TV gigs. Meanwhile, 95.7 FM is sniffing around any and all KNBR talent (which reportedly was the impetus for KNBR locking up Murph and Mac with a 6-year contract extension recently). And if they put a call into Dan Dibley, who was stuck in an update role at KNBR, they probably at least approached Bruce, seeing as he hosts an early afternoon show on KNBR’s secondary station. And if I would have paid attention to my own reporting a month ago, maybe I would have seen this move coming (emphasis added):
Cumulus brought in Bill Bungeroth in March to oversee Cumulus’ San Francisco stations, which in effect made him Hammer’s new boss. One of Bungeroth’s primary goals upon arrival? Crush FM. Namely 95.7 FM, the upstart sports talk station that recently signed former KNBR personality Dan Dibley and wanted to add Urban, too. Cumulus noticed a level of complacency at KNBR in recent years — including alarmingly low ratings for Gary Radnich and Fitz and Brooks — and the suits made it clear: changes needed to be made.
3. The Radnich and Mr. D
Actually, the show would likelier be called “Uncle Gary and D-Bruce,” but the point is KNBR has to be hoping they can revitalize Radnich’s career the same way Tom Tolbert injected new life into Ralph Barbieri’s. Barbieri’s been around forever, and had plenty of contentious screaming-match interviews before many people reading this blog could even read, but it’s easy to forget how years ago Barbieri spent hours ranting about the O.J. Trial and ran a show that was nearly 100% humorless. Sure, it was entertaining for the sheer vitriol, but it didn’t exactly lead to a consistently fun program to listen to on your drive home from work.
Then in stepped Tolbert, and all the sudden Barbieri’s personality traits that went unchallenged for years were teased unmercifully — and Barbieri actually seemed to like it. Next thing you knew, Barbieri became more likable and the show has been a drivetime ratings success (leading the way in the 25-54 male demo) since 2000.
Radnich has usually been at his best over the years with a good foil. While he’s had different producers and update people bait him from time to time, one area where he hasn’t been challenged (or allowed himself to be challenged, more accurately) is sports knowledge. We know Radnich has it. Maybe not UZR/150 or NBA usage rate kind of knowledge, but the guy still watches sports every evening for his KRON sportscasts. Lately it’s like he’s been holding his knowledge back to spite us because he’d rather talk about who’s getting Giants championship rings or some tired bit about the state of the business (they’re just looking for someone who’s cheap, won’t question anyone and will read from a script, blah blah blah). Perhaps being paired with another highly competitive guy like Bruce would get Gary back in the mood to talk sports, if for no other reason than to show Bruce up. Or maybe Radnich will just pout openly and he’ll be gone once his contract runs out.
Longtime station general manager Tony Salvatore is long gone, and Lee Hammer’s every move is getting scrutinized. Cumulus acquired Citadel, which means they’re even more of a corporation than before. Radnich’s reputation as the supposed “king” of Bay Area media means nothing without ratings. Bruce is toiling away in Triple-A. A change needs to be made.
But is this the right change? Radnich has made many thinly-veiled references to Bruce’s ambition that weren’t exactly complimentary in the past, and in return Bruce has mentioned on the air how he doesn’t agree with Radnich’s “sports aren’t a big deal, I have a family and three mortgages” mantra. But Radnich doesn’t really have anywhere else to go (besides working for KRON and perhaps getting more face-time on CSN Bay Area), and Bruce has nothing to lose at this point. There are many more reasons to think this show’s going to happen than to believe things will stay the same at 55 Hawthorne.
But what about the rest of the lineup? If the Warriors truly are paying for the Fitz and Brooks show to exist, are they really all that interested in bankrolling a ratings disaster during the lockout? Krueger’s probably coming back in a full-time role fairly soon; it’ll be interesting to see if he takes over Byrnes’ gig after the baseball season or if more drastic changes are to come for The Sports Leader. Stay tuned…