The other day, Nick Wright, the gangly 26-year-old host of 610 Sports Radio’s “What’s Wright With Nick Wright,” was lounging on the sofa of his Overland Park apartment, talking about how talented he is.
This was a Thursday night, sometime around 9 p.m., and as he spoke, he was nursing a wine cooler and splitting his attention between a visitor and a nearby television, which was broadcasting a steady stream of college basketball highlights. He had just finished providing a detailed and unsolicited account of how intelligent he happens to be (“I crushed the SATs”), how regularly he is recognized around town (“a lot”) and how, had he not decided to pursue a career in radio, he would have almost certainly become a very successful doctor or lawyer (“I could have gone to Harvard, probably”), and now he was leaning forward in his seat and explaining that, when you really break it down, there isn’t a sane individual on this planet who could listen to his radio show and not conclude that it is, without question, the best sports-talk program in Kansas City.
“You can take the Pepsi-goddamn-Challenge with my show,” Wright was saying, turning away from the television to make sure his remarks were being met with the appropriate level of fervor. “You listen to my show for a week, my show will either entertain you more or make you think more or make you angrier. One of the three.
“But there’s nobody that can listen to my show for a week and not acknowledge that it’s superior,” he added. “That, I know.”
That he is able to make such a proclamation — not only make it but, based on the tenacity with which it’s delivered, actually believe it — is an impressive feat to behold, given the lack of empirical evidence to support it.
As he was saying this, for instance, his show sat in a distant eighth place in the market in its demographic,* trailing, among others, a classic rock show (Skid Roadie on 101 the Fox), an irreverent drive-time show (“The Church of Lazlo” on 96.5 the Buzz) and a conservative political show (“Shanin & Parks” on 980 KMBZ). It ranked seven spots behind Sports Radio 810’s “Between the Lines” with Kevin Kietzman, the city’s oldest and most listened to sports-radio program.
Wright is unquestionably bright and unquestionably talented. He graduated from Syracuse University’s prestigious S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and has done so much so quickly that, when reached by phone recently, the man in charge of radio recruiting for ESPN knows precisely who you’re talking about when you mention the name Nick Wright. But the fact remains that, on any given day, roughly twice as many people tune in to Kietzman’s show than Wright’s.
And yet, here he sits, sipping his drink and watching his basketball and insisting that no one in this town has a bigger impact on the sports discussion than he does. No one works harder. No one cares more. No one, in the end, will achieve as much. He will be the most listened-to radio host — sports or otherwise — in Kansas City, he assures you, “and it’s not a Carl Peterson five-year plan.”
And it is at about this time that it occurs to you that one of the following two things is true:
Either Wright is, as nearly all signs seem to indicate, delusional.
Or, perhaps, he isn’t.
Nick Wright is delusional. Of course he is, because how else could someone so overestimate his potential reach?
Not long ago, analysts at Scarborough Research released a report detailing the makeup of the country’s sports-talk radio listeners. What they found is this: They are, in large part, between the ages of 35 and 54. They are homeowners, and they are active online shoppers, and they are willing to spend significant sums of money on things like home improvement projects.
Which is to say, when it gets right down to it, the kind of people listening to sports-talk radio are not a whole lot like Nick Wright.
Look at him now, lounging in the 610 studio before a recent show, outfitted in sweatpants, oversized T-shirt and gold chain, fiddling with his Android phone and recounting the particulars of a drunken escapade in which Jared Carter, the show’s 24-year-old board operator, nearly got himself cold-cocked at a Twins-Royals game by an individual who may or may not have been in high school.
On-air, Wright is boisterous and confrontational and a little mean-ish, his words tumbling out in aggressive bursts — pausing occasionally for emphasis, each syllable like a finger jabbed into your chest. In person, however, he cuts a rather unimposing figure. He is tall, probably a shade over 6 feet, and notably thin — with bony arms, a trim goatee and a nose that keeps on going — and it is difficult to look at him and not wonder why a middle-aged suburbanite would be especially interested in anything he has to say.
He is a connoisseur of baggy sweatshirts and baggier jeans, of track jackets and elaborate sneakers. Danielle Byrd, Wright’s 30-year-old girlfriend and a manger at a local men’s clothing store, was so put off by his wardrobe that it took months before she agreed to a date with him.
He curses profusely and egregiously (“fucking worthless fucking stooge” is how he identifies one radio contemporary), and though he was raised comfortably in Kansas City, a graduate of the private Barstow School and the son of two Harvard alums, his show features a markedly urban feel. Hip-hop music welcomes listeners into the program and back from commercial break, and Wright’s slang-infused dialect — callers are “Bro,” the idea of the Kansas City Chiefs acquiring Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is “sweet” — has prompted some to accuse him of playing up certain things to cultivate an exaggerated sense of street cred.
Based solely on the way he speaks, local sports media blogger Greg Hall recently mused, it’s not difficult to imagine him retiring each night to one of the city’s rougher precincts.
And this is to say nothing of the show’s risqué subject matter — a steady stream of anecdotal tidbits pulled from the annals of his personal life. If traditional sports-talk is like chatting about yesterday’s game over the backyard fence, “What’s Wright” is like sitting in a frat house basement, reliving the night before. On-air discussion has centered on, at one time or another, Wright’s accidental presence at a furry swingers party and his 2003 arrest for marijuana possession, while one of the show’s running jokes is the fact that Carter, the board operator, was once caught in bed with another man’s wife, with whom he now has a child.
“He’s not relatable to a dad with two kids in Johnson County who doesn’t understand why he says ‘cuz’ every other word,” says Chris Hamblin, who along with Cory Anderson held the 610 afternoon-drive spot that Wright took over in April 2010. “He wants to be himself, and good for him, but you have to know that the 40-year-old guy dropping his kids off at soccer practice and going to Starbucks, some of the things Nick’s getting into will make him change the station.”
So despite his insistence to the contrary, Wright can’t possible be bound for talk-radio immortality. If he were, wouldn’t it have occurred to him by now to tone down some of the antics? Wouldn’t he at least attempt to cater to the 40-plus crowd?
And, if he were a real threat, wouldn’t Kansas City’s current king of sports-talk be concerned?
“I’m not an expert on what he does,” shrugs Kietzman, 46. “But it sounds more like a niche than a mainstream approach. That’s just me. With the specific jargon and lingo and things that he does, it’s like Jim Rome. I think he kind of sounds like a Rome-clone or something.”
Of course, if Jim Rome — arguably America’s most prominent sports-talk host and a man whose show is broadcast on roughly 200 stations across the United States and Canada — can be considered niche, then maybe niche isn’t so bad.
And if Rome is niche, couldn’t the same be said for the rest of the country’s most high-profile radio personalities? Rome fights his guests, and Howard Stern interviews porn stars, and Rush Limbaugh rages against the liberal media, and each carries out his specific shtick with enough gusto that he is nationally renowned because of it.
No, Wright might not look like his competitors or sound like his competitors or think like his competitors, but as a result, he is in a position to offer a perspective that — love it or hate it — is unlike anything else you’ll find in local radio.
What other sports-talk host will argue, in the span of one show, that Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley’s dirty play should be celebrated and that University of Kansas forward Mario Little, arrested following a domestic-related incident, had no choice but to hit the guy he found at home with his girlfriend in January? Or that he’d love the chance to interview NFL spokesman Greg Aiello in person so that he could “punch him in his smug face”?
Who else invites listeners, during a weekly Friday segment, to call in and offer their unfettered critiques of his work from the past week? And is more than happy to keep jawing with his audience long after his show has ended (an avid user of social media, he has roughly 6,400 Twitter followers — more than four times as many as Kietzman — and was recently forced to create a second Facebook profile because his first had reached the 5,000 friend limit)?
And who else, perhaps most notably, is willing to look upon the longstanding mores that govern traditional sports-talk radio — keep a distance from the players you cover … don’t mention the competition … don’t stray too far from sports — not so much as set-in-stone rules as open-to-interpretation guidelines?
He is friends with a handful of Kansas City’s professional athletes and friendly with a couple dozen more — in some cases, he has been to their homes, ridden in their cars — because when you get to know the men you spend four hours a day discussing in a way that no one else in the city does, you can speak with a level of authority that no one else in the city can. “Clancy Pendergast held back — held back — this team’s defense in 2009,” Wright says of the former Chiefs defensive coordinator. “You know how I know it? Because a half-dozen guys on the defense told me he did.”
It took him less than two weeks on-air at 610 to offer his opinion of the city’s other sports-talk hosts, and because it is his belief that you can’t win — at least the way Wright defines winning — by talking only sports, he doesn’t shy away from using his personal life as fodder for his show. He’ll talk about his high school job selling steaks door-to-door and his failures as a gambler because these are the things that will make him relatable. To younger listeners, sure, but also to the middle-aged guys grinding through blue-collar jobs who know exactly what it’s like to go bust on a four-team parlay.
“You gotta do things a little bit different,” says Lazlo of 96.5 the Buzz, one of Kansas City’s most outspoken — and successful — radio talents. “And to me, where Nick is trying to get listeners, nobody’s fishing right now. There’s a big empty pond of … people who watch sports and are into sports and see things differently than the old guard does.”
In the pursuit of listeners, Wright will shirk conventional wisdom, and he’ll rock the boat a bit — he recently challenged one local rival, on-air, to a boxing match — and in doing so, he’ll take the risks the city’s more established personalities won’t. Even Kietzman admits that, when you’re standing atop the sports-radio mountain, you approach things more conservatively than you would as an up-and-comer who’s trying to make a name.
“You don’t go for two-point conversions as often,” he says, “when you’re the Patriots.”
Wright will draw listeners because he has no problem going for two. Because the traditional sports-talk formula might be growing a bit stagnant. Because Kansas City, having spent much of the past 12 years listening to Kietzman and his 810 brethren, might be itching for something new — a fresh voice among the familiar drone of the town’s current on-air personalities.
Different might be exactly what it takes to make people notice.
But how do you reach talk-radio glory when you’re burning bridges faster than you can cross them?
There are times, Wright admits, when his unfiltered ruminations have created problems both socially and professionally, when pulling a punch or two would have made his life infinitely easier. He has made office meetings sticky by mocking co-workers on-air, and not long ago he strained — at least temporarily — his relationship with Byrd after describing her affinity for shopping, to thousands of listeners, as an “addiction.” On multiple occasions, he has been told by 610 program director Ryan Maguire to avoid certain topics on-air and gone ahead and discussed them anyway. Sometimes he gets spoken to afterward, sometimes he doesn’t. Doesn’t much matter; he’s not changing.
As Wright puts it, “I don’t think anybody else knows how to do ‘What’s Wright With Nick Wright’ better than I do.”
For that matter, he’s not sure that, when it comes to radio, anybody else knows how to do much of anything better than he does, an idea he is happy to expound upon during regular rants about how much more talented he is than the competition, how much better trained he is than the competition and how overwhelmingly, in the end, he will outshine the competition. His is a cocksuredness so profound that he has taken to qualifying it with a disclaimer of sorts. Before delving into one particularly self-aggrandizing thought last month, he warned, “Dude, put your arrogance helmet on …”
Of course, even with your arrogance helmet strapped firmly in place, there are times when it’s difficult not to be taken aback by his personal brand of bravado.
On the unique sound of his show: “I say this, and I mean it: You could not speak English, and be scanning the radio dial in Kansas City, and you would stop on my show.”
On the inevitability of his ascension to most listened-to radio personality in Kansas City: “If I do ‘What’s Wright With Nick Wright’ on 610 Sports Radio for 50 percent of the time — fuck, 30 percent of the time — that Kevin Kietzman’s done ‘Between the Lines’ on 810, I’ll be blowing him out the water. And let me rephrase: I’ll be beating everyone.”
On the anticlimactic nature of his eventual disposal of Kietzman: “I feel like when I win, partly it’s going to be by default. I’m going to win because Kietzman has made (a lot of money) and become complacent, and people are going to be tired of him. … I wish that I could start over because it would have been, I think, a better challenge.”
Not surprisingly, there are those in the industry who have been put off by his incessant ramblings. Since starting at 610 almost four years ago, he has taken shots at, among a slew of others, Kietzman (lazy), former Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock (poor dresser) and fellow 610 host Bob Fescoe (homer). So critical was he of rival Soren Petro that the 810 midday host confronted him following a Chiefs news conference in October 2009, unleashing a profanity-laced tirade during which Wright says Petro stuck his finger in his chest and threatened his career in front of fellow media members.
Petro, who once worked alongside Wright when the latter interned at 810 in 2004, refuses to discuss the incident. “Never heard of the guy,” he says, asked about Wright following a recent show in Leawood.
Wright? He dedicated a show to the dust-up shortly after it happened and has continued to paint Petro as a talentless clown, describing his show, during one expletive-filled rant last month, as “an abortion.”
For the most part, Wright does not seem to be in any hurry to rectify his reputation as the market’s resident villain, and the possibility that, in his march toward radio greatness he might be leaving a trail of burnt bridges in his wake has either not occurred to him or is of little concern.
“Adam Carolla says before you do anything, you gotta ask yourself, ‘Is this going to make me money? Is this going to make me happy?’ And if you can’t say yes to either one of them, why are you doing it?
“The thing is,” he says, “sometimes telling someone to go fuck themselves makes you happy.”
Then again, isn’t a good dose of self-confidence a prerequisite to talk radio? Doesn’t anyone who spends four hours a day bloviating about sports or politics or pop culture have to have at least some semblance of an ego? And isn’t a significant part of building and maintaining an audience knowing precisely how far to push the envelope — how to cultivate some of what Wright calls “the good kind” of hate, in which people find him so repulsive they can’t help but tune in to hear what kind of idiocies he’s going to spew next — without pushing too far?
Hasn’t fearlessness always been a pretty prominent part of his personality — ballsy, says long-time friend Jason Backstrom, is the best way to describe his buddy’s childhood makeup — and, more to the point, hasn’t it served him pretty well thus far?
Isn’t it that same testicular fortitude that prompted him — as a tuxedo-clad 12-year-old — to march right up to that middle-aged stranger at a swank Kansas City fundraiser and regale him with a detailed account of his intentions of one day becoming a sports broadcaster? And wasn’t it the conviction in his voice that led that same middle-aged man to track down Wright’s mother, Lauren, in the crowd?
“Are you Nick’s mom?” he asked when he’d located her.
“Yes,” she responded, figuring her son had spilled Coke on someone.
“I’m Bob Costas,” he said. “I just spent the last 20 minutes talking to your son.”
And wasn’t it Costas who would later serve as a mentor to Wright, arranging a personal tour of Syracuse’s Newhouse School with the dean as he went about the process of selecting a college, and who still remembers him 15 years later, describing him last week as “a very impressive young guy”?
Wasn’t it that same what-the-fuck? mentality on display four years ago when Wright, two months from college graduation and with no on-air job offers to speak of, handed a down-on-his-luck man $40 on his way to a Syracuse grocery store and then —figuring he had some good karma coming his way — called up Allan Davis, then the program director at 610, and talked his way into a job?
And what about two years later when, shortly after failing to procure a promotion following the arrival of new program director Ryan Maguire, he interrupted his mom during a phone conversation in the office bathroom to say loudly into the receiver, “I’m really excited to meet with you guys,” because Maguire had just walked in and, well, creating the illusion that he had options certainly couldn’t hurt? (The following Monday, Maguire informed Wright that he was being considered for a promotion to the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. spot, which he eventually received.)
Curious, too, isn’t it, how such a loose cannon never seems to clip the wrong targets? How, in an industry in which nearly everyone has been fired at least once, he has managed to avoid the guillotine? Not only avoid it, but continued to advance up the 610 hierarchy at a startling pace — from weekends to nights to mornings, to his current spot in the afternoon drive, the station’s most prominent time slot?
So maybe there’s something to this moxie, if that’s what you want to call it. Maybe, despite his boorish demeanor and the seemingly reckless manner in which he slings his arrows, there is, in fact, a method to it all.
Maybe Nick Wright knows exactly what he’s doing.
Or maybe not, because if he did, surely he’d realize that he’s spiraling straight toward burnout.
One thing it’s important to note about Wright is that he does not view Kansas City as a final destination. He is happy enough to be here now, wants to be clear about that, but he decided 15 years ago that he was going to be the best sports-talk host in the country, and somewhere between then and now, he arrived at the conclusion that anything short of national prominence will be failure.
Perfection, then, is the goal, and the pursuit of it brings about a constant state of uneasiness — a daily battle that plays itself out inside his head: Am I working hard enough? Preparing hard enough? Am I cheating myself? My family?
He dreads the feeling that comes after a bad show, when he leaves the studio disgusted and heads home unable to shake the thought that sometimes eats at him after Byrd and her two kids — Diorra, age 5, and Damonza, 12 — have gone to bed and it’s just him and his laptop. The one that chips, however slightly, into his generous reserve of self-confidence: Maybe you’re a fraud.
So he works obsessively to avoid it. That means packing 13 hours of work into every day — eight at the office, a short break to make dinner for himself and the kids, and then another four to six planning out the next day’s show from home. It means spending three and a half hours on Saturday afternoons responding to every e-mail and Facebook message he has received that week, because he said when he started in radio that he’d always respond, and he can’t give listeners a reason to stop listening.
It means a total of three sick days in the past four years, because perfection doesn’t wait for the flu or a sinus infection, and it means never putting down his cellphone — in restaurants, on dates, in the bathroom — because the thought that someone might be outworking him is too much to bear.
And it means doing all of this while also trying to navigate the scores of potential roadblocks that pop up along the way: pressure to produce, complacency, the critics and bloggers waiting to provide daily deconstructions of his various missteps and on-air shortcomings.
Can a 26-year-old handle it? Can anyone?
All of it is enough to make a mother worry, and Lauren Wright, Nick’s mom, says she does.
“The truth is, the whole business … everyday, you’re on trial. And my concern always is that he’s my baby — he’ll have his feelings hurt, or he won’t achieve what he wants.
“I believe in him,” she says, “but it’s a fickle world out there.”
Already, there have been troubling signs. Between October 2007 and December 2009, Wright lost — by his estimation — $65,000 as a result of poker, blackjack and bad sports bets, blowing through the $50,000 he won as a contestant on a 2007 episode of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and ending up in gambling therapy. He started smoking in college at least in part because he thought it would make his voice more radio-friendly and hasn’t been able to stop since. Byrd calls him the smartest person she has ever met, but she has also gotten used to waking up in the middle of the night to find him staring at the ceiling, wide awake.
“He’s always (thinking), I need to go higher; I need to go higher,” she says.
The plan is to beat Kietzman and Kansas City and, eventually, Rome and Colin Cowherd,
But how do you beat sports-talk royalty when you’re losing the battle with yourself?
But he’s not losing that battle. Not in his eyes.
That anxiety — the same thing that prevents him from ever relaxing, that at times threatens to sabotage an otherwise promising career — it’s the same thing he describes, in the very next breath, as his “edge.” It’s why he refuses to take Prozac or any other kind of anti-anxiety medication, even though he admits it would almost certainly help calm him down.
“It needs to be there,” he says. “I need that anxiety around my job, because if I didn’t have it, it would be very easy for me to say, ‘I’m 26, I’m in Kansas City, this is where I’m from, I like it here, I make — especially given my age — pretty damn good money, I got an absolutely beautiful, wonderful girlfriend who wants to marry me. Fuck it, let me chill out and fucking get high every night.’?”
So he embraces the uneasiness. Cultivates it. It’s that anxiety, he insists, that will get him where he needs to go.
It’s the same thing, after all, that propelled his father, Louie, a man who grew up in a rough pocket of Kansas City, through Harvard graduate school and UMKC law school and into his current job as president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42, a heavyweight in Kansas City’s political scene. The same thing that allowed his mother, who holds degrees from Johns Hopkins and Harvard, to elbow her way into the boys club of corporate America, rising as high as senior vice president international with Sprint (she now resides in New York). And what helped his sister, after a decorated high school career — “She got 13 varsity letters,” Wright says. “I only tell you that because she was not an athlete” — earn a bachelor’s degree from Boston College, a master’s from Fordham and acceptance into Columbia Law School, where she’s in her second year.
And it’s that anxiety that will power him.
What will snap him back to attention on those evenings he finds himself beginning an extra game of Madden or sitting down for an extra episode of “The Wire” — he allows himself one or the other per night — when he should be prepping for the next day’s show. What will keep him focused and help him fend off the complacency that threatens to set in as his popularity in Kansas City grows and more and more listeners recognize him at the gym or the bar, quick with a free drink and an ego-inflating compliment.
He decided long ago that he’ll do whatever it takes to be America’s best sports-talk host, and if that comes at the cost of certain luxuries — happiness, self-fulfillment, the ability to take satisfaction in a job well done — well, then, so be it.
He’s all in.
“The reason I’m so sure of myself is because it’s horrifying and terrifying not to be,” he says one night. “Because this is the only thing I’ve ever known. My career — and this is going to sound awful, but it’s honest — my career is my religion. It’s what I know.
“The only thing — the only thing — more important to me than being successful is the health and well-being of my family. And notice I said ‘health and well-being.’ I’m too much of a prick to even say happiness. Because, listen, I’d quit my job if it would save my mother’s, my father’s, my sister’s, my girlfriend’s, Diorra’s, Damonza’s lives. But I wouldn’t quit to make them happy. I couldn’t. This is me.
“And if I don’t get there, I don’t get there. But no one will be able to say it was for lack of effort or lack of trying or lack of drive.
“This is who I am, and that shit will pay off.”
Except it won’t pay off, can’t pay off, because the game Wright’s playing can’t be won.
Wright might be able develop a nice little following in Kansas City — maybe even chip slightly into 810’s sizable ratings gap — but he’s crazy if he thinks he’ll ever top Kevin Kietzman because, the truth is, Kietzman can’t be beaten. He’s too good, too polished, too much of a Kansas City staple to ever be supplanted. His reputation is too cemented, his following too loyal.
Kietzman likes to say that the beauty of his show is that there isn’t a demographic to which it doesn’t relate — black, white, young, old — and the numbers certainly seem to support that theory. Not once in the past decade has Kietzman’s show not been ranked among the top three afternoon shows in the city in its demographic, according to 810, and it’s almost always first or second.
The most recent Arbitron ratings, which include data from October, November and December, list “Between the Lines” as Kansas City’s most listened-to show from 2 to 6 p.m. on weekdays among males ages 25 to 54, the demographic to which sports-talk almost primarily caters.
“A professional” is how long-time Kansas City radio veteran Pete Enich, who makes a weekly appearance on Petro’s show, describes Kietzman.
“An astute radio person,” former 610 sports director Allan Davis says.
“One of the best I’ve ever seen,” adds 810 president Chad Boeger.
The list of those who’ve tried and failed to topple Kietzman is as long as it is diverse: A prominent sports columnist (Whitlock), a former Chiefs great (Bill Maas), a future television sports anchor (Neal Jones). And that doesn’t include the handful of nationally syndicated shows that have come up short as well. Of the previous six 610 sports-talk hosts used in the afternoon-drive slot, none still has his own show in Kansas City — making the chair opposite Kietzman, in some cases, a career death sentence.
And it’s not the firing squad — it’s the water-board.
Going head-to-head with Kietzman means coming to the gradual realization that the WHB brand — which includes a 30-or-so-person staff and a local sports-bar franchise — might be too entrenched to ever overcome. That smart and original content can make a difference in the ratings, but not a terribly significant one. That maybe, in the end, winning is about more than talent and devotion to craft.
“You can feel like you’ve done a month of the best radio you’ve done in your entire life, and Kietzman could have gone on golf vacation and mailed it in with barbecue fillers … and he still (gets the ratings),” says Hamblin, who spent just less than a year in 610’s afternoon-drive slot. “That’s part of the mental grind that wears people down.”
So, no, this will not end well for Wright. He can work and fight and push and prod, but the reality is that, when the dust settles, it will all have been for naught.
Beat Kevin Kietzman?
Fifteen years of history says it’s impossible.
Nothing’s impossible, which is why, maybe, in the end, Nick Wright can win.
Don Fortune is on the phone now, from his home in southwest Florida, and he’s talking about the good old days of sports-talk radio, back when it wasn’t all that rare for Norm Stewart or George Brett to pick up the phone and call in to the show. Fortune has been retired for seven years now, but the voice on the other end of the line is unmistakable — deep but gentle, the same one that helped shape the Kansas City sports discussion for more than 30 years.
Can Kevin Kietzman be beaten? you ask, and for a moment, Kansas City’s first king of sports-talk falls silent.
“Nobody’s unbeatable,” he says.
Funny, because for much of the 1990s, that’s exactly what Fortune was. As host of the four-hour afternoon show “Sportsline” on KMBZ, he was the best show in town, a former TV sports anchor who’d transitioned seamlessly to radio full time in ’93. He was old-school. Kind. Knowledgeable. Never once did he say on-air that a coach should be fired. He took pride in that. He loved Kansas City — that was obvious to anyone who listened — and the town loved him right back, making him the market’s most listened-to sports-talk radio host, a title so secure it seemed foolish to think it would ever be challenged so long as he remained behind a microphone.
“As much as you think Kietzman and WHB are insurmountable now,” Hall says, “triple that to what people thought of Fortune and 980.”
Across town, though, a group of local guys were putting together plans to launch the city’s first 24-hour sports station, and one of the personalities to which they’d tied their hopes was a young guy just starting out in radio. He was smart and brash, a local kid who’d attended Shawnee Mission North High School and Kansas State, and he figured that the best way to make a name for himself in radio was to make people notice.
Billboards rose across the city to promote the young guy’s show. “Lose a Fortune,” they read, urging listeners to turn away from the old guard and embrace the new one.
People noticed that.
In 1999, his second year on the job, he organized a massive walkout at Kauffman Stadium, convincing more than 3,000 fans to march out of the complex and across the George Brett Bridge to protest the disparity between large- and small-market teams — a stunt so outrageous that both The New York Times and USA Today devoted coverage to it.
People noticed that, too.
And before long, the young kid with the swagger and the anti-establishment proclivities had helped usher in a new brand of sports-talk radio in Kansas City, something unlike anything anyone had heard before. It was smart and it was edgy, and before anyone really knew what happened, there was a new king of sports-talk in Kansas City.
His name was Kevin Kietzman, and he hasn’t been beaten since.And now, almost a decade and a half later, he’s being chased by a kid who must be crazy if he thinks he can orchestrate a similar takeover.
Nick Wright is too young and too raw. He’s too lewd and too arrogant, and he does not have the resources or the mainstream appeal to take on the city. He cares too much, self-censors too little, and in the end, when the numbers have been tallied and the allegiances of Kansas City’s talk-radio listeners have been determined, he will join the rest of the poor souls who have tried to topple Kietzman only to fade gradually into anonymity, foreheads stamped with boot-prints.
Nick Wright can’t win.
- According to the most recent Arbitron ratings, which take into account October, November, and December, Sports Radio 810 was No. 1 in the market from 2 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, for men age 25-54 with a 10.7 share. 610 Sports Radio was No. 8 with a 5.5 share.