BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 03/21/2018

Thiel: KJR shuffle brings back Gas, for awhile

A changed lineup at sports radio KJR includes Mike Gastineau, returning for a three-month stint as the station rallies after the departure of Mitch Levy.

Mike Gastineau (blue jacket) has been a big part of KJR’s community presence. He regularly hosted the station’s annual fundraiser, here with rocker and sports fan Duff McKagan, former Mariners general manager Jack Zduriecik and former KJR air host Elise Woodward.

Five and a half years gone from the daily business of sports talk radio, Mike Gastineau had a little apprehension about his three-month return Monday to the broadcast air of 950 KJR-AM. He’s going to team with Jason Puckett from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. as part of a major makeover of the lineup for Seattle’s longest-tenured sports format outlet.

“About the third day in, Puck will make mention of of a name I hadn’t heard,” he said. “I’ll say, ‘Who’s that?’ He’ll tell me he played 13 games for the Seahawks last year.

“It’s those kind of things I haven’t had to pay attention to.”

Ironically, the timing turns out well for Gastineau. Any such slip is likely to be unnoticed because no one else in town will know who’s playing for the Seahawks, either.

The remake of both outfits is coincidental, but similarly abrupt after some losses.

KJR has been planning changes for awhile following the forced departure of popular morning host Mitch Levy, who in August was one of 110 men arrested in a sting by the King County sheriff’s office in Bellevue after soliciting sex from undercover deputies.

Levy entered an Alford plea in October to a misdemeanor charge of solicitation. He served no jail time but is on 24 months probation that also included payment of court costs and a series of conditions.

He tweeted out an apology to colleagues and his considerable audience built over 23 years in Seattle, saying, “Some day I hope that you’ll allow me the opportunity to earn back your trust and respect.”

The loss of Levy’s acerbic banter and dogged interviews was an emotional and psychological blow for the station. Already trailing in the ratings behind the market’s other sports-talk outlet, ESPN 710 — flagship station for the Seahawks and Mariners — KJR was also hampered by its corporate owner, iHeart Media, the nation’s largest radio operator that was $20 billion in debt, even though insiders say KJR was operationally profitable.

However, the San Antonio-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday, reaching agreement with its creditors to shed more than $10 billion in debt. And Wednesday, KJR rolled out a new lineup that included adding talent instead of shedding salaries.

Chuck Powell moves from the mid-morning slot he shared with Puckett to take over Levy’s 6 a.m. start to the day. He’ll be joined by Bucky Jacobsen, a burly first baseman who had 42 games with the 2004 Mariners before injuries ended his MLB career. He’s been a regular on KJR’s post-game shows.

After Gastineau and Puckett, Ian Furness will continue to fly solo from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and Dave Mahler in afternoon drive will be joined by Dick Fain, Levy’s former sidekick who was bumped temporarily into the big morning chair.

“I couldn’t be more excited for this new era at Sports Radio 950 KJR,” Rich Moore, senior vice president for programming, said in a statement. ” We just got bigger and stronger today. We added depth for compelling sports talk, knowledge, and aligned our strong personalities to be Seattle’s strongest local sports talk station.”

In another move considered an uptick in fortunes, KJR agreed to become the flagship for the Seattle Sounders, leaving KIRO-FM 97.3, owned by Bonneville, which also has ESPN 710. The Sounders were a deep third in that house, and hope to grow their audience among the more open-minded sports fans who grew up on the traditional big U.S. sports.

Gastineau’s return is short-term by mutual choice. KJR has plans to introduce a permanent host in early July, but is keeping his identity a mystery (said Gastineau: “You’ll know his name”). And Gastineau didn’t want to get back into the daily grind.

When he left in 2012, he and Moore talked about occasional fill-ins for vacationing hosts. Gastineau did a Sounders post-game show on KJR for a year, after writing his first solo book, “Authentic Masterpiece,” about the hugely successful startup of the Sounders.

For now, with another book project in the making, he is happy to go along for a shorter ride, and doesn’t need to run the show.

“Puck has his hands on the handlebars,” he said. “I’m in the sidecar, waving my hands and sticking my tongue out.”

Just as Ichiro is doing with the Mariners. Back to the 2001 future.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    KJR was at its best when they started the day with Mitch and ended it with David Locke and Elise Woodward. I also enjoyed when Elise teamed with Steve Kelley. They used to talk some great NBA gossip. I never knew the Sonics couldn’t stand Marko Jaric and that Brent Barry would do long distance practical jokes on him until I listened to them.

    Gas always has a great insight on the local pro sports scene. I miss the Groz and Gas voice mails. One call would do an excellent impression of ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian and another would outright mock Clay Bennett regularly as his cousin Clem. That’s something that needs to return. KJR has developed some great talent over the years ( remember the Fabulous Sports Babe?) and with the Sounders jumping over to them for their broadcasts they should be getting a stronger foothold in the ratings.

    • Effzee

      Locke and Woodward were outstanding. I miss having live local sports talk to listen to in the evening.

      • jafabian

        David used to have his own column for the P-I and once he did a complete breakdown on how Ray Allen was the most offensively efficient player in the game. Never saw anyone analyze a player like that before and he backed it up with so many facts you couldn’t dispute him.

    • Kirkland

      Ah, the “Voice Mails”. My favorites were a stoner Tim Lincecum, a high-strung German professor/inventor, and New Jersey Devils goalie “Martin Brodeur”, who had a thicker Quebecois accent than New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. Closest thing current KJR has to them is Softy’s “Textimonials”, listener texts read by a word-to-voice program.

      • bugzapper

        Martin Brodeur — aka Billy Mac!

  • David Michel

    I pretty much quit listening to Mitch when they canned Steve Sandmeyer. I occasionally listen to Softy, because he talks Huskies more than the others, and I like it when Petros is on there.

    • Effzee

      Sandmeyer was great. He was the first (and perhaps only) local radio person willing to not butt-kiss Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong. He represented the true born-and-bred Seattle sports fan. Whereas Softy is a wacky radio persona, Sandy was just a real dude speaking for the masses.

    • jafabian

      I thought Sandy left to do the morning show for KING 1090. They later canned him because they decided to just tap into a national sports broadcast for their show.

      • Effzee

        I’m pretty sure KJR canned him first.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Losing Locke and Woodward was really unfortunate. Softy still provides as much spice as ever. Powell has good baseball insight. Actually, I just flip between the three channels to avoid commercials though more and more you find all three airing ads at the same time. Ugh! One of them should deliberately leave the top and bottom of hour ad placements. They would pick up audience as a result.

    • Effzee

      Powell doesn’t do anything for me. I’ll be mostly on KIRO from now on even though Huard is a total effing godhead and Groz is the biggest blowhard I’ve ever seen. I’ll never get past complaining on Groz w Gas that the NBA refs were crooked and fixing games, only to have Groz arrogantly blurt “You’re not seeing what you think you’re seeing!” Yes, Groz. Yes, I was. You are the one not seeing what we all are seeing, you no-insight-having blob. :p

      • Kirkland

        I’m the opposite, I avoid KIRO except for games. Except for a few, all of their hosts rub me the wrong way, for too many different reasons. I also recall the summer of 2015, when there were many interesting storylines in Seattle sports, and all they would talk about was a possible extension of Russell Wilson’s contract (which wouldn’t have expired until after 2016).

    • Kirkland

      One thing that puzzled me about Sandmeyer. He banned all “Deflategate” talk in the Super Bowl 49 leadup, because he wanted to focus on the game. However, that then-breaking story was the huge focus with the entire media, and not just sports fans. I get his point, but wouldn’t that stance have killed his ratings, since sports fans (including Seahawks fans) wanted to talk about it?

  • Alan Harrison

    So let me get this straight. Chucky and Bucky in the Morning? Sounds like a “Morning Zoo” format. Then Gas-for-now and Jason (missing the obvious Gas ‘n’ the Furness gag), and at the end, using Mr. Mahler’s own words on the air (not kidding), “Soft/Dick”. Unless someone is leaving KIRO for KJR (hence the 3 month wait) or a national athlete or announcer (Kevin Harlan?) is leaving or has been let go from a post (newly-unemployed ESPN folks?), this is only a moderately interesting group, not much more than that. I agree that losing Elise Woodward was a major loss in so many ways. I’d advocate for you, Art, because of your talent, but it’s not a good job at not a good station. Honestly, I think the station could use a woman with talent, a POC with talent – someone who represents the non-white-guy crowd. It would be a teensy step toward positive differentiation.

    • Effzee

      I can’t tolerate Bucky. He sounds like a dolt on the air, desperately grasping for the nearest cliche.

      • jafabian

        I wish they could get Jeff Nelson.

    • Kirkland

      For being thrust into the fire after Levy’s dismissal, Fain was able to keep his and KJR’s heads above water reasonably well during the interim. I was never a fan of Levy; though he had good guests and dug hard in interviews, it took him forever to ask a question (five sentences when one would’ve worked).

      Powell, who I understand has a news-talk background, is probably the best of the remaining bunch at asking hard journalistic questions, like the day Chris Hansen suddenly announced SoDo would be all-private and Powell switched mid-show from sports jock to newsradio anchor interviewing those chasing the story.

      Never understood why Woodward was fired; ratings, sub-par on-air performance, or something behind the scenes? Softy is a passionate, love-him-or-hate-him presence, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Art’s a writer first and foremost; besides, he has enough trouble dealing with us knuckleheads in the comments sections, he shouldn’t put up with callers wanting Chris Petersen’s head after a two-game losing streak.

      A female and/or non-Caucasian as host? Jemelle Hill, late of ESPN, would’ve been a statement hire. As it is, I wonder if the new hire his a former Seahawk who has had a couple of guest-host duties, such as Walter Jones and Cliff Avril?

      • Alan Harrison

        Really good points, all the way through. My own sense of Dick Fain is that he’s just a guy; his voice and his takes are not terribly memorable, but he’ll never embarrass the station. I actually like Chuck Powell for the reasons you stated. He sounds like a pro’s pro. I’ve never liked Softy, by the way, because of all the vocal tics, by the way, that he relentlessly, by the way, subjects us to, by the way. The talent is not really any better on the Mormon sports channel, although I kinda get a kick out of Groz’ irascibility. Salk comes off sounding disgruntled, Huard is a nobody, Tom is abysmal, Bob Skelton is solid and does a tight, well-prepped job, the afternoon trio is awful as a combination, and if you think Softy’s tics make me crazy, you can only imagine the horror when I listen to John Clayton. That said, we’re fortunate that we have local choices. So many cities just don’t. As far as the mystery host goes, the longer we wait, the bigger that name had better be.

  • I’ve come to liken KJR vs. ESPN 710 akin to the P-I vs. The Times, back in the pre-1999 JOA days. I enjoy both for different reasons, but the heyday of Seattle sports talk seems to have been Groz with Gas. To me, that duo was akin to ‘SportsCenter’ with DP & KO. No one will do it better. (That said, I find Softy to be damn entertaining all by himself.) And not that anyone should really care, but in the caption, there’s a typo in Jack Z’s last name – it should be Zduriencik. As always, thank you for providing your witty and insightful coverage of sports in our corner of the world.

    • Kirkland

      “Groz With Gas” was the best sports talk show Seattle’s had. Besides great chemistry and fun set pieces, they had insightful takes backed up by clear intelligence. In fact, I would’ve liked to have seen them on a news talk station; they’d be a match for KIRO’s Ron and Don, and Groz’s leaning right and Gas’ leaning left would make for interesting discussions.

  • Bob1894

    UGGG Chuck stinks, I HATE his show and never heard of Blucky. Chuck is so annoying and his stupid game of Family Feud. I give them 9 months tops before they both are canned. Thank god for 710.

    • jafabian

      Bring back New York Vinnie and The Bear!!

  • Kirkland

    The loss of play-by-play rights have to be the big issue with KJR’s ratings issues. Losing the Sonics in 2007 to a conservative talk station was one thing (hmmn, what was team ownership thinking?), but losing the Huskies to KOMO was damaging. KJR certainly gave the Huskies much more attention than a news-talk station ever can, but did KOMO offer the UW more money? Or was it a stronger signal or less-divisive hosts than Softy?

    If the NHL does come here in a few years, I’m sure KJR will get the rights. The team will be the big fish in the station’s small rightsholder pond, Sounders notwithstanding. The next question will be is if the NBA arrives soon after. The Sonics and KJR had a long history, but will there be enough room for the two winter sports on the same station? Would scheduling conflicts end up on 1090, which would then affect the Thunderbirds and confuse new hockey fans?

  • bugzapper

    Gas and Groz were the two most knowledgeable hosts KJR ever had. That was a long time ago, and AFAIC “sportstalk” radio these days is patently awful. Buncha jocks who think we’re all hard of hearing, interspersed with relentless ads for guys who can’t get it up. What a waste of good transmitter space.

  • Husky73

    I stopped listening to KJR when Pat O’Day left.

  • cloey

    They are all pretty awful really. They young blood, and probably some women. Honestly, I’m not a crazed feminist but let’s get into the 21st-century people. I find almost every guy on KJR an arrogant ass. John Clayton is the best sports talk guy here.

  • Steed

    I never understood why anyone thought Mitch was a good interviewer. He really didn’t do interviews, it was more like a filibuster. Mitch would take up most of the time with a monologue, then ask the interview subject for his “take” on the speech Mitch just gave. He was awful.

    Gas, on the other hand, is a real nice guy, and a good interviewer.