Monday, August 8, 2011

Brave New Brokered World for Radio Personalities

From Eric Deggan, St. Pete Times TV/Media Critic

St. Petersburg Times photo
Former Clear Channel radio personality Skip Mahaffey, left, and ex-local TV news sports anchor Al Keck chat recently in the studio at WTAN-AM 1340 in Clearwater.

Al Keck compares it to entering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers locker room after a stinging loss: not something he wanted to do, but something he had to do.

For Keck, once the top sports anchor at two local TV stations — WFTS-Ch. 28 (ABC Action News) and WTSP-Ch. 10 (10 News) — that's saying something. When he walked into the Fox Jazz Café in Tampa a few months ago, Keck wasn't reporting a story. He was selling something.


More precisely, he was selling The Al Keck Show, a radio broadcast focused on sports news that he was planning to host every Friday on WTAN-AM (1340).

Shows on WTAN work a little differently from those on commercial radio, where a big corporation owns the radio station, hires talent, sells the ads and makes most of the profit. WTAN offers what radio insiders call "brokered" radio programs, where anyone can buy airtime for a flat fee, go sell advertising and create the show.

Whatever profit they make goes in their pockets, but the workload — from gathering material to booking guests and, yes, selling commercial spots — usually falls on whoever is cutting the check.

Years ago, this kind of radio was the province of churches, Realtors and gadget peddlers; people with a little taste for showbiz who didn't mind promoting themselves directly to a small audience. But as large media outlets pare their staffs in challenging economic times, big names like Keck have been forced to reinvent themselves in places like WTAN.

"Quite honestly, I didn't really enjoy it; I'd much rather have somebody else out there selling Al Keck than me," said the sportscaster, who turned to brokered radio about two years after WFTS failed to renew his contract. Despite his trepidation, Keck left his meeting at the Fox Café with a title sponsorship that immediately put his fledgling show in the black.

"I'm finding people will buy in to a vision if they know you and trust you," he added. "I know I'm not on the biggest radio station on Earth, but I've got a known name and a voice that's pushing a great product. To an average consumer, you're no different" than a traditional radio anchor.

Keck's show airs weekly on WTAN at 3 p.m. Fridays. Two other names from the area's radio scene — onetime SportsChix member Brenda Lee (a.k.a. B.L.) and former Clear Channel Radio star Skip Mahaffey — bracket him at 2 and 4 p.m.

Like Keck, B.L. and Mahaffey lost traditional media jobs awhile ago and are using brokered radio to capitalize on a personal brand that still draws some fans.
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