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.