3 months, 3 weeks ago Mike Moyers
The area's first locally produced sports talk show turns 40 on January 5th!
As ESPN radio spent January 4th slapping itself on the back celebrating the radio networks’ 25th anniversary, some of us remember a locally produced sports call-in show that appeared on the FM dial 40 years ago. It was called “Sports Rap”. And show number one came to life on January 5, 1977 on, of all places, 100,000 watt giant, KGRC.
“It was in December 1976 that the concept was given some real thought,” said the program’s founder, Mike Lawrence. “KGRC was going through an ownership change and was, in some respects, in turmoil, so we took a chance.”
Lawrence and his running mate, Jeff Myers, were the perfect guys for the program. Lawrence was a national sports trivia champion and Myers possessed an eidetic memory. Those attributes, in combination with Lawrence’s ability to sell ice to Eskimos and Myers’ talent for entertaining, put the duo in a good place. Now, if they could just get the show on the air.
“We wanted to come up with a program that was unique to any Rock and Roll station that ever existed and we were stopped at every turn by management,” Lawrence continued. “We were given impasses in terms like “you can’t do this on this radio station-no way!”
After conferring with Myers, Lawrence took it upon himself to present station management with an offer they couldn’t refuse; signed advertising contracts for the new sports talk show.
“I just went out and sold it so that nobody could say no,” Lawrence laughed. “So, I sold all of the advertising and then went back to the owners and said, well here are the contracts. Do you want to have a program or not? Once they figured out they couldn’t make any more money just playing music we were able to get a slot on Wednesday morning. And that’s how it started on January 5, 1977.”
Thanks to the show’s popularity, the one morning slot per week (7:15a-9a) convinced management that this “Sports Rap” thing had some legs. Show number one opened some eyes, some ears and some ad budgets in the area.
“We had 126 calls on our first day,” Lawrence explained. “Most of the calls were curious young people asking, what is this show? But there was good, intelligent sports conversation in the middle of it all. A new generation was introduced to sports talk that had never really heard it before. We continued to do it in the morning for about 6 months before we were able to weasel a time slot in the evening which is what we really wanted. Everyone agreed that this show was better served in the evening so we went on from 5 to 7pm on June 13th, 1977 and we were on twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays.“
The new time slot generated more revenue for the station and provided the local sports fan with a source for sports news, trivia contests, and the ability to call and weigh in on sports topics both local and national. And with KGRC covering over 20 counties in Illinois and Missouri combined, the audience was large and sometimes loud.
“The credibility grew,” said Lawrence. “And the sports figures in and around Quincy appreciated us, and granted us interviews. Later I branched out and started doing national interviews with a lot of celebrities. As time went by we had interviews with people like Ronald Reagan, and others of high substance. Because back then they weren’t hounded for interviews like they are today.”
The show continued to grow and by mid-year 1978 Sportsrap was at full force, airing Monday through Friday from 5p-7pm. It remained in that slot until August 1982 when Myers and Lawrence took their talent and Sports Rap to AM 930 WTAD where it remained until the late 80’s. Myers and Lawrence later moved to Elgin, Illinois and kept Sports Rap on the air until late 1993.
“I was the product of KMOX radio,” Lawrence reminisced. “I really enjoyed listening to Bill Wilkerson, Bob Broeg and Bob Burns, and then Bob Costas came along and I really got excited about that type of programming. It just gave me the fever to want to have a sports talk show. Jeff (Myers) wanted to have a program that was new and unique and it was Jeff who came up with the name Sports Rap.”
The move to WTAD in 1982 put Sports Rap on the oldest radio station in the area, a St. Louis Cardinal affiliate and what was to become the first all-talk station in the Quincy/Hannibal market.
“It was a great opportunity because now, all of a sudden, we have a radio station that has incredible history and, at that point, 60 years of credibility in that market. And, my goodness, you couldn’t ask to go from a new FM-and in that era hardly anyone HAD an FM radio-and all of a sudden we’re on the most respected AM station in the market. With that move came cross promotion on KHQA TV, Channel 7, which we had never had before. So we had that, and a built in audience of sports fans from the play-by-play that had been done over the years on WTAD, and to some extent, on WQCY. So, I embraced the change.”
So, before there was Mike & Mike, there was Mike and Jeff—some 15 years ahead of the game. And our little group of radio stations here at 329 Maine is more than proud to point that out.
Mike Lawrence now resides in Las Vegas, Nevada and is the owner of Internet-Highway.com. Jeff Myers is lead anchor and reporter for Elgin Today. He’s been providing play by play for WRMN for years and was recently inducted into the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame.