This past March when Kevin “Whitey” Gleason and Mark Kreidler, along with their partner, Dan Dibley – collectively known in sports-talk radio as the Rise Guys – were let go by The Game (KGMZ, 95.7 FM) in San Francisco, they were stunned. Sure, in the tumultuous and often mysterious world of radio, anything seems possible. Firings are common, re-hirings routine, and re-invention a survival requirement for stations as well as their personalities.
The two were briefly on the street wondering what happened, but all that changed two weeks ago when ESPN 1320 (KCTC AM) in Sacramento announced it had hired Gleason and Kreidler – for an afternoon show still called “The Rise Guys,” which debuts Monday in the 2-6 p.m. slot. The pair now work for the same company, Entercom, that fired them in the spring.
It was almost three years ago exactly that Gleason and Kreidler bolted from their comfy, successful morning perch at KHTK (1140 AM) in Sacramento for the greener pasture of the San Francisco gig, where they dove headfirst into Bay Area sports mania. It was hard to fault them for the change of venue.
“We had an incredible opportunity to go to a larger market in San Francisco, which was a good career move,” Gleason said recently, sitting in a conference room at his new station’s Old Foothill Farms studios.
The Game, using the Rise Guys, aimed to take a bigger slice of the morning-sports-talk-market pie from KNBR (680 AM), which dominates the San Francisco market. It did not. Which is not the same as saying Gleason and Kreidler didn’t do a solid show, because by all accounts, they did.
Funny, smart and fast-moving, with Gleason’s deft radio experience and Kreidler’s literate commentary, they moved from Sacramento’s mid-market gentility to the more fierce, cut-throat competition of the fourth-largest media market in the country.
Rich Lieberman, of the 415 Media Blog covering radio and television in the Bay Area, was a Rise Guys fan. “It was a cool show and interesting show,” Lieberman said. “I thought it was an adult show. They relied less on gimmicks and sound effects and more on good, relevant, concise conversation and talk, and that may have been its undoing. I thought Entercom really made a big mistake pulling it when they did.”
Jason Barrett, the station manager who hired the Rise Guys at The Game, was also the person who let them go. When asked about Gleason and Kreidler leaving the station, and eventually turning up in Sacramento, Barrett responded in an email: “They’re two great guys who I really enjoyed working with, and I’m sure they’re going to do very well for ESPN 1320.”
“I am not sure what particular forces were at work when he made the decision in March,” Kreidler said in an email. “We had a great working relationship with him, and we were really encouraged by the audience we were building in S.F.”
Though Nielsen ratings are proprietary, and most are not publicly disclosed, The Bay Area Sports Guy industry newsletter reported that in February, when the Rise Guys were still at The Game, their Nielsen “reach” – or estimated number of people hearing the program – was 206,900, compared to KNBR’s 504,900. In March, The Game’s reach was 217,900, compared to KNBR’s 605,900.
With only slight variances, those numbers were the same for the Rise Guys in February and March 2013. And the station’s reach during that slot hasn’t changed in the months since Kreidler and Gleason departed. In other words, neither they nor anyone else has dented KNBR’s sports dominance in the Bay Area.
Kreidler and Gleason became a team in 2009 when Kreidler joined Gleason’s enduring Rise Guys franchise, which then also included Mark Lowe, known as the “Phantom.” Lowe didn’t take the San Francisco excursion. Kreidler had been an acclaimed Sacramento Bee sports columnist and frequent guest of the show. Gleason felt he and Kreidler complemented each other on the air, and the partnership has been a strong one.
“You have roles on a show,” Gleason said. “What Mark brings is the knowledge and journalistic integrity that help route us. You’ve got to have fun, but if you don’t know what you’re talking about, nobody cares how much fun you’re having,” Gleason said.
A Baseball Hall Of Fame voter, Kreidler has covered multiple World Series, the Olympics and numerous Super Bowls, so he knows big-time sports well. Kreidler has also written three well-received nonfiction books, including “Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland” and “The Voodoo Wave: Inside a Season of Triumph and Tumult at Maverick’s.”
Gleason is a radio veteran whose Rise Guys show had aired on KHTK for 12 years. He has more than 30 years in radio, moving into sports talk in 1999. He said going to KMGZ “did not work out ideally” but “I would do it again in a heartbeat. I think our show for having been in San Francisco is a better show than it was.”
Kreidler said they became much stronger at focusing on various elements of their broadcasts.
“I became much better at asking basic questions like ‘Who’s this segment directed toward? Why would we be talking about this thing? Why we would we have this guest?’ ” he said.
Expectations were high to begin with in San Francisco, but Kreidler and Gleason thought they were doing pretty well and hitting their stride before the plug was pulled.
“The way things played out, you don’t walk away feeling like a champion,” Kreidler said. “But the last four months or so were the best four months we ever had, so we felt things were headed in a good direction.”
Both note that they couldn’t have chosen a better time to come back to Sacramento and talk sports. If it was a golden era when the Kings were playoff locks and legitimate title contenders, then current times are significantly richer in quantity if not quality. The A’s look like championship material and the Giants have reasonable post-season aspirations. Soccer has hit Sacramento hard with Republic FC, and the River Cats continue as a national model for running a minor-league sports franchise.
“This is becoming such a more sophisticated sports market,” Kreidler said. “It’s been coming on for awhile, but you really see it the last couple of years.”
And you better be ready for some football, because when the NFL takes the field, it dominates the conversation. The Rise Guys’ rollout Monday is designed to have them in play for the 49ers exhibition schedule and the September debut of Levi’s Stadium. Their new home, ESPN 1320, airs 49er games, so football will definitely be a focus, although sports talk isn’t as clearly defined as it once was.
“The more successful shows are the ones that are able to weave in elements of pop culture,” Gleason said. “People love reality shows, and more and more people are realizing that sports is the ultimate reality show.”
The homecoming has been auspiciously calm and welcoming for the pair so far. Kreidler never left his longtime Davis home, so his commute has relaxed. Gleason, who was renting in Pacifica, will move back into his Sacramento home this fall.
Their return does place them opposite former colleague Grant Napear at their old radio home, KHTK. Napear, the television voice of the Sacramento Kings, has long hosted his own weekday afternoon sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. Napear said he was unconcerned by the re-emergence of the Rise Guys on his turf.
“This might surprise you, but I don’t really have an opinion on it,” Napear said. He observed, as Gleason and Kreidler also noted, that the competition comes from whoever else is on the air at that time – anywhere.
“I don’t prepare for my show based on what anybody else in the stratosphere is doing with their radio waves,” Napear said. “I just prepare my show, and I’ve been doing it for 20 years the same way.”
Gleason and Kreidler plan on being as current as possible, monitoring trending topics as well as understanding their sports entertainment show may not always be just fun and games. They believe the best shows are personal and resonate from topics they and the listeners are truly passionate about.
While their name doesn’t make as much sense now that they’ll be on in the afternoon, Gleason said the 1320 management feels it still has cachet in town.
Kreidler matter-of-factly observed that radio is a “weird business.” He said he and Gleason feel lucky to be back in Sacramento.
“I know an awful lot of people who had a great radio adventure, but they’re not in radio anymore,” Kreidler said.
“We’ve been able to have a great radio adventure, learn from it, get better and keep moving.”