Commotion At Broadcast Park, A WNIR Decision?

The first of our items this week concerns the most active place media-wise in the OMW Coverage Area…the installation known as “Broadcast Park”, the home of Media-Com talk WNIR/100.1 “The Talk of Akron” on Ohio 59 between Kent and Ravenna.

We have to get this up early Monday, because it appears likely a major announcement will take place on the station later this morning.

We were prepared to tell you that former WMMS/100.7 “Buzzard Morning Zoo”/”Jeff and Flash” co-host Jeff Kinzbach was readying to take the 10 AM-3 PM slot on WNIR, becoming the successor to the late Howie Chizek.

What we can tell you now is…that Kinzbach will NOT be taking that position.

No, all signs are pointing to an announcement that the successor to the nearly 40 year WNIR midday fixture (pictured at left), who ruled the Akron radio roost for much of that time, will be…one of his long-time regular callers.

Word spread around the local radio community at about the same time that the Akron Beacon Journal posted this item on Ohio.com late Friday:

John “Couch Burner” Denning will take over Howie Chizek’s spot on WNIR (100.1-FM), multiple sources said Friday.

This, despite the fact that both the station and Kinzbach had previously announced he would be the second auditioner to handle a full week in the 10-3 slot starting today.

Denning, of course, was the first to do so.

Judging from a Facebook status update later pulled by Kinzbach, the relationship between the radio station and the former WMMS host fell apart, and fast.

We won’t repeat the full update here, as it has been pulled.

But most of our readers have already seen it, judging from our E-mail and message board posts, so we’ll distill it in this item.

Kinzbach posted that he’d heard a station promo for his week-long audition stint had been pulled, and that “someone had been hired”.

After not hearing from WNIR officials, and playing some phone tag with the station, Kinzbach posted that he was eventually told that was indeed the case, and that he was told that “they have hired a guy who was a frequent caller to the station.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the successor to a man who owned Akron midday radio ratings for nearly 40 years…is going to be a man who until Howie’s death was only known to listeners as “Couch Burner”.

The Ohio.com blurb linked above actually gives some background on John Denning.

He’s a former banker and University of Akron graduate who apparently got the nickname from starting the practice of burning couches at UA. No, really.

What he isn’t is a even a moderately experienced radio personality, unless you count 25 years of short calls on the other end of a phone line from Howie Chizek.

We heard brief snippets of Denning’s auditions.

He acquitted himself well – for a caller with no radio experience. We thought he needed some more depth, and needed to laugh out loud less often, but that was only a first impression.

What leads one of Akron’s top rated radio stations to hire a regular caller to replace its most iconic host after his death?

Our take: lowered expectations.

Whomever would take over WNIR’s 10 AM-3 PM shift, he or she would not likely ever come close to Howie Chizek’s dizzying success…and that applies to Denning, Kinzbach or any of the other auditioners.

It even applies to veterans like Bill Hall, the WAPS/91.3 “The Summit” host and former WNIR fill-in who returned to his former station temporarily for the same role…as vacations and the illness of evening host Tom Erickson (more on that topic later) stretched regular fill-ins Bob Earley and Jim Isabella into beyond full-time roles.

For their part, Earley repeatedly told listeners that he wasn’t interested in the 10-3 slot, and Isabella said he was interested.

We once called them “the safe choices” if the station wanted to serve its current listeners with familiar voices.

But…”Couch Burner?”

If you’re the Klaus brothers, and you realize that Howie is gone for good…and no one will come close to his dominance…why make a “big move” to replace him?

Maybe there’s a money part to the decision, but we suspect it’s more in the “You Can’t Replace Howie, Literally” file.

John Denning is by far not the first radio caller to end up as a host, even in Northeast Ohio radio.

But Clear Channel talk WTAM/1100 Cleveland afternoon drive host Mike Trivisonno didn’t head directly from his time as the caller known as “Mr. Know-It-All” on Pete Franklin’s old 3WE “Sportsline” show to succeed Franklin on the station now known as WTAM.

Triv was hired (by Norman Wain, if we recall correctly) to read morning sports on the last WNCX/98.5 morning show before Howard Stern showed up. While in the building, he also did sports talk on then-co-owned WERE/1300.

(Today, WNCX/98.5 is a CBS Radio-owned classic rocker, and WERE is now on 1490 AM as a brokered talk station under Radio One, with 1300 now carrying gospel as WJMO.)

Triv then moved to Franklin’s old “Sportsline” shift on WTAM in evenings, and then was moved to afternoon drive, and finally, 1100 AM found its solution in that long-chaotic time slot. The rest is Triv History.

Is that the kind of path ahead of John Denning, as he prepares to host six days a week (don’t forget Klaben remotes on Saturdays!) in the time slot long occupied by his favorite host? (NOTE: We don’t know if Denning will pick up the Klaben remotes.)

We don’t see it, but we could be wrong.

We mentioned that the station’s full-time local schedule was thinned…by the death of Howie, a vacation for afternoon driver Bob Golic, and illness suffered by 7-11 PM host Tom Erickson.

We’ve heard Earley mention that they were not expecting Tom back for months, and that the WNIR evening talker had “an infection”, but we found out just how bad Erickson’s condition was in an item by Akron Beacon Journal pop culture writer Rich Heldenfels:

According to Erickson’s daughter Heather Nagel, he has mainly been fighting the effects of a nasty case of peritonitis, an infection which has ruined his stomach and spread into the rest of his body. He has been hospitalized for months, Nagel says, and cannot eat or drink. Surgery is planned, but it could well be another three to six months before he gets back to work.

Since he hasn’t worked for some time, Erickson’s family says he isn’t getting paid, and has exhausted sick time and vacation time, and needs help paying medical bills.

To that end, a fundraiser is planned for this coming weekend, quoting a notice posted on Erickson’s website by his family:

On Sunday August 19th, from 5-8pm at Ripper Owens Tap House, we will support Tom by holding a fundraiser with 10% of ALL sales being donated and complete with an awesome raffle of prizes with tickets only $1 each or 6 for $5, a 50/50 raffle, a money machine, and….a two set performance by HUMAN NATURE!!!

Ripper Owens Tap House is on Waterloo Road in Akron.

A list of the raffle items so far, including some celebrity swag you’d expect from a radio host, is on the site…as is a link to donate to Tom’s cause via PayPal, and an address to send him get well cards.

And we suspect that if he has a laptop in the hospital and is able to use it, Tom is probably reading this. Our sincere best wishes to you, Tom, for a smooth, prompt recovery.

We are aware of other local media personalities who have gone through similar health crises, and who are going through those medical problems even now.

We stand at the ready to help them, as best we can…

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17 Responses to Commotion At Broadcast Park, A WNIR Decision?

  1. Yekimi says:

    That strange rumbling sound coming from somewhere in NE Ohio is not an earthquake; it’s probably Howie spinning in his grave.

    • N Thompson says:

      It’s easy, I’m turning it off after all these years. the station now has – between the morning shows almost absurd foolishness and the Couch Burner’s Three Stooges effect – become a day long headache to listen to. The King is dead and so is WNIR. RIP

  2. Mark in Atlanta, GA says:

    Big gamble and really big mistake on the part of the Klaus brothers to install someone with 6 days of radio hosting experience. Then again, just about all hosts who replaced a popular and legendary host generally fail.

    Proof? When Sean Hannity left WGST/Atlanta for Fox News in 1996, his replacement, Ian Punnett failed in 2 time slots all in a matter of 9 months. When Howard Stern left for Sirius/XM, David Lee Roth, Adam Carolla and the other replacements all failed in gaining and sustaining listeners.

    Though Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern make it look easy, hosting a talk show is not easy. Just look at Whoopi Goldberg’s attempt at a morning show. Actor Alec Baldwin tried it too and now he’s reduced to doing commercials for a credit card.

    The most baffling part of all this is the unprofessional way the Klaus brothers acted in not communicating with Jeff Kinzbach. For a couple of broadcast “professionals” in their 60′s, the Kaisers’ actions were more like immature teenagers. The late Richard Klaus was definitely the brains of the operation at Media-Com. WAKR and WHLO are chomping at the bit.

    Bob Golic would have been a better choice in the 10 to 3 timeslot.

    Couch Burner? Good luck buddy as listeners will tire of your schtick.

  3. Gail Wehling says:

    Not so sure about “Couch Burner”. Can bet he was cheaper to hire and that is all I will say except for poor Tom. What a sad tale. It should tell each and everyone of us that we are vulnerable also so thank God for every day of good health you are give. I pray that Tom will get well.

  4. Mark in Atlanta, GA says:

    After about 45 minutes of um and uh, I switched to another station. Either the Klaus’ are playing a big joke by having this guy do the show for a couple of weeks before announcing the real host, or as stated above, they have lowered their expectations on the future performance of the station.

    I also noticed on the WNIR web page that Maggie now gets second billing on the Morning Show. In the past it was Stan, Steve, Maggie and Phil. I checked Archive,org to verify my findings.

  5. Teri says:

    You have the guy marked as a loser before he even gets a chance! I listened to auditions for Howie’s replacement. Kinzbach was good but did not catch my ear and make me want to know what he would say next. I am an old WMMS fan from the Morning Show and I like Jeff Kinzbach but not for talk show host. Couch Burner has been around for years, calling the station and actively participating in local functions and fundraisers. Loyal WNIR listeners know and like Couch Burner and I say “Give the man a chance people!” Try a little positivity……

  6. Egregious Bob says:

    Do you suppose Tom Erickson has different feelings today about our need for a nationalized health care program? If ObamaCare, the program he lambasted for months, were in full effect today, Tom wouldn’t need a fundraiser.

  7. Mark says:

    I’m already getting used to Glen Beck in the 10 to 3 slot on a nother station. I don’t mean any harm to John Denning, but he is very hard to listen to. He “sniffs” constantly, on air like he has terminal sniffles. That’s just a personal peeve. Its annoying and unprofessional, but then John is not a trained professional so I give him that, but I can’t listen to it. I hope he is able to morph into a good on air talent, but he is already taking one liners from other established personalities, i.e., “What say you?” “Bring your A game.” (its another thing that is too overused and caused me to stop listening) and his over use of Howie’s one liners. DON’T! Develop your own on air personality or walk away. I don’t want some discount, cheap imitation Howie…I want a fresh and original professional to listen to. But, that’s just me. I know that I’m asking way too much. These days eveything is made of cheap, easily disposable products…dammit!

  8. steve says:

    I am not a big talk radio fan as I find most shows pendantic, preachy and boring, but this buzz made me listen to WNIR this week and I found “Couch Burner” different and rather entertaining. Maybe that’s the strategy, to attract a different audience than their traditional shows.
    A bold move and one that wouldn’t be made by a corporate chain to be sure.
    Isn’t that what many radio fans complain about? Stale, safe, retread program choices made by the big chains? So here’s a locally owned station taking a chance, the kind of risk that hearkens back to what some call “the good old days” of radio.
    And, if it fails, press “reset” and try again.
    At least it has provided radio fans something to talk about!

  9. Once more, cheapness wins the day at that dumpster-diving radio station.
    WNIR=toast.

  10. I’m guessing the guy promised to use his cell phone to do the station’s Saturday remotes to save the cost of string and tin cans they’ve been using for 70 years.

  11. BTW, is that 12 watt TV station of theirs that can now only be seen on 1952 DuMont sets and shows public domain (no cost) shows.still functioning or did the coal fired generator finally give out?

  12. Andrea Loushine says:

    Please tell me this is not permanent. I have already
    changed stations. What a shame and BIG MISTAKE!!!

  13. tara says:

    Ugh this is so horrible.

    next they’ll start syndicating from the AP and we won’t even have local coverage

  14. Don Kramer says:

    couch quit trying to copy Howie<you need to have your own style< get with it or step down

  15. RebeccA says:

    I am thrilled that Couchburner got the job. I was unable to tolerate the station after Howie’s passing but have always found Couchburner to be intelligent, funny, and witty. Good pick WNIR and good luck to Couch. I think Howie would be pleased with the choice as well.

  16. Vannessa Levert says:

    Open audition huh? looks like to me if you are not a white , male, Obama basher…you don’t get to work here!

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