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Big staff changes at WHB Grunhard, Maas, Whitlock leaving WHB for Entercom

June 19, 2003

All-sports radio station WHB suffered a stunning blow Wednesday night when the majority of its big-name talent reached an agreement with its foremost rival.

In one of the biggest developments in Kansas City sports talk show history, former Chief Tim Grunhard, Fox football analyst Bill Maas and Star columnist Jason Whitlock will be leaving their morning shows at WHB (810 AM) to join Entercom, sources close to the situation said. The three are expected to sign contracts today.

Bob Zuroweste, Entercom's general manager in Kansas City, declined comment.

It's uncertain where on the dial Entercom -- the radio superpower that owns eight stations in Kansas City, including KMBZ (980 AM) -- will showcase the three personalities. But a source indicated Entercom may go to an all-sports format on one of its stations.

The source said Maas and Whitlock will be paired in the afternoon, going head-to-head against WHB's Kevin Kietzman, and Grunhard will have a morning show.

Chad Boeger, president of WHB, said he was unaware that any of the three had agreed to terms with Entercom. In fact, he said, Maas and Grunhard remain under contract to WHB and the station has been in active negotiations with Whitlock, whose deal expired in January.

"Jason has been very up-front with me, and I understand his situation," Boeger said. "But Bill told me (Tuesday) that he has never talked to Entercom and has no intentions of talking to Entercom. Tim told me that he talked briefly with Entercom but that he'd never leave for another radio station.

"Bill and Tim are more than just employees here. They're friends of mine, and I know they wouldn't lie to me."

Maas, who would not comment on his job status, said he hasn't been disingenuous with WHB.

"I told them about every single employment opportunity I've ever had," Maas said. "Hey, I started my radio career at 980. Why wouldn't I ever talk to them?"

The sudden departures of Grunhard, Maas and Whitlock would leave WHB with a gaping hole in its morning programming -- from 6 to 11 a.m.

Wednesday was Whitlock's last day at the station.

The developments could dramatically shift the balance of power in the sports-radio marketplace, which in recent years has been dominated by WHB.

Its biggest rival has been KMBZ, which airs sports talk from 4 to 7 p.m. five days a week and is the local network for Royals and Kansas Jayhawks games.

Entercom had seemed to be backing off sports programming in the last year. Soren Petro's afternoon show was reduced, and there had been talk that Entercom might ditch the Royals' radio network as well after this season.

Now, Entercom appears poised to launch an all-out assault.

Union Broadcasting Inc., which owns WHB, tried to preempt the employee moves Wednesday with a letter from its attorneys addressed to Zuroweste.

The letter, obtained by The Star, demanded that Entercom "cease all such activities," such as trying to entice employees under contract with Union Broadcasting to work for Entercom.

"Should you actually entice any employee under contract to breach the same, UBI will take all appropriate action, including seeking equitable relief and/or damages, including actual damages and punitive damages, from all persons and companies involved," the letter states.

Whitlock, a Star columnist since 1994, has worked at WHB since 1999. Maas and Grunhard have been at the station for two years.

"It's just a better opportunity to do a higher-quality show and have it promoted, with a chance for national syndication," Whitlock said.

Maas and Whitlock had expressed disappointment in recent weeks regarding their treatment at WHB. At the heart of the conflict was the apparently deteriorating relationship with Kietzman. Rumors began swirling quickly thereafter of a major shakeup at the station.

Kietzman said he was caught off-guard by the recent turmoil.

"That there was a rift between Jason and I was never presented to me," Kietzman said Wednesday night. He declined further comment.

Did the clashes with Kietzman play a part in Whitlock's decision to leave the station?

"I'm proud of what we accomplished at WHB," Whitlock said. "It's unfortunate that one person couldn't handle the success."