Riding a new wave of sports talk Radio: Nestor Aparicio took a gamble when he started Baltimore's first all-sports station, a venture critics say isn't likely to succeed. He'd like nothing better than to prove them wrong.

October 15, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Nick from Abingdon wants to talk Ravens, maybe offer a few suggestions for the Orioles. He's maneuvering through early-morning traffic, usually the wrong place and time to satisfy a sports jones. But with a flip of his cell phone, his opinions are spewed over the airwaves between gulps of coffee.

For listeners of WKDB, this sort of jock chatter is music to the ears.

Most recently a children's network station, 1570-AM was given a drastic makeover by Nestor Aparicio, the 30-year-old Dundalk native with the sharp tongue and grand visions. His all-sports station, the first in Baltimore, made its debut at 8: 15 a.m. on Aug. 3, breaking new ground and opening a series of debates between Aparicio's band of fiercely loyal followers and his many critics.

Everything from WKDB's signal to its programming and on-air personalities is up for grabs. When it comes to Aparicio, a tireless self-promoter who attracts controversy like static cling, there's never a middle of the road.

If you love him, you praise his work ethic, his bold attempts at trying something different and his rise through the broadcast ranks. If you dislike him, you say he has a distorted view of his popularity and belongs at a station that once catered to kids, and wait to applaud his failure.

It's too soon to say whether Aparicio's venture has been a hit or miss since ratings don't come out for at least another month. And they won't provide an accurate read of WKDB's appeal because the station started up in the middle of a 12-week ratings book and inherits numbers from its failed predecessor.

But Steve Hennessey, the station's director of sales and promotions, finds encouragement in the 30 to 35 new sponsors that have come aboard since early August, joining a similar number that followed Aparicio from WWLG.

"And all with different degrees of deals," Hennessey said. "Most are a minimum of 13 weeks. Some signed on for half a year. We've got a couple yearlong deals in negotiations. I thought the response would be good, but it's been overwhelming. We're getting feelers from ad agencies we've never heard from before, and people that we've been trying to get to sponsor the show now all of a sudden are interested."

Aparicio, a former member of the sports staffs at the Baltimore News American and The Sun, had been at WWLG for five years, anchoring the afternoon drive-time slot but uncertain of his future after the station was sold Aug. 1 to WCBM's Nick Mangione.

"I was thrust in a position where you take stock of your life and ask, 'What am I going to do?' " he said. "One of the big reasons we did this was to stave off elimination, because if I stay at the other station, I don't know what happens. I don't have a contract. Here, I can control my own destiny."

Finding a new home

In need of advice, Aparicio turned to Paul Kopelke, who had been his general manager at WITH and WWLG. Kopelke was hired as a consultant and instructed to find another station.

Kopelke knew just the place, a brick rancher in Towson sitting on 3 1/2 acres tucked back off a winding, tree-lined road wide enough to fit one vehicle. The rooms were filthy from months of neglect, and the facility wasn't set up for sports programming. There was no system to take calls, no televisions, no Internet access.

"There were cobwebs, dirt, a lot of old stuff lying around, finger paints on the wall," said Aparicio, who has furnished the club basement with workout equipment, a big-screen TV, a pool table and rock 'n' roll memorabilia.

"It was very humbling for me to come in here and be very excited and see someone else's dream gone. It's sort of like cleaning out somebody's closet who died."

The only sign of life was a small computer in one corner that played the same songs continuously while the station changed hands. Aparicio took possession in July, leasing the station with the first option to buy.

"And we intend to buy," he said.

Aparicio's detractors wonder how he could afford to move in, let alone buy it. While not disclosing costs, Aparicio said his many purchases included a satellite dish, sound board, audio equipment and furniture.

"I wound up the last couple years making more money than I could spend," he said. "I had a nest egg, and this is where my nest egg went. You save money to do something with it in life. I've worked hard, I've made some money, I've put some money away, and then this opportunity happened. That's the truth. Nothing more and nothing less.

"I've heard either that I have a backer or that I'm loaded. Neither one is really true."

Neither, he says, is the perception that his signal is so weak it can be heard only by camping under the tower. That's more accurate at night, when a 5,000-watt signal powers down to 237 so it doesn't infringe on another station that's been in the market longer.

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