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Radioland
Jim Krenn's new co-host, Randy Baumann, clicks with listeners and helps WDVE stay on top

Sunday, April 15, 2001

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It's been a year and change since WDVE-FM (102.5) introduced its morning lineup and got off Scott-free.

Jim Krenn, left, and Randy Baumann co-host WDVE-FM's morning show before an audience at Hennessey's Brew House in Butler. After Scott Paulsen left the show, Baumann filled the role of Krenn's sidekick, and the show remains No. 1 among the 25- to-54-year-old audience more than a year later. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

That's Scott as in Scott Paulsen, who voluntarily left at the end of 1999, bringing to an end what, for many radio fans in this market, had become a 12-year habit. Together with Jim Krenn, Paulsen hosted "The WDVE Morning Show," which for commuters, people at work, students and homebodies had become addictive with its put-ons, crazy characters, comedy sketches and ... oh yeah, a little bit of rock 'n' roll for good measure.

But when Paulsen left, 'DVE merely retooled its drive-time franchise, shining a bigger spotlight on the talented Krenn -- initially calling it "Jim Krenn and the WDVE Morning Show" -- and importing a new sidekick.

Has it worked?

Yep. The station remains No. 1 in the 25-54 target audience post-Paulsen.

But Krenn doesn't get all the credit. Save some for co-host Randy Baumann.

In 1994, Baumann occupied a Downtown office equipped with a computer, telephone, reference materials and financial data.

And a radio.

Like many locals, Baumann, an accountant, began his day listening to Paulsen and Krenn. Their show helped him work through a job he was determined to leave.

"The whole reason I got into radio in the first place was from listening to Scott and Jim when I worked in Pittsburgh," he says.

Baumann knew numbers-crunching was a means to an end. He'd been playing in bands since the age of 15 and long ago decided music, one way or another, would be his life's work.

"And when [the accounting firm] fired me, that sealed it," he quips.

Baumann headed back to his hometown of Erie in 1995. An interview at a station there, WRKT-FM, led to a regular guest spot on a morning show and eventually to his own midday shift. He styled the program after the WDVE morning show, with comedy sketches, characters and music.

 
 

WDVE Arbitron ratings

25- to 54-year-olds, 6 to 10 a.m.
Fall 199914.8
Winter 200012.6
Spring 200014.0
Summer 200013.4
Fall 200014.5

   
 

Station managers at WDVE, knowing they were going to lose Paulsen, heard a CD Baumann put out and asked him to send them a tape.

He got the job -- not to mention some big shoes to fill. But by all accounts, he's filled them nicely.

Pittsburghers are loyal listeners who don't cotton to change. When Paulsen departed, the challenge was to keep the momentum going while selling listeners on the new guy. Paulsen and Krenn were electric; could lightning strike twice?

Krenn, 41, had no doubts.

"After the great run I had with Scott, Randy came in and I got to know him. When I saw his writing ability and his performance ability were major-league, I thought, 'This guy really has the chops to do this.'"

Baumann knew, however, that he would suffer some growing pains and that the WDVE audience would require a period of adjustment.

"I was expecting it to be a tough task coming in, because I had the perception the listeners were resistant to change," Baumann says. "In any market they are. But I lived in Pittsburgh, so I knew the magnitude of Scott and Jim. I was thinking, 'Jeez, this could really be difficult for a while.'

"But everybody was so great. Everywhere I went it was, 'Hey, Randy, welcome to Pittsburgh. Don't blow it, buddy. Don't make me not listen.' They let me know they were giving me a chance. That meant a lot, because I was prepared for the worst, and it never happened."

And, he adds, Krenn has helped him professionally and personally, with advice on everything from comedy writing to how to get enough sleep to deal with a 5 a.m. start. All-night parties and 6 to 10 a.m. shifts aren't exactly conducive.

Although WDVE did experience a few tremors in the ratings as Krenn and Baumann warmed up to one another, the station's position in the market is rock-solid.

Morning-drive radio is very much a competitive blood sport, and WDVE has tenaciously held on as top dog in the 25-to-54 year-old audience for years. In the overall morning-drive ratings, the show is second behind only KDKA-AM (1020) and John Cigna, who is nothing less than an institution in this town.

In recent years, changes in the market and listening habits have eroded some of those 'DVE listeners, but the same could be said of KDKA. The introduction of Howard Stern's syndicated radio show (on WXDX-FM) altered the morning dynamic as much as anything.

Still, the relative positions of the stations are the same. The facts are these: KDKA and 'DVE rule the roost, and everybody else is vying for the leftovers.

John Moschitta, operations manager at WDVE, acknowledges that the morning show had slipped somewhat by the end of last year, and that the early days were a time of testing.

"You're replacing a huge personality [in Paulsen]," says Moschitta. He says the station experienced "a bit of a wobble" in the ratings in the winter 2000 Arbitrons "when they were trying to get their legs and define what the show was going to be."

Margy Linkel of Zelienople shows off DJ Randy Baumann's autograph after a recent broadcast of the WDVE morning show at Hennessey's Brew House in Butler. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

The station's comfortable lead with 25- to 54-year-olds was never really threatened, Moschitta adds. "[The morning show] didn't really lose too much. ... Howard Stern, WDSY [remained] behind us."

Now firmly settled in, the Krenn-Baumann partnership has seen an uptick in the ratings. In the most recent ratings (the fall book), Krenn and Baumann had a 14.5 share. And in the Arbitrends -- a between-period ratings survey -- they've inched up over 15.

The morning team includes 'DVE music director Val Porter, who replaced Cris Winter when she rejoined Paulsen, back in Pittsburgh radio with a show on WBGG-AM (970). Porter handles the news, while Ed Crow does the sports.

The team seems to be clicking on all cylinders.

"We've turned the corner and are picking up some steam," Moschitta says.

While Krenn and Baumann acknowledge their growing pains, they say the creative process is getting more natural, focused and instinctive.

"It was like a quarterback and a wide receiver getting used to the timing," says Krenn of the first year. "We had to work that out. Probably November is when we got to the point where we really started to click."

"It took a while before I was comfortable in my role," Baumann says. "I needed to learn what my role was on the show and what I needed to do. As I got to know Jim more, it became a lot easier to know what I needed to do, how I needed to lie back, how I needed to contribute. I'm starting to hit my stride a little bit. And that elevates him back to his game, because he was dragging my dead weight around."

The pair found they had a lot in common. Both grew up under the influence of sketch comedies like "Saturday Night Live," "SCTV" and "Monty Python." Baumann describes himself and Krenn as "comedy geeks."

"We know every comedian and all their acts. Jimmy especially has a sick knowledge of that. But I think he was surprised I had even close to what he had."

They try to keep a sharp edge to the show by doing as much as possible live vs. taped.

"Ninety percent of the sketches we do are live on the air, which really brings a different dynamic to it," Baumann says. "It's one thing when you produce them behind the scenes. There's another element to doing sketches live, and you can hear a big difference."

Krenn agrees.

"If Randy has a story he finds, he won't tell me until we go on the air, so we go off and improv on it and see what happens for the next four minutes," he says.

But, he adds, improv has its risks.

"There's a 'tank' factor there. Randy knows when I'm tanking. He knows how to get me out of it. That's what gives it the excitement -- the fact it could tank."

While some critics of the show feel it relies too heavily on guy and jock humor, that is its core audience: males who tune in as much for the station's heavy sports tie-ins as for the music and humor.

The bits are sometimes laced with bleeps that barely mask some choice epithets, like their parody of daytime TV's numerous "Judge" shows.

"We try to keep an edgy style of comedy," Krenn says. "There are times I'm sure we go over [the line]. The design is not to shock. The design is to make people laugh. Sometimes there's an accident."

WDVE's philosophy is to grow with its audience so it doesn't have to rebuild its base every few years. With Baumann in the fold at age 29, it's worth noting that the show, according to the station's demographic data, is drawing younger listeners.

They've introduced some new characters to replace the ones Paulsen did. The Bush administration brought with it a whole new cast of characters. But while Dubya has become an easy target for TV and radio satirists, Krenn and Baumann have chosen vice president Dick Cheney as their man.

As Baumann says, "You're not going to turn on 'The Tonight Show' and see the same angle."

That may be as good a reason as any for WDVE's continued morning-drive dominance.

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