Show leaps from radio to Internet

Dwindling audience and technological improvements fueled the recent cancellation
of “The Trading Post” on KFRU.
Monday, October 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:49 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Tom Hutchinson had a large wood lathe to sell. So when he got up Sept. 25, he tuned his radio to KFRU/1400 AM for “The Trading Post,” the call-in show on which he had bought and sold countless items over the years.

The retired MU anthropology professor and 36-year Columbia resident was surprised and disappointed to hear another show in its place.

A fixture on the Columbia radio dial since 1952, when KFRU was the only station in Columbia, “The Trading Post” aired its final broadcast Sept. 18. It was a casualty of low ratings, improved technology and changes made after Cumulus Broadcasting’s purchase of the radio station in March. Over the years, the show had provided Columbia residents a place to buy, sell, trade and be entertained. The items once offered for sale over the airwaves are now listed online at KFRU’s Web site.

“I’m very upset that they’ve canceled it,” Hutchinson, 69, said. “It fulfilled a very important niche in the community.”

Hutchinson said he thinks the station management doesn’t appreciate the show’s importance to the community. As a frequent eBay user, he is aware of the Internet’s capacity as a marketplace, but he noted that there are many listeners without computer access.

Hutchinson said he was the first caller when the program became a call-in show in the 1980s. Over the years, he has bought and sold items including portable buildings, a pole barn and even a car.

He has also made friends — like John Long, who sold Hutchinson lumber through the show in the early 1990s.

“It was entertaining,” Long said. “You got good insight into society and people.”

Long, who is in his early 70s, also bought and sold many items over the years and, like Hutchinson, he said he wishes the show would return. Unlike his friend, though, Long said he has no Internet access and finds other classified alternatives less convenient than the show.

The entertainment value comes in part from the fact that “Trading Post” calls were unscreened. Simon Rose, a current KFRU and KBXR/102.3 FM personality and one of many former “Trading Post” hosts, has colorful memories of the show. The more unusual items offered on his watch, he said, included X-rated videos and a half-used bottle of shampoo.

“Once we had a caller offer five kilos of cocaine,” Rose said. “It was obviously a prank call,but a few minutes later the red emergency phone rang. It was the Columbia police saying they’d received a tip that drugs were being offered for sale on the show.”

In recent years, typical offerings included lawn mowers, quilts and other typical garage-sale items, Rose said. The number of faithful listeners had dwindled to no more than 100, he estimated.

“I’m a bit sorry to see it go,” Rose said. “It had its time, but now with the advent of the Internet, things are different.”

Al Germond, co-host of KFRU’s “Sunday Morning Roundtable,” is a former owner of the station and has been involved in Columbia radio for decades. He said he remembers doing the show as a part of his “board shift,” the time of day when he was responsible for the station’s technical operations.

When the show started, the station served more diverse interests than it does today. Along with news and talk, it played music ranging from opera to country to Top 40. Originally, “The Trading Post” was a five-minute program that aired six days a week. Sellers would send descriptions of their items to the station on a postcard, and the announcer would read them during the brief interval sponsored by Max Gill’s Prescription Shop. The show switched to a one-hour weekly format in the late 1980s, Germond said.

Though Germond speculated that Columbia had outgrown the quaintness of “The Trading Post,” he also said change is difficult.

“With the Internet and other new resources, it may not have been the best use of the airwaves,” he said.

Shows like it still air in smaller markets. KRMS/1150 AM’s “Garage Sale” at the Lake of the Ozarks, KMMO/1300 AM’s “Swap Shop” in Marshall and KSIS/1050 AM’s “Classifieds” in Sedalia have formats similar to “The Trading Post.”

“It’s a great avenue to chat with people and help them at no cost,” said Dennis Klautzer, owner of KRMS. And listeners seem to love it, he said, with the station’s phone lines often jammed for the “Garage Sale” hour.

For Internet users, “The Trading Post” lives on at Items can still be listed for free.Jack Miller, market manager for Cumulus, said response to the online format has been positive.

“Technology has allowed us to take a show like ‘The Trading Post’ and expand it using the Internet,” he said.

Atlanta-based Cumulus Media is the second-largest national radio operator, with more than 300 stations in 61 markets. It purchased KFRU, KBXR and five other area stations in March for $38.75 million.

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