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Originally published April 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 7, 2009 at 12:05 AM

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710 ESPN says it's pleased with first day of battle with KJR

KIRO's AM station goes to all-sports format with star-filled guest lineup on Monday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

While you were sleeping, 710 ESPN Seattle launched the first salvo early Monday morning in the sports radio war to woo Western Washington listeners from rival 950 KJR.

The day began unlike any other in the past three decades for the former KIRO news-talk station.

At 3 a.m., the syndicated "Mike and Mike Show" ushered in a new all-sports format for 710 ESPN. Over the next several hours, the station unveiled a lineup featuring Los Angeles-based Colin Cowherd as well as local programming that includes Kevin Calabro and Brock Huard. Calabro headlines his own show, and Huard, a former Washington Huskies and Seahawks quarterback, will co-host a show with ESPN radio man Mike Salk.

Calabro, Huard and Salk teamed up in the morning, but normally Huard and Salk's four-hour show will start at 11 a.m., followed by Calabro at 3 p.m.

KIRO's news-talk programming has moved to 97.3 FM.

Monday afternoon's Mariners game abbreviated 710 ESPN's programming but that didn't prevent producers from packing the local shows with guests including college basketball analysts Dick Vitale and Marques Johnson, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian, Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus and ex-Mariner Jay Buhner.

"Overall I was very pleased," program director Rod Arquette said. "I think the shows did very well. We had a great A-list lineup. I think it gave people an idea of the strength of our shows and what the radio station will be."

There were a few minor gaffes. Salk, a Boston newcomer to Seattle, referred to Hasselbeck as the Mariners quarterback and often long moments of silence occurred during the breaks when the national shows aired.

"Certainly we had a few minor technical issues that we quickly ironed out," Arquette said. "But after Day 1, I'm a pretty happy camper."

The station saved what it considered breaking news for the final hour of the Calabro show, announcing the station had lured ESPN NFL reporter John Clayton away from KJR. Clayton will move his "Sports Saturday" show to ESPN beginning 9 a.m. Saturday.

It was unknown if Clayton would remain with KJR, where he had been a contributor and talk-show host for many years.

"You never know with anybody," Arquette said. "I think that John wanted to do this, but it was just a matter of making sure. John is very, very loyal and I really appreciate him for that.

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"This was not an easy decision for John, but after talking with John, I think we reached a point where we looked at it and said this would be good for John and this would be good for us."

Calabro compared signing Clayton to hitting a grand slam in the first inning.

"It was huge," Calabro said. "Absolutely huge. He is an ESPN brand. You talk about Boomer [Chris Berman], you talk about Stuart Scott and some of the guys who have left like [Dan] Patrick and Keith Olbermann, and the Professor [Clayton] is right up there with them in terms of ESPN branding.

"If you don't have the Professor on board, then you don't have a total ESPN family."

Across the dial at 950 KJR, it was business as usual.

"Strategically, we didn't do anything different today, but we were set up naturally to have a good day today," program director Rich Moore said. "I had Softy [Dave Mahler] in Detroit. We got the [NCAA men's basketball] national title game. It's a typical good Monday for us. It was just another day with all of my live and local professional talent doing their duty.

"We broke the Cougar story with Ken Bone. It was a typical day here today. Nothing was any different."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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