The 2 Live Stews at their peak a few years ago were on 20 radio stations syndicated nationwide. They were a top-rated shows on 790/The Zone, their home base. They were regularly commentators on ESPN. They were even featured in 2004 in Sports Illustrated as a unique style of sports talk radio: African Americans in a format without a lot of them.
But now, in 2014, the Stews' fan base affectionately nicknamed dogs and poodles has scattered. Doug and Ryan Stewart have not been able to find a job in radio.
What the heck happened? Why aren't they on the air now? They have been away from radio for 19 months, going back to September, 2012. That's when the Zone took them off the air four months before their contracts were up. With their non-compete clause, they have been available to the local radio market since last July.
It's been a long 19 months for the Stews. But both men are trying to keep their spirits up the best they can. Ryan reads the Bible every day and takes care of his two boys, spending part of his time doing a show for the TV sports network CSS. Doug takes care of his two younger daughters and promotes a party or two on the side. Both have wives who work, so at least some steady income is coming in.
A year and a half ago, Doug said, "if I was told I wouldn't have a job by now, I would have said, 'Not in a million years!' There are three sports talk stations here. We just don't know. We don't understand."
"We’re proven," Doug added. "We come with a fan base. We built a great brand over a decade. It's just shocking to me we haven't gotten a job yet."
His brother Ryan agreed: "We've had meetings with a lot of players and different stations in town. At the end of the day, no one has pulled the trigger. I don't know why."
None of three sports talk stations in Atlanta have approached them with an offer. None of the stations have even given them an insultingly bad offer.
While execs at both the 92.9/The Game and 680/The Fan said nice things to me about the brothers, they clearly don't like them enough to hire them. (No comment from PD Bob Richards at the Zone, which let them go in the first place though in September 2012, he said, “They’ve been consummate pros. I really respect the time and energy they put into this radio station. Without them, I’m not sure the station would have launched the way they did years ago.”)
Fans and fellow sports denizens around town are scratching their heads, especially the lack of interest from newcomer 92.9/The Game, which has built a lineup targeting a diverse audience. (I thought the Game hiring the Stews was a no brainer back in September, 2012.)
"It's all very strange," said Chuck Dowdle, the former Channel 2 Action News sports anchor who does the "Bulldog Roundtable" for 680/The Fan. "They were so successful. For awhile, they were killing it. They're talented guys. They're good at what they did. They're entertaining."
Chadd Scott, a former 790/The Zone host and producer, believes the Stews had a quality show but "talent has very little to do with who gets on the air and who doesn't at most radio stations and networks.... To me it's absurd their show hasn't found a home somewhere because it is good and it does have an audience, but I'm not surprised it doesn't knowing the industry."
Until recently, both Stews had chosen not to comment about their situation to the press. But given how little interest they've garnered locally, they figure talking to the press can't hurt at this point.
"I feel confident and have a lot of faith somebody will say yes," Dough said. "We have a good resume. We're humble guys."
For a time, they were really hoping not to have to uproot their families. But they are now actively seeking gigs outside of Atlanta, even if that's not their first choice. Their agent Norm Schrutt said today that things are percolating - but the potential good opportunity is not here.
The 2 Live Stews were a truly homegrown product going back to the early 2000s, discovered by Steven "Steak" Shapiro and Andrew Saltzman, owners of the then scrappy 790/The Zone. They began as a night show but then given more prominent daytime slots as their show improved and their fan base grew. They brought an urban sensibility to an often lily-white genre, drawing upon pop culture as well as sports. They were loud, proud and in your face. Every day sounded like a party.
This unusual style had its ardent fans but strident foes as well. Either way, they generated a conversation and raised the profile of the Zone.
Some readers on this blog in the comments section over the years said they simply got stale. Others felt they weren’t doing enough show prep. Local fans didn't like the fact that in syndication, they had to delve into more national topics. Some listeners were not thrilled by their sympathies toward Michael Vick in 2007 during the dog fighting scandal.
"I do believe we lost a lot of our white listeners over that story," Doug said. "That issue was so polarizing. In retrospect, I may have stayed away from that topic. I never saw it as a race issue but others did. I believe he should have been punished but not to the degree he was."
But what really killed them was the ownership change at the Zone in 2010. Shapiro and Saltzman, after a disastrous investment in sports stations in St. Louis, were forced to sell to Lincoln Financial.
New management quickly began to neuter the Stews.
"They didn't tell us they didn't like us directly," Ryan said. "But the way they chopped our show up. The way they asked us to stop doing certain things. Certain guests we weren't allowed to have on." (The music leading in and out of ads changed from hip hop to pop. Their signature whoops and screams disappeared. Entertainment news about Usher and T.I. ceased.)
In 2011, they lost their Sporting News syndication gig when Sporting News shut down its syndication division. Their hours were cut. In 2012, ESPN ended its contract. In the spring of 2012, they were moved to mid-days and dubbed "The Red Zone" with other rotating hosts. By the time the Zone let them go in September, they were not surprised.
"We are not excluded from the ebbs and flows of business," Ryan said. "At the end of the day, we loved our job and had fun and put in good numbers." He said he's not upset at the Zone. "Things were a little shady and salty," he acknowledged. "But I don't hold a grudge toward anybody."
Ryan said he has one regret: they had an opportunity to work at an unnamed FM radio station in 2008 but chose to stay loyal to the Zone. They'd probably still be there if Shapiro and Saltzman still owned the joint.
While the brothers remain close, they naturally don't see each other as much. Doug lives in Powder Springs. Ryan is in Buckhead. "I live in the country," Doug said. "It takes me 45 minutes to get to him." Doug has three daughters, one in college. Ryan has two little boys.
Ryan had a side gig four nights a week talking SEC football for CSS, but even that gig is going away June 1 when CSS shuts down.
Both men said they made good money during the peak of their popularity and neither is in any danger of going broke. "We've been fiscally responsible," Ryan said. "I'm not worried about eating."
"I hate to eat up savings," Doug added, "but we're fine. The lights haven't been cut off." At the same time, with three daughters, "I have three weddings to pay for, two more kids going to college. Kids gotta eat!" (His wife Monica is in marketing.)
Ryan said both of them are very spiritual. "I pray every morning," he said. "I'm a believer. I have faith. I know that God has blessed me prior to this situation. I'll be honest. the first four or five months we were off, while sitting on the noncompete, it was frustrating. Again, my faith and belief is in a higher being, not in man. I'm confident it will all work out."
On the bright side, Ryan's golf game has improved. He's dropped 12 strokes, down to about 94-95.
"Because of the way the show sounded, maybe folks think we're divas," Doug said. "I'd hate to think PDs are thinking there's a diva quality about us. We're very coachable."