The Price of Fame

The waiter glanced down at the message scrawled on the paper tablecloth in front of Dave Stewart at Zio’s and gave him a curious look. The words “I am hung” had been printed there in crayon. The soccer coach of Stewart’s twelve-year-old son’s team sat beside him and gave him a look you reserve for perverts and drug dealers. Stewart looked across the table for help from his nine-year-old daughter, Shanna, who had written the upside-down message in front of her father. “Shanna, what does this mean?” Stewart asked. “I am hungry, Daddy!” answered Shanna. Stewart quickly had her add the missing “ry” to her note.

Daddy Dave’s hunger to get back in front of a camera has been sated now that his six-month noncompete agreement with KMBC Channel 9 has expired. Stewart debuted March 1 on Metro Sports Zone, a local hour-long weeknight sportscast. “I missed that form of expression,” Stewart says. “I miss being able to go on television and let it rip.” Almost every radio and television contract in Kansas and Missouri has a noncompete clause that forbids a broadcaster from taking a job with a rival station in the same market for a specified period of time.

Stewart is working to change that. He was contacted earlier this year by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the broadcasters’ union, and asked to travel to Jefferson City to speak in front of the Missouri legislature. “The thing that bothers me about the noncompete clause in contracts is that it’s not consistent,” Stewart says. “There are always exceptions made in the newsroom or in the sales department.”

“This is a matter of simple fairness,” says Elton White, executive director of the AFTRA Kansas City Local. “We see noncompetes imposed on both on-air and off-air employees, and they force these broadcast employees to either accept salaries lower than what they could be offered by competing stations or move out of their home states or leave their chosen professions altogether.”

Stewart’s address to the Missouri legislature will do his personal case no good — he has served his six-month sentence — but there’s a decent chance it could hurt his broadcasting career future. “I likely set myself up for retaliation by others in the media business,” Stewart says. “I wasn’t contacted directly by Channel 9, but I was made well aware of their unhappiness.”

Wayne Godsey, general manager at Channel 9, says the station wasn’t upset but befuddled by Stewart’s Jefferson City appearance. “David worked for us for seventeen years, and each contract he signed had a noncompete clause that he signed voluntarily,” Godsey says. “Time Warner was aware of the noncompete clause when they hired him. We even negotiated an early out for David and waived six months of the agreement. As far as I know, he started work there after leaving here, and they started paying him more than he was making here — and I thought we paid him very well for a number-two sportscaster. What puzzled us is that David didn’t seem to be harmed in the deal. It’s sort of baffling.

“I absolutely disagree with [Stewart] on the noncompete issue,” Godsey says. “When television stations make that kind of financial investment in their people, they need to protect that investment.”

Is Stewart’s battle worth the price? “Some of my former coworkers from Channel 9 called to thank me for carrying the water,” Stewart says. “That makes it worthwhile.”

Stewart thinks he’s found a happy home at Metro Sports. “I always wanted to work at a place where they thought I was worth promoting,” Stewart says. “At Channel 9 I got some verbal promises, but that’s about it. Here they bought the cover of the Star TV Magazine, they have billboards of me going up around town and even ads for above the urinals in restaurants and bars. It’s blown me away.”

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