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Tom Nalen, Les Shapiro, Charles Johnson out after Best of Denver curse hits ESPN Radio

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The Best of Denver curse strikes again.

Back in March, we named ESPN's The Locker Room, co-starring Nate Kreckman and Broncos Ring of Famer Tom Nalen, Denver's top radio sports show in our 2014 Best of Denver issue. But as with Gloria Neal, who was given her walking papers at AM-760 shortly after we dubbed her 2014's Best Radio Talk-Show Host, Nalen's out at ESPN Denver (although apparently by his choice), as are two other noteworthy personalities, Les Shapiro and Charles "CJ" Johnson -- and other changes are on the way at the station beginning Monday, July 28.

See also: Gloria Neal's firing marks impending death of progressive AM-760

First, a little background. In February 2010, as we've reported, a group led by automobile expert and local TV staple Dealin' Doug Moreland bought 102.3 and 105.5 from NRC Broadcasting, fronted by Tim Brown, an energetic figure who also happened to be gazillionaire Phil Anschutz's son-in-law. The following May, we learned that the ownership cabal also included onetime Denver newspaper journo turned ESPN talking head Adam Schefter and Tom Manoogian, who was well known to listeners of KOA and other stations via his Lou From Littleton pseudonym.

The 102.3 format was dubbed The Ticket and featured Shapiro, Johnson and Kreckman -- and all three survived when, in January 2012, the switch was made to ESPN Radio Denver. But the station has consistently struggled in the ratings. Combining the most recent numbers from both its signals still puts it in 26th place overall out of 36 stations

Now, Shapiro and Johnson, who'd been paired in a midday slot, are out and Kreckman is the sole host of The Locker Room. Here's how Manoogian describes the changes.

Regarding Nalen, Manoogian says, "Tom's contract ended July 22. We offered an extension and he refused."

Shapiro and Johnson received no such opportunity due in part to scheduling of nationally syndicated ESPN programming, including Mike and Mike, featuring Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, and Colin Cowherd.

"Mike and Mike is our flagship show," Manoogian allows. "It dominates men 25-54 in the mornings. And Colin does a great job for us. We couldn't be happier."

As a result, Mike and Mike will air from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. beginning on July 28, with Cowherd following from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. -- an hour later than previously. That shrinks the subsequent slot, which Les and CJ had manned from noon to three, to two hours, and Manoogian says, "A two-hour show doesn't lend itself to having two people. It's not cost-effective. At the end of the day, I've got to return a profit to my investors. So when Les and CJ's contract also ended, we decided not to renew them."

Instead, the two-hour block is now being filled by Cecil Lammey. "He has passion, energy and is about everything football," Manoogian notes. "Cecil's been doing Sunday mornings since we started the station and he's an expert on fantasy -- so we thought it would be the perfect time to give a chance to a guy who's been with us since day one."

As for Kreckman, he's still in The Locker Room, and even with Nalen gone, Manoogian doesn't expect it to be a lonely place.

"He's going solo, but he'll be joined by a lot of people: Adam Schefter, Mike Klis and Benjamin Hochman [of the Denver Post], Aqib Talib and Julius Thomas [players with the Denver Broncos] and on and on and on. Plus you get Nate's humor, knowledge and entertainment, too. Picture a locker room with guys coming in and out and shooting the bull. That's the image we want to project and the kind of show we want to have."

Of course, none of these changes would have been made if everything was jake.

"We're very pleased with our ESPN-show ratings," Manoogian insists. "But where we've struggled is live and local. And so we continue to tweak and tweak and tweak until we find the right combination."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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