Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sports Talk, Talk, Talk

Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can't get you off. ~Bill Veeck

Most of what follows won't make a heck of a lot of sense to people outside of Birmingham, Alabama, but I've got to get this off my chest. And, it's my blog. So there.

I have a long commute in my little hybrid each day. For most of it, I listen to my MP3 player playing through the radio stereo. In the city, though, I want to catch a traffic report, so I tune in to WJOX, a Birmingham sports talk station. Now, for years, I listened to sports talk on Cleveland, Ohio radio stations. They had call-ins, but mostly they had guys who really knew sports talking about what was going on at the moment in the wide world of sports (TM). Pete Franklin, a legend in his own mind, was the dean of sports talk figures in Cleveland.

People used to take some sort of masochistic pleasure in calling this guy and suggesting off-the-wall trades. “Hey, Pete, I think the Indians should trade Sonny Siebert for Nolan Ryan!” Pete would then rip them into tiny pieces for suggesting such a ridiculous idea. I liked Franklin because not only was he critical of Indians management but he also could tell you cogently why they were a bunch of cheap so-and-so's. Of course, when he actually interviewed the Indians president, Gabe Paul, he tossed him softball questions and praised him effusively. But, the next night, with ol' Gabe out of the studio, Pete let him have it again.

The point was that he gave Paul a chance to speak his side of the issue. Franklin could then give him hell with impunity.

Franklin had a desk covered with all the historical stat books and current team information. He could quote stats accurately on a moment's notice. And he knew what was going on with every team in professional baseball, football, and basketball. He also covered college sports reasonably well.

So I know what a good sports talk show should sound like.

WJOX used to be pretty good. The focus down here, of course, is college sports, particularly football, so pro sports sometimes get shorted a little, but that's not too bad considering that pro sports discussions tend to sound like economics seminars these days. A few months ago, though, they changed program directors. The new guy has put his stamp on the station. And, to me, he's squashed it flat.

I listen to the AM drive time show and the PM drive time show. He fiddled with the afternoon show first, adding a woman to the two men who were already there. I have nothing against women reporting or commenting on sports. ESPN has shown, from Gayle Gardner to Robin Roberts and others, that there are many excellent female sports reporters. Unfortunately, the woman WJOX brought in had one job: to disagree with anything anyone says.

Now, a little conflict is necessary on shows like this, or they get dull. But, at some point, it would be nice if she would agree with somebody, anybody. She'll change her point of view in the middle of an argument if necessary. It's a pity, really, because she's the only one of the three who really knows anything about baseball. (She's improved some lately, but not much.)

In the mornings, the station had two guys, one of whom was Jay Barker. Barker had a stellar career at Alabama, followed by a less illustrious stint as a career backup quarterback in the NFL. Barker has a great radio voice, but, as I've recorded before, he can be a babbling idiot at times. Generally, though, the show was pretty good and stayed on the subject of sports, with only occasional forays into TV shows or family matters. Even those digressions were normally brief.

Well, the new program director decided he needed to liven things up. First, he gets rid of Barker's partner, replacing him with an FM rock jock. The jock does know a thing or two about sports, but you'd hardly know it from his constant babbling about anything but sports. To complete the team, they added a former Auburn placekicker, Al Del Greco, who actually was a front-line NFL player (and probably got more minutes on the field than Barker did).

They started out okay, much to my surprise. Del Greco seldom could get a word in edgewise between the motormouth jock and the babbling quarterback, but they did talk sports. That didn't last. Now, each show seems to begin with twenty minutes about anything but sports. American Idiot, er, Idol seems to be a popular topic. Failing that the FM jock will talk about female anatomy, disgusting bodily functions, and boozing, all while seeing how many times he can say “friggin” in any give two minute period. Barker, who purports to be a religious-type who frequently speaks at churches, giggles like a junior high school adolescent. The Del Greco normally doesn't say much.

(The jock, who continually reminds us that he's Catholic, for reasons that are mysterious to me, bragged that he gave up saying the “f-bomb” for Lent. Sounds to me like he wasn't paying attention to the meaning of giving up things for Lent in CCD class.)

I guess I'm just old-fashioned. I figure if you bill yourself as a sports talk radio station, you'll talk mostly about sports. And it may be that some other folks have voiced similar opinions because in the the last week, I've noticed that the AM boys have started to talk more sports at the beginning of the show. However, I'm writing this the day after American Idol. This morning, after rattling off a few headlines, they spent the next 15 minutes blithering about that show.

Okay, I realize this is Alabama, and, for some strange reason, there always seems to be an Alabama guy in the finals for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, excuse me, American Idol show. But, guys, it's a sports talk station. There are playoffs going in two sports, and baseall is in full swing. Couldn't you find your way clear to start with sports then talk about other stuff when you run out of steam?

Let me make this clearer to the folks at WJOX. I don't care about the FM jock going out drinking and oogling girls the night before; I don't care about Jay's wife and kids; and I'm sick of hearing about American Idol everywhere I turn.

Let's get focused here.

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