Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Day Was Bright – And Dark – When Sports Talk Radio Arrived

July, 1994. I was minding my own business, watching the Lions crunch into each other at training camp, near the Silverdome. Later I’d get some sound bites for the cable television station for which I was toiling. But for now, I stood on an incline and took in the sight of Wayne Fontes’ boys gear up for another doomed football season, in the relentless sun.

An attractive blonde walked up to my cameraman and me.

“What TV station are you guys with?,” she asked, cheerily.

We started talking. About our job. Our reason for being there. Then it turns out the young lady had spent some time in Chicago – one of my favorite cities. We talked about that, too.

“Well, good luck,” she said, smiling. Then she walked back to her location on the small grassy hill and sat down.

In between her greeting and her wish of luck for us, Jennifer Hammond introduced herself as an employee of a brand-new radio station in town – WDFN. The Fan. It was an all-sports station. Heavily populated, at first, with local hacks and out-of-towners who’d tell us how to do our business – all while speaking with blatantly New York and/or New England accents.

Hammond was an aspiring sports reporter, and she was bemused by two guys with a video camera and a microphone at Lions training camp. Twelve years later, I’m bemused at some of the goofball things that are uttered on WDFN’s – and WXYT’s – airwaves. By callers and hosts alike.

“Hey, man – longtime listener, first-time caller!,” Sports Boob yammers into a cell phone from his car.

“What’s up, Joe Fan?”

“I just wanted to say that I think the Pistons should trade for Kevin Garnett.”

“Who would you trade?”

“How about Carlos Delfino and Dale Davis, plus a draft pick?”

“I don’t think the Timberwolves would do that trade, Joe.”

Then, you don’t know whether to be angry or feel sorry for Joe Fan as his sure-bet trade proposal is shot down on live air.

“You know what I hate? I hate it when you’re sitting on the can and you realize there’s no more toilet paper!,” Diarrhea Host blabs into his bully microphone.

“Oh, that’s the worst!,” Ex-player Co-Host yells.

“I mean, what’s up with THAT?,” Diarrhea says. “Bill from Ann Arbor, thanks for the call…”

“Yeah, thanks for taking my call. I just think that’s why we should all keep magazines in the bathroom, man!”

Three cackling and bellowing tubs of testosterone.

But I have, no joke, been subjected to 15 minutes on this topic: reading while sitting on the toilet.

Sports talk radio was a good invention. Kind of like the freezer. But as Albert Brooks said to Debbie Reynolds in “Mother,” about her propensity for food freezing, “It’s not meant for EVERYTHING.”

Doubtful Jennifer Hammond had any idea what her radio station was about to unleash on its listening public back in 1994. Doubtful the station itself did. But with several four-hour shifts to fill seven days a week with local sports talk, it’s inevitable that the talk will stray from point.

“Coming up on the program: ‘Boxers or briefs?’ And, the women who should know!”

I’m not in the car all that often. I’ve been blessed with short commutes, all the more glorious in this day of rising gas prices. So when I do tune in to sports talk radio, I expect to hear … sports talk.

But I have, no joke, been subjected to 15 minutes on this topic: reading while sitting on the toilet. Phone calls were taken. Then more talk.

It’s slightly awkward for me to prattle on, negatively, about sports talk radio. My magazine, Motor City Sports, works in partnership with WDFN. I have some friends who work for The Fan. Sean Baligian and I have had boisterous discussions about hockey – on and off the air.

Terry Foster writes for us. And he also appears on WXYT as an on-air guy. Another connection to the radio airwaves. He’s a super guy, and we’ve also gotten into it about Detroit sports, over a pop or two.

But that doesn’t change the fact that sports talk radio – which I still believe is an absolute necessity in this town – has created almost as many monsters as it has provided outlets for the previously-unheard fan. No sword has been as much double-edged.

It didn’t start here, of course. New York – surprise, surprise – became the first city that was known for dedicating an entire radio station to sports. And once those airwaves became open to the New Yorkers vis a vis the telephone – another great invention that wasn’t meant for everything – you can imagine the crackpots THAT brought out from the weeds.

For whatever reason, when WDFN began, it had a fetish for putting hosts on the air who were clearly not from Detroit. They didn’t even SOUND like Detroiters – mainly because Detroiters don’t have accents awash with Brooklyn. Or Boston. Or the Hamptons.

So these blowhards, these Johnny-come-latelys, would tell us how to do things here. They would mispronounce local names, and generally display an overall lack of knowledge of the town in which they worked. They probably only knew one way to and from the radio station, to their short-lease apartments.

Most of those types are gone now, thank goodness. At least now we’re subjected to dudes who grew up in the metro area. Their hot air, I can mostly abide – because at least it’s homegrown hot air.

I hope my friends at WDFN, should they read this, don’t get too mad at me. I still like them, after all. They can trash MCS Magazine all they want, in return. They have my permission.

But that’ll be the day when I sign off on a piece about male flatulence in public venues.

Besides, the radio station has already done that.

1 comment:

Big Al said...

Ahh, WDFN, which brought us such notable out of towners as Butch Stearns, Brandon Tierney, Mike Bower, and Damon Perry. WXYT was just as bad with Kevin Wall and John Lund. What's even worse is that I remember their names...

You know my feelings on the sports talk radio issue, so I'm happy, no, thrilled, to see someone with credentials call the local stations out.

Nice take on the "Fecal beefs," BTW. Dumbass callers who think they are comedy writers are the bane of radio.