Friday, December 30, 2011

The magic of sports radio

For nearly two months in the summer of 2010 I commuted 65 miles from my home to LA daily for internship and research. I got into a set rhythm: I woke up at 5:15, was in the car and on the road by 5:45 armed with a tall mug of coffee. I would be in LA by 7:30 or 7:45 at the latest. I tried playing some of my music during this mind-numbing drive to entertain myself but soon ran out of good songs to play. That is when I walked down the dark murky path to sports talk radio.

710 ESPN is LA's self-professed sports leader and the official home of the much revered Lakers. In a couple days I knew the entire lineup: Mike and Mike in the morning followed by the irascible Colin Cowherd. Andrew Siciliano and former Laker Mychal (yes that is not a typo) Thompson took over till the afternoon. Steve Mason and John Ireland came on air from 3-6 and A Martinez (I never found out his true first name) and Brian Long wrapped up the evening.

I had a fun time listening to these guys banter and make awkward jokes. Andrew and Mychal were the funniest of them all, in my opinion. (sadly I found out about ten months ago that this show was replaced by the Max and Marcellus show) They squabbled like old married couple. Colin Cowherd was downright crazy and was never afraid to hide it.

Sports radio has a stigma attached to it. Print sports journalists malign it for sensationalizing sports and making a big deal out of non events. Radio hosts are blamed for playing the same audio clips over and over and for fawning over the people they interview or the teams their stations represent.

Now all of this definitely true. But that is the very nature of the beast. These guys have to be on air for hours. Unlike TV people, they don't have the added advantage of using visuals to capture the viewers' attentions. There are no fancy graphics or interactive animations. So what do they do? They talk in a highly animated voice. They produce exaggerated laughs. They make dramatic pauses. They take a non-incident and stretch it across shows - horse beaten to death by M&M at 6 am would be resurrected by Mason and Ireland at 5:30 pm without any shame. A big part of these shows was taking calls from listeners. You'd have Randy from Burbank calling in to wax poetic about his brand of run-defense for the new-look Washington Redskins. Or Robert from Chatsworth expressing his fears over "Paulina" Gasol and "Andrea" Bynum (this was a real call, BTW - not making it up). If a guy blabbered too much, the hosts would swiftly cut his call. You can't cede control to armchair offensive coordinators, after all.

And that was the fun of it. A nice little ecosystem built entirely around sports its primary food source. They made my otherwise excruciating commute bearable. I was still pretty freaking exhausted every time I came home in the evening, but at least I didn't want to bash my head in.

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