CRAWFORD | Longtime listener, longtime caller - on the passing of WHAS 'Sports Talk'
WDRB's Eric Crawford reminisces about the WHAS Sports Talk program, which will cease to be when host Lachlan McLean leaves the station next month, and other notes from local media.
Thursday, April 16th 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — A disclaimer to start. I was a longtime listener,
a longtime caller.
The nightly Sports Talk radio program at WHAS will be no more after Lachlan McLean takes his talents to Charlotte, N.C., next month, replaced by a call-in show hosted by conservative talk show host Mandy Connell.
The news jarred many of the program's veteran listeners, who took to the phone lines Wednesday night to vent their frustration to a patient and magnanimous Tony Vanetti, who sat behind the mic like a guy in the dunking booth at a charity fund raiser and did what a good host does — acknowledged the frustration while maintaining a positive mood.
I know how that feels. I did it for years while working for The Courier-Journal. The routine: Show up at an event, listen to a brief (or not-so-brief) tirade about whatever the latest offense the paper had given to this person or that, apologize, try to be an ambassador, to put a human face on this institution that is growing farther and farther from its audience.
In the end, however, there's no way to defend the decisions of some large, national media companies today. They do what they do. And we all know the reason. It's not always about how much money they can make. It's almost always about how much money they can save.
Longtime listener. I grew up listening to Van Vance on the nightly SportsTalk program — and then Milton Metz after that show was over. Metz was probably discussed as much as any Louisville media figure in my home growing up — and not just because my brother, Joe, could sound as much like El Metzo as the man himself — maybe more. On nights when my Dad would appear on Metz's show, Joe could re-enact entire discussions after they were over, right down to the old acquaintance from somewhere calling in and asking for “Brian” and inevitably asking him “do you know who this is?”
We all take talk radio for granted today. Milton Metz may well have invented it. Larry King started doing his first radio interviews from a restaurant down in Miami in 1958. But that was at a small station. “Metz Here,” debuted under a different name at WHAS in 1959, and ran continuously, five nights a week, until 1993, with 50,000 watts behind it, a remarkable accomplishment.
When Metz retired, Doug McElvein stepped into the job, before leaving for a long and successful on-air career in St. Louis. Joe Elliott had the late-night call-in job most recently, but when he was let go in 2007, Louisville's nearly 50-year run of a nightly news talk-show was over.
So, for me, Connell's return actually brings back one tradition, and a rich one that I've missed ever since Elliott (who has a show now at 970 WGTK in Louisville) was let go.
But the move also ends the 33-year run of Sports Talk, in which only three men sat behind the microphone.
It was the local sports talk show I listened to on a regular basis more than any other. Not because others weren't worthy or I didn't listen to them — but because nighttime gave me the opportunity to listen. And because the makeup of that show was the one that interested me the most.
Today, media is being splintered into segments. Conservative stations and liberal ones. Kentucky stations and Louisville stations. With most of those, I know what I'm going to hear from callers before the screener ever picks up the phone. The audience for the WHAS show mined the middle ground, and in many ways its callers were the silent majority — until 7 p.m. on weeknights, when you got to hear what they thought. The show had its lunatics, certainly, but surprisingly often was the intersection of fandom and reality. If you wanted to know your audience, that was the show to listen to.
Other programs, most notably Bob Valvano's afternoon talk show, have the same make-up.
Long-time caller. I don't know when Tony Cruise had me on the program for the first time, but he kept having me back, and eventually it became a regular thing, something Lachlan McLean continued when he became host.
I'm grateful for that opportunity.
My dad worked in radio for a long time in Louisville, then moved to TV, and finally wound up at The Courier-Journal. But for his entire newspaper career, people asked him, “are you ever going to go back to TV?” I suppose for the rest of mine, people are going to say, “are you ever going to get back into newspapers?”
I do a lot of radio. I'm Louisville's audio guest. But the number of people — both from Louisville and out in the state — who will come up and say they hear me on the WHAS program on Monday nights, exceeds all the rest combined.
I have been approached about doing my own radio show in this town several times. I've been a guest host for Jody Demling on The Early Birds and for The Afternoon Underdogs on 790 WKRD.
My hesitation to take on that task had nothing to do with a lack of interest, but it had everything to do with a respect for the job. It's a full-time gig.
My brother stays up writing for the next morning's show until later at night than he ought to be up, I'm sure.
There are hosts who jot down a few notes and go in and wing it. That's what I find myself doing when I fill in. But the guys who can do that and be consistently good are few and far between. Doing a radio show is work. It's putting thought into what you're going to say, then saying it with entertainment value. It's a full-time job. I already have a job, that I'm quite pleased with. I never felt like I could do justice to a radio show, and I have a lot of respect for the people who are good at it.
As the media dominos continue to fall in this town and elsewhere, I'm amazed that in a time when people are more hungry for news and comment than they've ever been, companies don't seem to be able to make enough money to take advantage of it.
It's one reason I'm so grateful to work in a place where the passion and energy is as high in the sales meetings as it is in the news meetings. It makes a difference. And it also makes a difference to work in a place where economic realities are shared with news employees, where goals are set, where the financial side of the business is explained.
You can't tell me, in Louisville, Ky., in 2015, you can't make money off a sports talk radio show at night. I don't believe it.
But you can believe that it's cheaper to have a syndicated program push the play button at 8 every night. And that's what we're going to have.
WDRB president and general manager Bill Lamb likes to remind people around this building — all the time — that “these are the good, old days.” And he regularly provides numbers to prove it.
In general, when it comes to media companies, you're getting less. Smaller staff. Fewer local programs. You can make your own list.
Whatever it is, it is not progress. And in my mind, if you find a media company willing to buck that trend, it's worth being a part of — and supporting.
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