Long Time Listener, First Time Caller
July 17, 2015 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Shannon Proudfoot on the joys, sorrows and culture of sports radio. Welcome to sports call-in radio, the world’s cheapest therapy. You don’t have to wait too long for an appointment, and like a 12-step meeting, it’s first names only—and you can even lie about that if you want. There’s no real psychological expertise on offer, but that’s not why anyone tunes in. Call-in radio is, quite literally, about making your voice heard. These shows are their own intense little communities—complete with local celebrities, crackpot street-corner prophets and unwritten etiquette—built on the foundation of obsessive sports fandom.
posted by frimble (27 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Love Philly sports talk radio during football season. It's all part of the fun, just don't take it serious.

Good teams make for bad radio, and bad teams make for fantastic radio. After all, you don’t call up your best friend for a two-hour bitch session when things are awesome in your life. And every radio host’s nightmares are haunted by the same bogeyman: silence. “What if nobody calls? That is the greatest fear,”

This isn't exactly true. Bad teams, really bad teams, make for bad radio. Nobody has anything new or interesting to say about the 76ers or Phillies right now. What makes the best sports talk radio is good games that matter, win or lose. You need to have a certain level of success for a team before people will live and die with every moment.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:15 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, Josh Innes sucks. Sports talk radio is at it's absolute worst when it's just pure trolling.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:17 AM on July 17, 2015

Sports radio really is the bottom rung of mindless broadcast entertainment, but there are some gems in the muck.

Jim Rome's contribution* to our culture (and it's a valuable one!): "Have a take; don't suck."

Jim Healy's show in LA was amazing, a pastiche of scores, old clips (Charles Barkley's "bad team, man. Bad fucking team" got a lot of play), commentary, but no callers. (His last show!)

And since the FPP is Canada-centric: One of the joys of witnessing the LA Kings break the Canucks in the playoffs a few years back was tuning in (via streaming) to Vancouver sports talk radio for the post game rending of garments.
posted by notyou at 7:25 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nobody has anything new or interesting to say about the 76ers or Phillies right now.

So call up and say something disparaging about the Mets. What's happened to that Philly pride?
posted by three blind mice at 7:30 AM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Jim Rome's show has a daily and annual competition among sports-call otakus. There are show-universe celebrities ("Brad in Corona" et al.) who probably walk around incognito in real life.

A little Jim can go a long way, but the bluster and the callers are more interesting than his sports interviews. A fan site archives a lot of audio, including the most recent "Smack-off" winners.
posted by kurumi at 7:31 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've got a pretty short ride to work, so lately, instead of listening to maybe two songs, I'll check in on sports radio. Milwaukee sports radio is ok, but Chicago sports radio is a treasure of sadness.

The one thing that un-nerves me about it though, is the number of ads for divorce lawyers and "Low-T" therapy.
posted by drezdn at 7:33 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are show-universe celebrities ("Brad in Corona" et al.) who probably walk around incognito in real life.

Wow that sounds vaguely familiar....
posted by jonmc at 7:35 AM on July 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Whenever Garrison Kellior comes on the radio, I switch over to the local sportstalk station. I probably couldn't name 30 active professional athletes these days but the good sports radio hosts have an Art Bell quality where they make cranks and wierdos into entertaining radio.

The one thing that un-nerves me about it though, is the number of ads for divorce lawyers and "Low-T" therapy.

OMG, this! Delinquent taxes, divorce attorneys, DUI defense, erectile disfunction supplements. Advertisers know their audiences, I suppose.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:42 AM on July 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's said that Toastmasters does wonders for people's confidence--sports radio is like Toastmasters for sports fans! Except, no need to picture your audience naked because you don't have to look at them.
posted by mantecol at 7:48 AM on July 17, 2015

I have a hate-love-hate relationship with sports talk, but I've found it useful for taking the temperature outside of my epistemic bubble.

For example, same-sex marriage (and
gay rights, generally) is treated as a no-brainier equality issue when it comes up (at least with the hosts), while the recent discussion of Caitlyn Jenner receiving an ESPY was a depressing window into how much of the rest of the country actually thinks of transgender Americans.

I knew marriage equality was inevitable when the otherwise macho, bro hosts of the local sports talk station gradually came around to the view: "Marry whoever you want, it's none of my damn business."

It's fascinating (and sobering and maddening sometimes) to observe the slow percolation of changing social norms through this particular medium.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 7:52 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I do love a bit of football (soccer) related talk radio over here in the UK - although I'll generally stick to BBC Five Live rather than the dark, murky realms of Talk Sport, the cabbies' favourite.

I won't lie, a lot of it is absolutely lowest-common-denominator football knowledge put forward by the kind of person who wears a full football kit to go to the shop, but part of the fun is always guessing up front, as the games play themselves out, which group of vocal fans will be on 606 calling for their manager to be sacked or complaining about referees.

Then, every now and again, you get the sheer joy that is a rival fan crying on air when things are going wrong, or blubbing at the memory of a better time.

It's not big. It's not clever. But god it can be fun. And ultimately, what goes around comes around - the smart fan knows that being able to savor the above is only temporary - sooner or later your turn comes for your team to be the one that is causing tears.
posted by garius at 7:54 AM on July 17, 2015

...kept thinking they’d hit a point where everything had been said and people would move on with their day. It never happened.

I can't bear to listen to this stuff. My son listens all day, so I get to hear it if he's driving or I'm working with him. I thought maybe I'd like an intelligent sports show, but even 'Only a Game' and Frank Deford on NPR will cause me to leave the room. I guess I'm not much for 'reality' shows.

Which is not to say I won't listen to the games, but to talk about the games, or to talk about other people talking about the games...
Do we really need to be reminded that opinions are like certain orifices?
posted by MtDewd at 8:00 AM on July 17, 2015

Insight No. 2 There is no physical tic too small for fans to extrapolate from it a player’s entire approach to life. Quarterback controversies are call-in catnip in Saskatchewan, for example, and God help the quarterback who grins a little after an interception, because he obviously doesn’t care and should be run out of town immediately.

One of my favorite sports talk calls ever was this guy who called in to the Angels post-game show absolutely irate. As far as I can tell, this guy called in to the show after every, single game; either that or it just happened to be a bizarre coincidence that he called in every time I happened to listen. His anger that day was at the level of guy who just walked in on his wife in bed with six other guys or finding excrement in his soup at a restaurant. He was mad because he noticed during a brief camera shot of the Angels bullpen that one of their relievers was horsing around, trying to entertain his teammates, rather than being laser focused on the game. I suppose to the credit of the caller, that reliever did stink that season and was eventually released.

This thread also seems like a logical place to recommend (if you haven't seen it already) the excellent Big Fan.
posted by The Gooch at 8:09 AM on July 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Man, I was just going to recommend Big Fan, especially the beginning and end bits, where it's made clear that he's not just way too into the Giants, he's way too into being a fan of the Giants, and Patton Oswalt plays the subtle differences between the two masterfully.
posted by Etrigan at 8:28 AM on July 17, 2015

Insight No. 2 There is no physical tic too small for fans to extrapolate from it a player’s entire approach to life.

A related thing I find increasingly fascinating is how many sports fans (and coaches and players, for that matter) turn the games into trials on the personal morality of the participants. If you lose, it's not because your strategy was poorly thought out or because you're slower, and definitely not because you were unlucky, it's because you didn't want to win as badly as your opponent did. Winning is portrayed as something where talent, or developing skills, or even putting in effort in the weight and film rooms is maybe helpful in some abstract way, but the only thing that truly matters is a single aspect of one's mindset for whatever time a player is on the field.

In practice, this stuff is almost all confirmation bias if not outright racism/classism/xenophobia/whatever, usually mixed with a heavy dose of fantasy on the topic of "how it turns out I'm actually better as a person than these young, attractive, and popular millionaires who act like they're so great". That's all kind of ridiculous, but what I find most interesting is the underlying belief that sports are not a physical contest or a mental contest of strategy and tactics, but a mental contest of the competitors' abstract Wills to Win, just because it's nearly universally accepted, and when you sit down and think about it, very weird.
posted by Copronymus at 8:44 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Jay Mohr (sp?) has an excellent radio show right now, never heard anything like it really. It's like a sarcastic version of the rock jock shit mixed with your typical AM sports radio.

Have had a few times where I pulled over because of uncontainable laughter...I specifically remember some segment where they decided Belichik, if handed a joint at a concerjt, definitely takes a puff quietly and moves it along. They ran through some ideas of what that leads to in a huddle, and holy shit is was it funny.

Standard AM sports radio fare is like the most filler car option ever; the same every day.
posted by GreyboxHero at 8:45 AM on July 17, 2015

Sports radio and music are the only things I listen to these days. I just can't listen to anything else -- it's either lowest-common-denominator news/weather/traffic, or political partisan glurge, or oh-so-pleased-with-itself NPR.

At least sports radio is ultimately about outcomes -- wins and losses, things I can measure. Ira Glass is ephemeral.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 AM on July 17, 2015

I don't listen to a lot of sport talk radio, but one of my joys in life was the Braves call-in show hosted by the late lamented Skip Carey when fans, knowing it drove him nuts, would ask him to explain the infield-fly rule.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:21 AM on July 17, 2015

Brad in Corona, meet Phyllis from Mulga
posted by klarck at 9:47 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Drinky Die Innes had the afternoon drive home slot on the biggest station in Houston before he got demoted to nights in Philly and nobody here has heard his name mentioned since. Total dead air. His stories about growing up in a trailer park are OK though. He just is ignorant about football, knows nothing about basketball, and does not even know what a baseball is. That he gets any ratings at all is some kind of cosmic joke.

Also the idea that worse teams do not make better radio? The greatest sports talk radio fan calls I have heard in my life were in New Orleans on Sunday night after a Saints loss when the teams were the worst.
posted by bukvich at 10:08 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love listening to sports talk radio, but can't stand listening to these guys when they try to parse the difference between "the media" and "the fan." Whenever I hear one of these guys preface a comment with, "I enjoy watching X as a fan..." Or "As a fan, I feel Y..."

This just drives me crazy. YOU. ARE. NOT. JUST. A. FAN. You are a guy who gets paid to do what a lot of us do for free, and have access that most of us don't. Do your job. Stop pretending to be "just a fan" -- it's insulting. Own up to it, or move on.

By the way, the best sports talk program was the Chicago Bears post game show with Doug Buffone and Ed O'Bradovich. Two old grizzled ex-Bears who went through every cliche:



posted by zooropa at 10:41 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I lived in Austin I used to listen to the sports radio stations because everything about the Cowboys and UT would be parsed with the level of conspiracy theorists studying the Kennedy assassination and EVERYTHING was wrestling-quality drama requiring histrionic reactions, so it was tons of fun. Seattle sports radio is less entertaining.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:08 PM on July 17, 2015

Don't care much for sports talk radio in real life, but did want to Nth the recommendation of "Big Fan" - it's an entertaining film, and Patton Oswalt give a good performance in it.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 12:30 PM on July 17, 2015

Oh man, this entire thread could be about Phyllis from Mulga.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:41 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also the idea that worse teams do not make better radio? The greatest sports talk radio fan calls I have heard in my life were in New Orleans on Sunday night after a Saints loss when the teams were the worst.

I think this stuff varies by city (and by show) pretty widely. Here in DC, the day after the Nationals clinched a playoff spot for the first time as the Nats (and the first time there was playoff baseball in DC since the 30s), one of the big sports talk shows got the GM of the Nationals on, and the very first question he was asked was about his thoughts on how the city's perennially embarrassment of a football team was doing in the early season.

I think the best balance requires some other distractions so you get some emotional variation. Having a central focus is good so that the diehards can obsess over minutiae of the punter's demeanor while doing sideline reps, but sometimes the most popular team in a city is really goddamn boring and it's nice to have something, anything else to talk about.
posted by Copronymus at 2:22 PM on July 17, 2015

By the way, the best sports talk program was the Chicago Bears post game show with Doug Buffone and Ed O'Bradovich.

Oh yes! Doug and OB's post-game show was must-listen radio. Many times, they were much more entertaining than the actual game. The Score has an archive of their shows from the last couple seasons.

(*skypoint* for Doug Buffone)
posted by SisterHavana at 2:32 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love listening to smart people talk about the sports I like. But if I ever come into possession of any national secrets, a foreign government would be able to break me with one hour of call-in radio.

My god, people are stupid. But I know, it's sports. It's not about being rational.
posted by dry white toast at 8:36 PM on July 17, 2015

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