In all fairness—maybe that's the word we're looking for—it should be pointed out that I Hacksaw is not just reckless and vicious. He is hardworking and knowledgeable, too. But everyone has an off day. It was Hacksaw who breathlessly reported two years ago that Raiders running back Napoleon McCallum was about to have his injured leg amputated. Either McCallum has been fitted with a remarkably lifelike prosthesis or Hacksaw got some bum dope.
If they boot the odd story, sports radio people don't sweat it. With a few notable exceptions, they seek not so much to inform as to entertain. Their mission is not so much to break news as to break, uh, chops.
Ask poor Rich Kotite, a coach treated so brutally by WIP in Philadelphia that when the New York Jets hired him in January 1995, he actually looked forward to dealing with the jackals of the New York media. Shortly before Kotite was fired by the Eagles in December 1994, WIP, smelling blood in the water, played cuts from the fictitious album A Staten Island Christmas—Kotite lives in that New York borough—including It's Beginning to Look like Unemployment, sung to the tune of It's Beginning to Look (a Lot) like Christmas.
"A lot of the teams in this city don't like us very much," says former WIP producer Ian Booth. He is wrong. All the teams in Philadelphia loathe the station, which panders to bottom-feeding listeners. And to get to the bottom in Philly, you need a nuclear submarine. The station rarely does interviews; it deals almost exclusively in opinion, innuendo and rumor. "There's no accountability," admits one staffer. "It's dangerous, it's mean-spirited, it's almost a disgrace that it works."
"Yes, we are negative," says Al Morganti, a member of WIP's highly successful four-person morning show. "It's Philadelphia. People want negative. They want to boo." Morganti is a hockey analyst for ESPN and a former sportswriter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Though he has broken stories for WIP, he admits that when he is at the radio station, he is not a journalist. "I check in, and I check my conscience at the door," he says.
Conscience, taste, ethics—they just get in the way of what WIP does best, which is tear strips off its victims. As a follow-up to a recent Philadelphia Daily News story that raised the specter of racism in the Caucasian-intensive Phillies organization, WIP released a duet: the supposed voices of Phillies manager Jim Fregosi and senior vice president-general manager Lee Thomas singing I'm Dreaming of a White Dugout.
Only slightly less carnivorous than WIP is Boston's WEEI, whose "talent" devotes much of its energy to churning out savagely funny sketches that skewer an assortment of local louts, bullies, stuffed shirts and hypocrites. And Albert Belle. No one has taken more abuse from WEEI than the Cleveland Indians slugger, who in one sketch responded to trick-or-treaters, "F—-off, I got no candy!"
The reason the focus is on entertainment, rather than pure sports, is that the hard-core sports junkies who actually call WEEI make up a tiny percentage of its audience. Which is not to say some of the callers are not very entertaining. "Butch from the Cape is as good a caller as we get," says program director Glenn Ordway. "He's well-prepared, concise and funny."
And thirsty. At 10:40 on a sun-splashed weekday morning in Hyannis, Mass., Butch poses a question to our waitress: "Is the bar open?" It is. He orders the first of six beers he will drain over the next 2½ hours, during which time he will define his role at WEEI "I see myself as a professional ball-buster," he says. "I like to remind these guys that there is a whole network of people out here who know as much as they do."
For 25 years Butch, who grew up in the New York City area, paid the mortgage and fed his family by knowing more than the next guy about sports. He was a professional gambler. "I spent 25 years in the volcano," he says. He has a wife of 31 years, and they have three grown children, one of whom is a lawyer in upstate New York. For this reason Butch would rather we not use his last name. Butch retired six years ago to Cape Cod, off the coast of which he can often be seen at the helm of his 28-foot cabin cruiser listening, on headphones, to sports talk.