There are 237 sports talk radio stations in this country today, and they all have two things in common: 1) They run lots of commercials for impotence cures, and 2) at one point they all declare that they are going to be the first station to develop a more erudite brand of sports talk. Some programming genius will invariably vow to stop pandering to the lowest common denominator and raise the level of discourse. But as Dirty Harry said, a man has got to know his limitations. Leslie Nielsen should not do Shakespeare, Magic Johnson should not host a TV talk show, and sports talk radio should not attempt to be cerebral.
In Boston last week, at an AM radio station that does sports talk on weekends, a program director called the studio from home and demanded that a caller be taken off the air. The caller's crime? He used the term rat's ass. As in, "I don't give a rat's ass about the World Cup." Peter Casey, the program director at WBZ radio, found this language offensive, which makes him not unlike a mugging victim who happened to be out for a 3 a.m. stroll in a bad neighborhood. What did you expect, chief? When you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
Which brings us to another common thread at most sports radio stations: the wacky on-air personality known as (choose one of the following) Dog, Mad Dog, Big Dog, Bulldog or Doggie Dog. Truth is, most of the sports-rabid audience would rather listen to the hysterical rantings of Mr. Mad Dog than, say, George Will. It's fun. It's funny. It's sports It's talk radio. It works precisely because it's nor erudite. I should know—I host a five-day-per-week sports talk show on WEEI.
The host of the WBZ program, Boston icon Bob Lobel, resigned in protest after the perceived censorship by Casey. The caller, a caustic speed-dialer known as Butch from the Cape, achieved celebrity status across New England. The story triggered the usual polemics on the scourge of sports radio, which, many experts agree, leads directly to teen smoking, body piercing and Farrelly brothers films.
Sports radio is a misnomer. It's really guy radio-packaged and sold to men 25 to 54 years old. When it's good, it has the feel of a couple of guys at the bar, getting loose, talking sports. When was the last time guys watched their language while debating Griffey versus McGwire at a bar? Sports radio doesn't work when you try to dress it up and pass it off as highbrow public service. You can't make a silk purse out of a rat's ass.