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Lift your heads and rejoice, all ye sportaholics, for whom ESPN, WTBS, WWOR and CBS Sports Sunday just aren't enough; who search the wide world of sports over and still want more; who gather around the hot stove even during the dog days of summer to discuss favorite players and their peccadilloes. There's something new in New York, and it's just for you. They call it all-sports radio.
If you are between Maine and southern New Jersey, you no longer need a TV set to satisfy your sports lust. Just turn the AM dial to 1050 WFAN—all sports all the time—and you'll immediately be plugged into the latest locker room developments. Are you a Knicks fan? WFAN had live coverage of the press conference that introduced new coach Rick Pitino. Do you go bonkers over Bo? The station had a reporter at Jackson's press conference in Auburn, Ala., at which he declared his intention to become a two-sport pro. WFAN has it all in the world of sports.
The problem is, during the greater part of most days, the world of sports isn't all that newsworthy, which explains why the lion's share of the station's airtime is devoted to listeners' calls. The hot topic in New York is the mercurial behavior of the Mets' Darryl Strawberry. Typical callers range from Jeff of Manhattan, whose voice took on a tone of malicious glee as he discussed possible trades for Strawberry, to Dan of Enfield, Conn., who got all choked up recounting how Strawberry's rookie season inspired him to accomplish what Richard Simmons, Dr. Stillman and Weight Watchers couldn't, that is, lose 50 pounds.
John Chanin, WFAN's programming director, acknowledges that the station gives too much time to callers. He likens listening to the stream of sports talk to "having incurable diarrhea." By September he hopes to restrict listeners' calls to 12 minutes per hour, devoting the rest of the hour to guests, features and live reports and feeds from live events. He also states unabashedly that "I would tell a youngster that if we're all you're listening to, you've got a problem."
The dearth of compelling sports news also wreaks havoc with the station's other staple, sports updates, which come at the numbing frequency of every 15 minutes. Does anything really happen in sports between 9:30 and 9:45 in the morning? Unless WFAN begins reporting on the breakfasts of champions—literally—it's hard to see how it can wring any worthwhile news from that kind of time slot.
In his best Cosellian manner, however, Jim Lampley, late of ABC Sports and now a morning host at WFAN, tells us that such criticism misses "the primary purpose of the updates, which is to inculcate the expectation of that update every 15 minutes. Radio is an incidental companion medium." Thanks, Jim. Incidental it may be, but do we need four of these things every hour, 24 hours a day?
Chanin's format works best when the host interacts with an informative guest who can not only entertain the listeners but also give some focus to their calls. Last week, for instance, host and former Met Art Shamsky discussed the rabbit ball and the state of free agency with Jim Bouton. Another host, Steve Somers, and Peter Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau challenged the conventional baseball wisdom that managers should bunch their best hitters together in the batting order. This was good, provocative stuff. More is needed.
The power behind the all-sports experiment is Emmis Broadcasting, the nation's largest privately owned broadcasting group. Eleven months after purchasing WHN, a New York City country music station, Emmis plunged into the uncharted waters of all-sports. If the experiment works, clones should soon appear, and you, too, will be able to hear endless over-the-air second-guessing by your fellow fanatics. If it fails, Emmis execs will be doing some second-guessing of their own.