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Like Andelman, Jim McCarthy, 43, grew up around Boston. He is lean and lanky and the only bona fide athlete in the Huddle, having been an all-star basketball and football player in high school. Jim is also the most excitable of the group. He once referred to Adams on the air as "the biggest jerk I ever met." Another time, angered when Andelman downgraded Bob Cousy during a broadcast, he took a swing at his cohort, missed but then shoved him and walked out of the studio while they were still on the air.
Mark Witkin, 32, is from Latrobe, Pa. and is the moderating voice when matters get that far out of hand. "Rarely do the three of us agree on controversial topics," Witkin understates it. "That's good, though, because it leads to lively discussions."
After one "lively discussion," a caller told Andelman, "You sound like three guys in a gin mill." He meant it as a put-down, but succeeded only in pleasing the Huddlers. Their show was spawned in the bar of Patton's, a Boston restaurant where McCarthy, Andelman and Witkin used to forgather to argue sports while they waited out late-afternoon traffic jams before heading home. A radio executive got an earful of them—who didn't?—and, far from switching bars, decided the three were marketable. On June 21, 1969 the show for which the world was not waiting was heard on WUNR. Prospects for the venture seemed so meager that McCarthy didn't even bother to show up.
"We thought it would be a telephone-talk show, but when we got to the studio for our first program they told us the phones didn't work," Andelman recalls. "All of a sudden we found they wanted us to talk for two hours. We told the listeners, 'You will be the stars of this show. We have two goals: to put fun back in sports and to look out for the fans.' "
After six months at little WUNR, the Huddle graduated to WBZ, a 50,000-watt clear-signal station heard in 32 states and Canada.
"That was when the show was at its best," says Jack Craig, a radio-TV critic for the Boston Globe. "Someone would call from Cincinnati and say, 'Now let me tell you what the real trouble is with the Reds.' That gave unusual depth to the show."
The depth did not last long. The Huddlers claim WBZ, Boston's richest radio station, was pressured to drop the show by the Bruins. There also was something about a new station manager who did not care for the three loudmouths. A station spokesman says merely that it was a bad show and WBZ dropped it—a mistake, it soon developed. The American Research Bureau ratings for Boston revealed that WBZ's audience fell off 66% during the time spot vacated by the Huddle. WEEI, a 5,000-watter with a four-state audience, picked up the show, and its listeners for that same Sunday night time slot have more than doubled.
During the Huddle's last night on WBZ, 2,000 people jammed the station parking lot to pay tribute to their favorite three-man team. Last June the show was syndicated and so far, 40 stations around the country have bought it. While commercial time is sold to sponsors, the Huddlers insist they have turned their backs on offers that would transform what they still regard as their pastime into a commercial venture. For example, they refused $5,000 for the use of their faces on frankfurter packages. (It is hard to imagine what profit anybody would have realized out of three men on a dog.)
Huddle Power is nothing new. Calls while the Huddle is in progress often reach 12,000 in number and more than once have hit 20,000. In 1970, dismayed that President Nixon had not congratulated the Bruins after their Stanley Cup victory, Sports Huddle phoned Edward Brooke and Ted Kennedy and got both Massachusetts Senators to say that the President was guilty of first-degree oversight. Before long, 30,000 listeners signed 7,000 letters to the White House demanding action. They got it—tardily, but big. President Nixon sent a congratulatory telegram five months later and followed it up with a most unusual bit of advertising while riding in a convertible through Dublin. The President held up a sign saying BOSTON BRUINS ARE NO. 1. Native Irishmen, nonplussed, shrugged their shoulders, but their Boston kinsmen knew what it was all about and chalked up another accomplishment for the Sports Huddle.
First-time listeners to the show are apt to be shocked by the experience. When the Huddle wants to get rid of a crank or a bore, a signal is given to the program's engineer and immediately the ticking of a loud clock is heard. It is the mechanism for a time bomb, and in a few seconds the caller is blown off the air by the sound of a 10-megaton explosion. Disdaining the traditional Sousa-type music that opens most sports programs, Sports Huddle introduces itself with the grinding sounds of a calliope, signaling that it is time again for four hours of fun and fantasy. Before the evening ends, listeners can count on hearing the usual strong sports commentary, a stranger-than-life tale, surprise guests (real and fanciful), commercials (real and fanciful), a mystery quiz, phone calls around the world and, of course, a few words from the audience.