Finding quality sports talk show hosts is not as easy as it sounded

December 23, 2006 | Nestor Aparicio

So, we gathered the 14 finalists in the Donahoo Ford “So You Wanna Be a Sports Talk Show Host” contest Wednesday night at Orchard Landing for some cocktails, munchies and well, SPORTS TALK.

Lemme take a second today to thank all of the participants, wannabes, basement tape makers and well, dreamers of the dream.

In all we received 74 envelopes full of love and hope and sex and dreams.

And every one of them seemed to arrive on the last day of the competition.

Love because they all LOVED sports.

Hope because they HOPED as a kid to grow up and do nothing but play sports, watch sports and talk sports.

SEX because its what they weren’t having while they were watching sports over the last 25 or more years and while they were too damned busy watching the Orioles play and…

DREAMS because many of these 74 folks were clearly dreaming.

This contest has been fascinating for me on many levels.

First, I received tapes from many listeners and even some friends who I never knew had any inspiration to want to do this.

Real, honest to God, heartfelt letters and tapes with people who wanted to sit behind a microphone for hours at a time and do nothing but give love to the Ravens and advice to the Orioles and props to the Terps.

I listened to every one of them cover to cover and read every word.

To be honest with you, it’s the first time I’ve ever really “hired” someone.

Everyone else around WNST kinda came, hung around, showed me how much they cared about the place, sports and the community and lo and behold, a radio station was born.

But this time we’re bringing in an “outsider,” someone who as of a week ago, I might not even know.

I heard from the “know it alls.” I heard from the wannabes. I heard from some NPR bookish sounding guys who clearly worshipped at the temple of Bob Costas. I had a husband-wife team that sounded as though they were in their kitchen washing dishes and I was eavesdropping on their conversation about the games this weekend. I had just tons of stuff to listen to and the strangest thing was how many folks thought that they would impress me by
writing a five-minute script and recite it back to me. That’s sports writing, not sports radio!

I had ranters and ravers — one guy said that Ed Reed was the “worst safety in the history of the universe.” We’ll leave the stupid comments about sports and athletes and coaches to our
competitors and to you, the callers. (That was a joke!)

We need to be the smart ones, the reasonable ones, the ones who have the access to ask the questions and research what’s really going on with your football team or your baseball team. We watch the games, we comment and opine on the results and hopefully, we do so in a respectful fashion like good friends in a barroom or a fraternity.

We have people here at the station who have coached the game, managed the game or the front office and who have, in the case of Spencer Folau, actually been on the field and contributed to winning a Super Bowl.

On our best days, that’s what we are: a little group of people who all have a passionate interest if not an out and out LOVE for sports, the Ravens, the Orioles, the Terps, the Blast and sports and our community.

So, in addition to meeting and greeting these 15 guys — and yes they were all men, I received just two inquiries from females and both were impressive but not ready for primetime — I wanted to make sure they had the requisite foundational knowledge to do sports radio in Baltimore.

So, I did what any thinking individual would do: I handed them a 15-question, “Diner”-style pop quiz! Some of these cats looked like they’d seen a ghost!

And some of them took on the Alpha male role of “ask me anything and I’ll answer it.” It was an interesting mix of some nice, if not frightened, folks.

In the room there were a couple of guys who do radio or have done this in the past. There were some guys who looked like accountants and some who looked like ex-weekend warriors or coaches.

A couple of them I know a bit, but most of them are relatively unfamiliar to me.

You can read about them and see them at www.wnst.net. They were picked along with the guidance and ear of Paul Kopelke and Ray Bachman, who really run this joint.

Anyhow, I brought along a pop quiz with 15 relatively trivial Baltimore-style sports questions to gauge the “IQ” of the contestants. Basically, I was giving them the Jeopardy test, only I don’t have Alex Trebek’s old mustache.

Having built an early career on knowing simple sports trivia questions, it was the dorky way of being in the sports-geek club. Back in 1993, my pal Bill “Swish” Morrison used to sit in once a week and we’d give away pizzas from Pep-A-Roni’s Pizza on Harford Road near the current Cameo Lounge. He’d ask Oriole trivia questions and always crush people on the Vida Blue
switch-hitter question. Those were some fun times, right?

But believe it or not, my 14 entries began eliminating themselves the other night with the incredible dearth of what I consider to be “basic” Baltimore sports talk show host knowledge.

And not to go all Phil Wood or pre-historic on you, but if you can’t name the last 11 Orioles managers — and I think this is a relatively question easy for anyone who considers themselves an “expert” — then you do not hold any water with me as a sports talk show host. And I guess the reason is simple: because I know more than you do.

It’s probably why this station exists, honestly.

I used to listen to Jeff Rimer and think, “How they hell did WBAL do a search all over the world for someone who knows baseball, football and basketball — the only sports that really “matter” — and come up with some hockey dude from Montreal who tells old Pete Rose stories? No offense, Rimer wasn’t a bad guy — as a matter of fact I still see him sometimes in hockey press boxes nationwide or catch him calling a game on my Comcast Center Ice
Package — he was just a lousy sports talk show host for a Baltimore audience that called him every night and embarrassed him with questions like “Can you please explain the infield fly rule to me?”

As defined by www.websters.com an expert is “a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; a specialist; an authority”

The Orioles manager question isn’t a “name the names” kinda question as much as it’s a defining moment and telling statistic on how much you really know about Baltimore baseball.

It also tells me how long you’ve been watching and reading about baseball. When I went on the air in 1991, I was 23. Johnny Oates was just walking in the door, Camden Yards was about to open and Peter Angelos didn’t own the Orioles.
Out of our 14 contestants, do you know how many got them all?

TWO!!! It seems as though the Mike Hargrove years got away from some of our folks!

You either know sports, or you do not.

The goal isn’t to be funny or glib or witty or have a voice like Fred Manfra’s. The goal is to have knowledge, expertise, the ability to communicate and, oh did I mention it, DEEP KNOWLEDGE! And it doesn’t hurt if you have sponsors who want to back you up with how we keep the lights on here: U.S. currency. If a sponsor knows a host can hold and entertain and inform an audience, then that sponsor will see people like you, the WNST listeners, walking in the door of their establishment and patronizing them.

It’s how they feed their families and how we feed ours and it’s the reason why everyone at WNST is having a great holiday! Over the years we’ve found that the only thing worse than a know it all, is a know it all who doesn’t know anything!

A few other sample questions:

Name three members of the 1973 Terps. Now, I’m not saying you had to be alive and watching David Thompson hit his head to know the answer to this question. If you know ANYTHING about the Terps and their history, this is pretty key if you’re going to host a radio show at WNST.

If you can’t name five Baltimore Colts coaches, you just haven’t done your homework, and you’re not really a big sports fan. And it’s not just a Baltimore thing. I could name five coaches or managers for ANY of the major sports franchises over the past 35 years.

I’m not bragging, I’m just that big of a fan. It’s all I’ve ever done all of my life, watch sports and interview athletes and try to better understand the game. I’m in the doctorate program of sports information and it’s a lifetime of learning and understanding sports and how it’s a metaphor for
real life and how to use what I’ve learned about sports in my real life.

But to be a sports talk host, you need to be working on your PHD — as well as your poor, hungry and determined degree on the business side — not your masters or your undergraduate.

Another duo of crushing questions: Who is the current head of college scouting for the Ravens? And, who is the pro personnel director? Only two prospective hosts got those correct. Most of the entries couldn’t name a coach on the Ravens’ staff beyond Brian Billick and Rex Ryan.

Another toughie, but a mandatory tell about who you are — question No. 3 was reciting the last line from the Memorial Stadium façade on 33rd Street?

In the name of Charley Eckman, if you don’t have the answers to these questions, you do not have your Baltimore sports PHD. In my mind, you haven’t even graduated high school!

And that’s not to insult anyone, that’s to just be frank!

And honestly, that’s why WNST exists: to educate, to put the history of a Baltimore sports situation in perspective and to stimulate interest, conversation, debate and hopefully affect positive change in every regard possible in the world of Baltimore sports.

Who knows, maybe that’s our corporate mission statement?

So in the interest of fairness, our oddsmakers — the book, if you will — has updated the odds, just so you know the skinny. And we always break the news first — that’s a shameless plug for us and a definite and purposeful knock on our competitors. (Hey, it’s the holidays — I’ll go light on their incompetence today, ’tis the season!)

At the end of the day, I think we’re the best little sports radio station on earth and our surveys tell us — overwhelmingly, I might add to the chagrin of some sports marketing people in town, who still think this radio station is a little Jim Jones cult for sports — that we do a very, very good job doing what we’re doing.

And as our world evolves around the web and podcasts and cellphones and cars will allow folks to listen to online streaming, we’re only gonna survive if we’re great, not just good or adequate!

All we are looking for is someone like us — nice people, who know a lot about sports and have dedicated our lives to it for some foolish reason and people who want to feed their children this way.

It’s a cool little place, I think, WNST.

I never dreamed this big, honestly.

And on the eve of the coolest holiday of the year — the one where we all take off, spend time with the really significant people in our lives and give thanks for all that we have, it’s never inappropriate to just say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Festivus.”

We’re working hard to make the next year our best ever.

I guess I’m just trying to make every day feel like Christmas, the day when you can have fun, open toys, watch football, drink egg nog and laugh.

Happy holidays everyone. Go Ravens. Beat the Steelers. Make my Christmas a happy one!

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