Nestor’s series on Baltimore sports media: Here’s MY opinion on it…

February 01, 2010 | Drew Forrester

I read with great interest Part 1 of Nestor’s blog series on the state of Baltimore media today.  There are – as is always the case with Nestor and I – things he writes and/or believes that I agree with and things that I don’t.

On the whole though, I’m always interested in hearing or reading anything connected with evaluating the media and the role we play in bringing coverage and opinion to a subject.

It interests me, of course, because I’m in the media.  And I grew up reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, watching sports on TV and, naturally, playing sports as both a youth and an adult.  I was a newspaper/magazine junkie growing up and I spent about 300 nights a year listening to either Orioles baseball or Capitals hockey on the radio during my “formative years” of sports fandom growing up in Glen Burnie.

And in 1981, I began my career with the Baltimore Blast and had the pleasure of working alongside the great Charley Eckman for the better part of a decade.  I grew up playing Little League Baseball with Charley’s nephew, so I knew of him “personally” before I worked with him “professionally”.  I flew on airplanes with Charley…I ate steak dinners with Charley…and I sat in hotel bars with Charley and listened to him weave tales and real-life-experiences about his time in the NBA and as a sports talker at WFBR in Baltimore.

We were in the Chase Park Plaza hotel in St. Louis in 1984.  Charley was the color commentator for our Blast broadcasts and still driving the ratings at ‘FBR talking O’s baseball, Blast soccer and sports gambling…probably not in that order.

As I nursed a beer and Charley chugged Chivas Regal in the bar adjacent to Charley’s favorite restaurant on the road, “The Tenderloin Room”, he said something to Kenny Cooper (Blast coach) and I that still resonates with me today:  ”If someone says ‘what do you think of Charley Eckman?’ and the person who was asked the question shrugs his shoulders, that makes you a nobody.  Being a nobody isn’t the object, is it?”

One thing for sure.  When the words “What do you think of Charley Eckman?” were put out there in Baltimore, the person being questioned almost NEVER shrugged his or her shoulders.

Charley always had an opinion.  He was Jim Rome before Jim Rome was playing Little League baseball.

So that brings me to Part 1 of Nestor’s blog.

Unlike Nestor, who openly admits he doesn’t listen to much Baltimore sports talk, I’m the exact opposite.  I listen to anything and everything, as much as possible, mostly when I’m in car.  I’m not generally going to turn on the radio at home, simply because our entertainment time at home these days is more about which Little Einstein’s episode Ethan wants to watch, but I’m an avid sports talk listener when I’m in the car.

Why do I listen?

For the same reason the Coca-Cola people drink the occasional Pepsi.  For the same reason the Outback folks will dine at an Applebee’s from time to time.  For the same reason the Sports Illustrated people keep a copy of The Sporting News handy.

I listen (and read) because these are the people in the market who are doing the same thing that I do, generally speaking.

I don’t hear much that impresses me, frankly, because nearly everyone I listen to is afraid to give an opinion.  What I read from the columnists and bloggers these days is easily confused with a team press release rather than their own thoughts on the matter at hand.

I talked about this last week during our Thursday morning “Cheap Shot from The Bleachers” on The Comcast Morning.  The theme of my cheap shot was “What ever happened to the art of giving your opinion?”  The week after the Ravens beat New England, I wrote a piece that outlined my opinion on John Harbaugh and his future with the team and the fact that I thought he deserved a contract extension.  I’ve authored many things on how royally screwed up the Orioles are from a marketing and public relations standpoint and there’s never been one thing – not one – that I looked back on and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t have given my opinion on that issue”.

I don’t know why more people in the Baltimore media aren’t willing to give their opinion, but it’s definitely a dying art.

I do understand one part of the opinion-dodging group in town.  It mostly keeps them away from the haters and the folks in town who find people with an opinion – I’m in that camp, for sure – to be unprofessional, loud, out of line and undesirable.

There are folks at 105.7 on the air every single day that I’ve NEVER heard take the Orioles to task without offering some kind of soft rebuttal on the positive side to balance out their criticism.  And these are people who have been in the market for 10-15 years and haven’t seen an important baseball game in town since Clinton was the President.

I don’t want to hear stories.  I want to hear your OPINION.  But that’s just me.

So on the whole, honestly, I don’t hear much on the air or read much on the web anymore that makes me say, “Wow, good for him (or her).  That’s good radio.  Or good reading.”

There are, though, people that we deem “the competition” that I listen to and appreciate.

I like Ken Weinman’s effort.  He’s not a fence sitter.  If you call into his show with something dumb, he’s going to set you straight.

Someone called my show last week and said the Ravens should fire Cam Cameron and hire Hue Jackson.  Others in town would have said, “That’s an interesting viewpoint…Hue’s a good man for sure.”  Instead, I said, “Are you out of your mind?  What makes you call me with that kind of lunacy?  What has Hue Jackson done that would make you think he could do a better job of coordinating offense than Cam Cameron, who is widely regarded as one of the best offensive minds in football?  This is one of the dumbest calls of the week.”

If that’s being disrespectful to a caller, so be it.  But my mantra is this:  Don’t call the show unless you’re smart enough to say something engaging. Generally, I find that Weinman operates on that notion as well.  I like his work.

Even though I pick on Jerry Coleman a lot, I do appreciate the fact he listens to my show and often times chirps in with a text message or two about how unprofessional we are for ragging on him.  It’s just tough love, Jerry, is what I tell him.  But I also sincerely think Jerry does a good job and he’s an out-and-out hustler when it comes to reporting and getting a soundbite from the locker room.  He loses to us more than he beats us (sorry, Jerry, that’s a fact) but he’s a scrapper and he gives opinion and that gets thumbs-up from me.  I don’t care for sound effects and other distractions in his show, per-se, but he might not like hearing “Raised on the Radio” every morning on MY show, so it’s horses for courses on that one.  I listen to Jerry and I like his work because he has an opinion.  I heard him whacking Ray Lewis around after the loss in Indianapolis because Ray didn’t visit with the media afterwards…Jerry called it bush-league, which, ironically, is what I always term it whenever Ray dodges the media after a loss.

When he was on the air full-time, I thought Steve Davis was an interesting listen.  He’s one of the rare “out of towners” that I think has done a good job of not making it painfully obvious he (OR SHE) is from somewhere other than Baltimore.  And Steve had an opinion on things and was always well informed, in my opinion.

And I think Mark Viviano is a polished, professional broadcaster who moves his show along nicely.  I’d like to see him be MORE opinionated, frankly, because I’ve talked to Mark one-on-one enough to know he absolutely has an opinion on a lot of things and when I’ve had chats with him they’ve been interesting.

Of course, you can’t really give your opinion about Baltimore sports media without talking about the newest “ex-member” of the scene, Anita Marks.  In all honesty, I never liked to hear her talk about her infatuation with South Florida, “The U” and anything else connected to her home base.  That stuff doesn’t fly in Baltimore just like it wouldn’t fly if someone from Pittsburgh landed in our city to do sports talk and started blabbering about Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, “We are Family” and Sydney Crosby.  That said, I will say I always appreciated one thing about Anita that others in town never gave her credit for:  I admired her for taking a stance.  Sometimes I laughed at it – just like my stance on issues get laughed at – but I always respected the fact that she would stand up and say, “This is what I think about the Ravens offensive woes”.  I wish she would have opined more on the woeful state of the Orioles, but she was too busy applauding them for their “vast improvements” (her words, honestly, during a December show).

Her open flirting with Ravens players was uncomfortable at best and unprofessional without question.  When she ended an interview with ex-Ravens coach Dennis Thurman a few weeks back by cooing, “Miss you, Dennis”, the only thing missing was a Valentine’s Day card and a box of chocolates.

That said, she definitely gave her OPINION more than any on-air staffer at 105.7 and that, to me, made her interesting.

I’d like to see Peter Schmuck be more opinionated.  I’d like to see Roch Kubatko be more opinionated.  Those two guys are very well versed in sports and, in particular, baseball, and I think our market misses something when neither of them are willing to opine as much as their positions should allow without worry about the content or the opinion they render.

I won’t cover the “fan web-sites” – as I call them – who devote full-time coverage to the Ravens, O’s and Terps, because they’re not REALLY media members, even though, for example, the O’s give a press credential to certain sites in town who offer wall-to-wall “coverage” of them.  They’re NOT media members, even if they cover the O’s or Ravens 24/7 – no pun intended, it’s not a low blow…just a fact – so I didn’t include any of them in my evaluation of Baltimore sports media.  Those sites give far more back rubs than justified criticism, because if they didn’t do that, they’d be on the outside looking in when it comes to being treated the right way by the teams they fawn over.  True that.

My summary:  I don’t think Baltimore sports talk and sports media is dreadful, but I think it really lacks people who are willing to offer their opinion without concern for what their boss, their station or the teams in town might think of what they hear or read.  Most media members in town are worried about what the anoynmous internet cowards are going to message-board post about their work and not nearly as worried about saying something meaningful even if it’s offering a criticism.

Anyone who calls a talk show, writes on a message board or posts a comment here, at WNST.net, and doesn’t identify themselves using their real name has ruined their chance at gaining ANY credibility, in my mind.  Stand up and be a man (or a woman) and write the name your mom and dad gave you and say: “I’m (insert real name here) and here’s what I think about YOU or what YOU wrote or said on the air.”  Anything less than that – anywhere – makes you less accountable.  In fact, if you call a show or post something on the internet or respond to someone’s blog and you don’t use your real name, your thoughts and opinions don’t matter.  You’d be more productive taking a piss on your new tennis shoes.

That’s MY opinion, of course.

And it’s my opinion that I think a lot of shoulder-shrugging goes on in our market when someone asks a question about the quality of work provided by Baltimore sports media members.

Charley Eckman wouldn’t like that.

As he once said to me, “The object is to get them to have an opinion on you.  Having someone love your work or despise your work is much better than having them shrug their shoulders and not give a damn about you.”

My opinion:  Charley Eckman knew what he was talking about.

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