A 4-part interview — “Life at WNST” (part 2)

January 10, 2012 | Drew Forrester

RL —  What makes the perfect sports talk host?

DF —  I don’t know.  I think that’s a scientific investigation that hasn’t yet been completed.  I’ve never heard anyone on the radio and thought to myself, “that person is perfect, they do it all exactly the way it should be done.”  When you write a newspaper article, you have plenty of time to edit it, change something, soften your stance, etc.  All the way up until you hit “send” and get the story you wrote to the people on the desk, you can change anything you wrote.  It never works that way in radio.  The mic is live. What you say right now can’t be edited 10 minutes later.  That’s an interesting part of radio that I think some people don’t understand.  That mic is on and something needs to be said.  Sometimes we — and I’m only speaking for myself, here — say stuff that shouldn’t be said and sometimes we say stuff that should be said but we have trouble saying it.  It’s not easy to decipher which category you’re in while you’re saying it. Everything happens quickly when the mic is on.

RL — You’re known for the interesting characters that contribute on occasion.  It’s not quite Howard Stern, but you definitely have a stable of unique people who call your show.

DF — I assume you’re talking about Merton from Indianapolis?

RL — Among others, yes.

DF — Well, it’s funny you mention Stern because I think even sports radio has some room for creativity like we’ve heard over the years from guys like The Greaseman and Stern and Don and Mike.  I know sports is important to the people who are listening or reading on the net and I take sports very seriously — but over the course of four hours every day, I think you need to find some room for fun.  By nature, people like to laugh.  But you have to give them a reason to laugh.

RL — Some would say Merton isn’t all that funny.

DF — Sure, I understand that.  He’s just like anyone else on the radio, he has his good days and his off days.  But it’s not really up to me to judge whether or not he’s funny in the moment.  He follows the rules, he’s allowed to call and add whatever he wants to the show.  Same with any of the others who are, what did you call them, unique?  They can all call the show as long as they don’t drop an “F bomb” and get me and the station in hot water with the FCC.  I’ve had lots of people over the years ask me to not let Merton call in anymore because of his anti-Baltimore slant, but I just won’t do that.  I know what it’s like to be silenced by the baseball team because of things I’ve said.  I lost my media credential for four years because the Orioles were trying to prove a point about falling in line and not being overly critical.  I’m not in the business of silencing anyone.  It’s talk radio.  The key word there is “talk”.  If you have something to say, call the show and say it.

RL — None of the calls are staged?  It occasionally sounds like you’re in on the gag.

DF — Not at all.  I’ve never, ever met Merton.  I’ve never met Pete from downtown.  I don’t know if they’re legit or if they’re putting on an act.  I *assume* Merton isn’t really “Merton” and I assume he doesn’t really live in Indianapolis, but hell, I don’t know. That goes back to what I said earlier about using your imagination in radio.  Is Merton sitting in his 18-wheeler in Indianapolis listening to the show on his i-Phone and calling the show in Baltimore?  I don’t know, maybe.  He might be sitting in his kitchen in Ruxton calling the show before he goes to work.  I don’t know.

RL — How important are the callers?

DF — I think that depends on the subject, but the general answer is “important enough to listen to”. There’s clearly lots of passion about the Ravens in town and I really do enjoy the feedback from people who watch the games the same way I do.  I wish folks had that much interest in the Orioles.  Nestor said something to me a few months ago that was really on-point.  He said, “10 years ago, the role of the sports talk host was to educate the listeners, using our access to the club as a way of providing information that wasn’t otherwise available.  Now, the host is basically a referee, trying to keep some sort of sanity between the callers and the host.”  I thought that was an amazing summary. The callers want their opinion to be respected.  You can hear it in their voice. They put a lot of thought into what they’re saying. Sometimes, I really think the people who call in feel like they might know more than the coaches and players.  But for sure, callers have definitely become much more savvy over the years.  Much more educated.”

RL — I think it’s safe to say you’re one of the few people in town who lets the callers have their say, even though others listening to the show might wonder why you’re allowing them such freedoms.

DF — Sometimes I wonder why I’m allowing them such freedoms, so I get it.  I remember an interesting statement Marilyn Manson made during the interview with Bill O’Reilly.  O’Reilly questioned Manson about his “bizarre get-up and weird presentation” and Manson said something like — “well, everyone makes a presentation in some sort of way…you (O’Reilly) are making a presentation dressed in your suit and tie…you want people to believe you’re a professional.”  I think sports talk callers are like that.  Some are calling to have a question answered.  Some are calling in to give their opinion and have it validated by the host. Some are calling in to question a strategy of the coaching staff.  And some are calling in as fans of other teams to try and get listeners angry.  Everyone’s making a presentation of some sort.  And I feel like they should be allowed to make whatever presentation they want as long as they’re not putting me or the station in jeopardy of punishment from the FCC.  (Please see next page)