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Of Fans and Fanboys

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(AP photo/Stephen B. Morton) (AP photo/Stephen B. Morton)

I'm a sports fan.

I've probably been one since I was about seven and my mom bought me a root beer and a bag of Humpty Dumpty chips to enjoy while watching the Saturday Baseball Game of the Week. I grew up following Yaz and the Sox, Hondo and the Celtics, Orr and the Bruins, and (I apologize in advance) Fran Tarkenton and the New York Football Giants.

However, I don't root very loudly for anyone these days. But I still enjoy the games - perhaps even more - as I cheer a little less.

You see, I also work in sports media. Specifically, five days a week (and a Best of Downtown Show on Sundays!) as a sports/talk radio host. When the history of modern media is written, I suspect sports/talk hosts will be tucked away in a dark, seldom-spoken-of wing, a space whose occupants also include 1980s Morning Zoo-style radio jocks and late-night television infomercial pitchmen. And it's hard to complain about that - because we've brought it upon ourselves.

There was a time long ago when the people who came into our living rooms on the television and into our cars and kitchens via the radio were expected to be somewhat fair and impartial. The 24-hour cable news boom destroyed all that in television and you could make the case that talk radio, be it sports or politics, did the same for TV's older broadcast brother.

Just as people can tune into the 'news' network that matches their political beliefs and tells them they are right about everything, sports fans have the option to flip on the radio and hear people just like them getting all fired up about their favorite team.

When it comes to sports radio, being a fan somehow became de rigueur - particularly if you could be described as a 'passionate' fan of your hometown team. This, of course, led to arguments, as it would in any bar in America when fans of different teams tried to find common ground. I don't mind that so much when I'm drinking a beer, but it's not my cup of tea when it comes to the radio.

When did people arguing become entertainment? How does a bunch of guys (and it is almost ALWAYS guys) shouting at each other elevate the conversation?

Truth be told, I don't listen to much sports radio for that very reason. Nor do I partake of the 'embrace debate' blather that ESPN spits out on a regular basis. Frankly (and this might well get me kicked out of the sports/talk hosts club), I'd rather listen to NPR. And I do.

The best sports show on radio, for my money, is Bill Littlefield's 'Only A Game.' His show is a tribute to what sport should be, telling the stories of the people who play for the love of the game, as well as gently poking a finger in the eye of the self-important pro and college games.

The model for our 'Downtown' was Tony Kornheiser's brilliant Washington-based ESPN show, before he turned to wearing silly masks and having faux arguments with Michael Wilbon. His radio program treated big-time sports as an amusement and never had athletes as guests because they tended to spout the standard mind-numbing 'Crash Davis-esque' quotes; the show featured smart people who talked about books, movies, music and television, understanding that they are all forms of entertainment and not life or death.

That doesn't mean my way is best; in the big cities where sports radio does well in the ratings, the screaming and shouting absolutely still rules the day. But my personal approach is that my job is to serve as a conduit for information. I try to talk to people who know more than I do; people who have better access to players, coaches, and owners and can help anyone listening (including me) form a somewhat more intelligent opinion. When the mic is on, I try to hang my fan hat on the wall, because the last thing the world (and radio) needs is one more guy arguing about why his team is the best.

I think there's a place for fans and it's not on the radio. It's in the stands or in that comfy chair, watching the game and maybe enjoying a root beer and a bag of Humpty Dumpty chips. Try the All Dressed flavor they're awesome.

(Rich Kimball is the host of the 'Downtown with Rich Kimball' radio show, which airs from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday on The Pulse AM 620.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 May 2016 12:01

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