Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston – @mikeinboston – hatemailaccount /gmail /com

 

I have a bunch of things in the queue to discuss but those will have to wait since this was a busy week in Toronto sports radio news. Hopefully people will still want to talk about the Sterling saga and Mark Cuban’s comments by next weekend.

 

The two big stories are: 1) Brady’s very candid appearance on Toronto Mike’s podcast, and 2) Dean Blundell’s try-out by the FAN as Blair’s co-host.

 

Jim Lang Speaks

 

Not much backstory is needed here. Brady & Lang replaced Andrew Krystal in 2011 and remained in that slot until fall 2013, when Lang was let go. Andrew Walker was brought in on a trial basis and has been Brady’s co-host ever since. After listening to the Toronto Mike podcast I reached out to Jim Lang to see if he would like to set the record straight on his time with Brady and the end of his tenure on the FAN’s morning show. Here is his reply.

 

JL: Before I respond to your questions let me make one thing perfectly clear, Greg Brady is one of the most talented broadcasters I have ever worked with. Bar none. When Greg is in a zone he is one of the best this country has to offer. And yes, sometimes even better than Bob McCown. A few months before he started at the Fan while he was still at 640 Greg did a 5 minute commentary on the passing of Ernie Harwell. It was good as anything I had ever heard on Toronto sports radio. So while some may not like Greg and his style at times, you can’t question the man’s talent. I don’t, and I was glad to have the opportunity to work with him as long as I did.

 

Q: A commenter claimed that you left the morning show for family reasons. Is that true?

 

JL: In no way, shape or form did I quit. I have never quit a job in my life. The date was Monday, September 9th, 2013. We had just finished the morning show and we made our way over to Don Kollins office for our usual post-show meeting. Don asked Greg, Andrew and everyone else involved in the show to sit in a boardroom and wait. Then Don called me into his office and broke the news.

 

Don was a complete professional about the whole thing and could not have been more empathetic about what he was doing. Goodness knows Don and I didn’t always agree on everything, but I will always be grateful how well he treated me in the dismissal process and the usual legal issues and paperwork that come with these kind of moves. Don also taught me some things about the craft of being a good broadcaster that I also greatly appreciate. As I understand it, after I left, he went into the boardroom and broke the news to everyone.

 

Now is my family happier that I am not on the Fan morning show anymore? Yes they are. Staying up until 11:30PM to watch an over-time playoff game then getting up at 4AM to drive downtown to work is a killer. But my wife was always very supportive and never once pressured me at all to make a change. So to make a long story short, no, I did not quit for family reasons.

 

Q: Brady cited a lack of chemistry between you two. Was that your impression as well?

 

I listened to what Greg had to say and I can’t really disagree with any of his theories why there was a parting of the ways. Greg used the analogy of a band splitting up for artistic differences and in this case, it fits. My idea of sports radio and Greg’s idea were different. Anyone who listened to us could hear that we had very different on air styles and a different way of getting results.

 

Greg was also correct in his assessment that, at the end, the show just wasn’t clicking the way it could or should have. That isn’t a reflection of the talent of either one of us, it was more of a case that the time of the two of us working together, as Greg noted, had run its course. It happens in radio, life, marriage and business. You deal with it and move on. I know I have and so has Greg. I enjoyed my time there and, most days, loved working with Greg on the show.

 

But by the end I knew Greg wasn’t totally happy with the sound and the direction of the show. That causes tension and when you are part of an all-sports morning show that tension is a killer. You are sleep deprived to begin with and juggling a family, life and the stresses of trying to host what you hope is a successful morning show can weigh on you. Greg mentioned that he is happy now and find the chemistry that he has with Andrew is better. That’s good. That is the way it should be.

 

I am the morning man at a new FM station based in Markham, 105.9 The Region. I know what it means to have good chemistry. It makes the pain up getting up at 4:15AM every day so much easier and it makes it a lot more fun to come into work.

 

The best way to sum it all up would be Michael Corleone’s line from the “Godfather” – It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business. That is all this was. A business decision that Don Kollins and the Fan felt was in the best interest of the morning show and the station. In this business decisions like that happen all the time. I was more than fairly compensated for my time on the show and I like to think there was a segment of the audience who like what I did and liked my style.

 

The cold hard reality of this business is not everyone is going to like you. Usually 40% of the audience likes you, 40% hates you and remaining 20% are indifferent but they listen anyway. As Greg also pointed out in the podcast our ratings were solid. I like to think I played a role in those ratings. So I left the show with my head held high and proud of the work we did there.

 

—-

 

Pretty classy and forthright response by Jim. I wish him all the best in his new venture. You can follow him @jimlangsports

 

Morning Radio

 

We’ve discussed the peculiar nature of morning radio a lot on this site. I am not its target audience. I’m not stuck in the car, I don’t need to be caught up on the top stories from last night, and I don’t need news and weather updates. So I am not part of either 40% or the 20% that Jim mentions when it comes to the current offerings on TSN and the FAN. That said, I have listened to the morning shows occasionally in order to stay on top of things for this site.

 

As I am typing this on Friday, Mike Richards is reading from the phone book and doing a Donald Trump impression. How this show has an audience, I can’t understand. I thought hiring him was a huge mistake by TSN … essentially Krystal 2.0. But I have been proven wrong so far, and TSN has committed to him for another 3 years. He has managed to find an audience and seems to be growing it. In my opinion, the show is unlistenable.

 

Down the dial, my recollection of Brady & Lang was that one person did a lot of yelling and the other person tried to calm him down. So I agree with Jim that he and Brady have different styles and theories concerning what makes for good radio. The pairing of Brady & Walker has a much faster pace, but as TSM ranted about, this is not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

When I tuned in this week I was surprised to learn that Walker does the updates as well as co-host the show. Was that true of Lang as well? (Someone please fill me in). I think this confirms something that was palpable during the Brady & Lang days: the station views the morning show as Brady & a supporting cast. Personally, I think that’s a little unfair to his co-host — how can you hold your own on the show when there’s a clear statement to the audience that you’re not equals? That said, I think Walker does a good job handling Brady. I suspect his time with Mike Richards in Calgary prepared him well for his current gig.

 

It will be interesting to see if Richards’ show gives back audience share or continues to grow against Brady & Walker in the next couple of years. I doubt the ratings have changed much as a result of the new pairing — people who liked Lang aren’t going to run to Richards, and people who dislike Brady aren’t going to come back to listen to Walker —  but I’ve been wrong about Richards’ appeal so who knows.

 

Overall, neither Lang nor Walker have generated a lot of response on this site. By contrast, Brady does seem to fit the 40/40/20 model: the most common complaints are that he is loud and aggressive, and many people find his Detroit references nauseating. As someone who doesn’t listen often it’s hard for me to evaluate Brady fairly. He was the star of the Brady & Watters show, but that had more to do with Bill’s penchant for complete and utter incoherence. It was not hard to shine against that backdrop. I have no real memory of the short lifespan of the Greg Brady Show from 1-3pm before he moved to mornings. But he’s clearly the lead on the morning show, and that has remained true in the transition from Lang to Walker.

 

Here are my questions for you this weekend: do you listen to one or the other morning show or do you start listening/podcasting later in the day? If you do listen to morning radio, which show and why?

 

Dean Blundell joins the FAN

 

Warning: I have a lot of thoughts on this move by the FAN as well as the media coverage of Blundell’s return to radio. Now might be a good time to get a 2nd cup of coffee.

 

Blundell made his debut this week on the Jeff Blair show. He’s being billed as a special guest host but there is a possibility that this will become a full-time gig. My first reaction on hearing the news was that Blair & Blundell might actually be a good match, given Blair’s history of making racially offensive remarks. I listened to the thursday debut of Blundell live, and one thing is obvious: he is very easy on the ears — smooth, even, and very professional in his delivery.

 

Who is Dean Blundell and how did he end up at the FAN? The short answer is that he hosted a morning show on Toronto music station 102.1 for 13 years. He was fired on January 6th of this year as a result of homophobic comments he made on the air.

 

Let’s start with Don Kollins’ decision to hire Blundell. There are a lot of angles to this move. Recent ratings suggest that Blair’s show is not really thriving, and so the decision to bring in a co-host makes sense. There may be a silent majority who love the Blair show, but people here have commented that Blair’s reliance on call-in segments as well as his tendency to stammer and interrupt himself and others make the show eminently missable. Macko & Cauz over on TSN Radio provide a decent alternative. So, hiring a co-host is totally understandable as a business move.

 

Damian Goddard, Yunel Escobar, Mike Toth. What do all these names have in common? They were all let go by Rogers for making remarks that were deemed offensive, either to women or to gays. Rogers has a track record of cutting ties with people who bring negative attention to the company by making controversial remarks. We could debate the merits of each of those cases individually some other time, but for present purposes the differences don’t matter much.

 

This is what makes the Blundell hire puzzling. Bob McCown (and others) very publicly called for Yunel’s expulsion from the organization following Yunel’s use of a gay slur on his eye black. (I wrote about this a while back). So hiring a shock jock who was fired for homophobic remarks doesn’t fit with Roger’s corporate image. I contacted Don Kollins for a comment but he did not reply.

 

Simon Houpt, The Globe’s senior media writer, was all over this story. He published two pieces this week. The first was a profile of Blundell, and the second was a report on his new job at the FAN. I strongly recommend reading both before reading on.

 

There are some noteworthy aspects in both of Houpt’s stories. At the time of his comments, Blundell issued a public statement apologizing for his homophobic remarks and acknowledging them as such. But, in his profile Houpt quotes Blundell as saying “The company hired a crisis-management company and said: We need you to read this on air. I said, I don’t want to read it; I didn’t write that, that’s not from me, and I don’t find the comments homophobic. And they said: Read it.”

 

Houpt’s story is a profile, so it is not aiming to offer opinion or commentary. So let me break down this quote. Blundell tried to appease his employer by reading a statement with which he disagreed. Presumably he did this in order to keep his job, since if he felt strongly enough about it he could have refused to read it. He was fired anyway. Houpt described Blundell’s admission as one given under “duress” but I’m not buying that. He was free to stand by his principles and read some other comment, or he was free to say nothing. Further, if the duress was “say this or get fired” then presumably he would still be employed.

 

Now, since Blundell doesn’t understand why his comments are homophobic, let me explain. When discussing the case of a gay man being sentenced to 5 years in prison, Blundell said: “All I know is that you have damned a man to five of the greatest years of his life.”

 

The implication is the following. The guy who was sentenced is gay. As a gay man he likes gay sex. In prison, he will be raped by men. Since he likes gay sex, he will enjoy being raped by men. That’s why those years will be great for him.

 

The stereotype that Blundell was playing off is that gay men only care about sex. That’s why it is homophobic. (Dean: you’re welcome to contact me if I missed some aspect of the joke). See, people like you and me would not enjoy being raped, but gays love gay sex so much that they’d enjoy it even if it was not consensual.

 

If you’re not already convinced that this is a horrible comment, consider the following parallel claim: men shouldn’t be convicted for raping slutty women. They clearly like sex, so what’s the problem?

 

I have no idea whether Blundell dislikes gay people. Only his friends and colleagues can speak to that. The comment is more dumb than it is hateful. But that’s sort of irrelevant. The comment is patently offensive to gays, and to anyone who cares about the civil equality of homosexuals and thus wants to eliminate the social acceptability of anti-gay rhetoric.

 

In his second piece, Houpt quotes Rogers VP Julie Adam: “Rogers has a zero tolerance in regards to discrimination, and our track record speaks to that, and we wouldn’t have him in if we felt there was going to be any risk to our reputation regarding that.”

 

I don’t see how this claim can be sincere, unless Julie Adam agrees with Blundell that his comments were totally unproblematic. I don’t think that’s what she thinks. Rather, the truth is that by hiring Blundell you ARE risking your reputation. In fact, in hiring Blundell it looks like Rogers is OK with hosts who have a track record of homophobic and misogynistic comments as long as there is a potential for ratings gains. (If I’m Goddard, I’m asking for my job back.)

 

All of these issues are left hanging in Houpt’s article. He’s the closest thing we have to a media critic at one of the major newspapers and this is a huge media story that goes beyond sports, so I was hoping either for more balance or for more opinion from his articles.

 

When you read both of them together, they seem to be pushing a redemption angle for Blundell. See for example: in the first piece Blundell is quoted praising the FAN (recall — this is before he was announced as joining them). This makes it seem like part of the point of the piece was to help Blundell lobby for a job. In the second piece Houpt says that “critics” of Blundell will be “disappointed” to hear that he might return to radio full-time. To refer to people who find homophobic rape jokes offensive as “critics” (why not just call them “haters” and be done with it) is a tad disingenuous. The subtext of Houpt’s articles, to my eyes at least, was clear: welcome back Dean Blundell! I’m curious if others disagree with me about this.

 

Blundell spoke credibly about sports during the segments I heard. I’m sure he will do well in his new role as long as he can keep his desire to offend in check. After 13 years of trying to shock people, I wonder how he will deal with being told by Rogers to be someone he’s not. That said, I think this is an unfortunate move for Rogers. I wonder what kind of feedback they will get from advertisers. I’m also disappointed about the endless recycling in Canadian sports radio. Rather than hiring someone new and fresh who has worked his or her way up, Rogers has chosen retrograde motion.

 

Toronto Mike covered the end of the Blundell show in depth on his site. I asked him for his thoughts about the hire: “Dean Blundell’s family ties to Rogers [are] well documented. I’m not surprised this opportunity opened up. I’ll be surprised if he continues with his podcast considering how public he was with his belief podcasting is for losers.”

 

I also reached out to the always insightful Chris Zelkovich, who had this to say: “Blundell may know sports, but the big question is: Does he know sports radio? The FAN tried this kind of thing a few years ago with shock jock Andrew Krystal and it was pretty much a disaster. Krystal was who he was and couldn’t really adapt to the sports format. That’s the big challenge for Blundell. If he can tone it down, he might make it. But if he resorts to his usual MO, he won’t be around long.”

 

Questions for you: What do you think about this move? Does Blundell’s past matter or not? Will this make you more likely to listen to Jeff Blair? Is Blundell being groomed to take over the morning show?

 

as always, thanks for reading and commenting

until next time …

mike (in boston)

 

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