Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban opened their Sports Reporters program on ESPN 980 Tuesday afternoon by talking about the elephant in the room: the fact that their show will soon go off the air, to be replaced by “The Drive, with Cooley and Czabe.” Pollin — who remains with Red Zebra Broadcasting while he mulls his next career step — began by presenting the news to their listeners.
“This radio station made an announcement today, if you’ve not heard,” he said. “Come August 1st, there will be a newly named show in this spot, fortunately featuring one of us, Steve Czaban, who will work with Chris Cooley….They’re shuffling the deck here. I have not relinquished my sports director title. So while I’m disappointed to be leaving this particular show, which I’ve co-hosted now for 14 years, I’m looking forward to what Chris Cooley will bring to the station, and whatever new challenges [there] might be for me here.”
“Thirteen years, three ownership groups, six program directors, two buildings, five engineers, a flooded control room,” Czaban remembered. “We have been through so much together, and I’ve enjoyed absolutely every minute of it, not just you but all of our rotating guests who have come in as the third wheel sports reporter….You are the most professional radio person I’ve ever been with….And it’s been a great run. I know that you have plenty left in you, and you have more things you’re going to do in the market.
“Your knowledge of Redskins history and games and people and players is irreplaceable. It’s the deepest mental archive in the market. And more importantly, you have presided in front of this microphone [during] all of the little mini dramas involving the teams, coaches, athletes, players in this city, and that’s what sports radio is about. It’s there to chronicle the nonsense that goes on….That is going to be impossible to replace.”
“Well, I hope I’m not replaced,” Pollin quipped. “I hope to be here for another 21 years….And your new show is going to be great. Chris Cooley is very good.”
I chatted with Czaban earlier in the day, and he told me many of the same things he said on-air: that he loved working with Pollin, that he never agitated for a change in the show’s format, and that Pollin’s “depth of knowledge of local sports is unparalleled,” and that “part of me feels very disappointed that it’s coming to an end, because it was a great time working with him. But what are you gonna do? It’s radio.”
“I thought the show we did was great: intelligent, professional, and I had no intentions of not continuing to do it,” Czaban said. “That was a station call, that they wanted to change things up. And Andy knows as well as I do, or anybody in the business, how radio works. We have both talked for quite a while that at some point they might split us up, or can one of us, or can us both, who knows. Andy is well aware of how the industry works.”
Still, Czaban said he was excited to work with Cooley, who he’s known since filming an 18-hold round of golf with the tight end about five years ago. They golfed again recently, discussing the prospects of this new show, and Cooley impressed Czaban with his thoughts on John Wall and the Wizards, which “showed me a level of sports fandom that I might not have known existed in Chris,” Czaban said.
“I think Chris has the potential to be great, and I don’t toss that word around lightly,” Czaban continued. “I think the potential is there, and I’d like to help make that happen. Suffice it to say, if they said it was gonna be the Rod Gardner Show, then I would not be involved with it. But with Chris, his popularity in the fanbase, his commitment to being in the market and his various interests, I think he could be a very good radio host.”
I also asked whether Czaban expects the show’s mix of topics to become more football-centric with a former Redskins player in the studio.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Listeners will perceive what they want to perceive, which is what listeners always do. I think there’ll be a perception that we’re talking more Redskins, but I don’t think it will change in any meaningful way.”