Top 10: Dialing up the best in Washington sports radio

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By Leonard Shapiro
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

With such a great response to our top 10 list of the all-time best Washington lead television sports anchors of the last 40 years, it seems perfectly logical to rile up the readership again with the top 10 local radio sports broadcasters since 1970.

Before getting to that list, however, I wanted to further clarify the reasoning for placing Warner Wolf in the No. 1 position ahead of George Michael (No. 2) and Glenn Brenner (No. 3), both the top choice of many respondents, in last week's TV anchor list.

Plainly put, Wolf was the first local sportscaster to make extensive use of videotaped highlights in his nightly reports. The late George Michael, in fact, once told me that Wolf's shows on Channel 9 were essentially the prototype for what he began doing himself when he arrived at Channel 4 in 1980. Wolf was the pioneer in this market in the early 1970s, and in many ways nationally as well, and that's why he was named No. 1.

Several readers also e-mailed to recall some of the more forgettable lead sports anchors we've had to endure over the last four decades, names like Dave "The Mouth" Sheehan, Mike Wolf (no relation to Warner), and the not-so-great Duane Dow, among others.

I was reminded about Dow by one viewer who remembered that Dow actually criticized the media after playing a clip of former DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten moaning about the press his team had just faced. Of course that was a full-court press the coach was talking about, not the sportswriters.

But I digress. Time to shift over to the radio dial for one man's top 10 choices over the last 40 years. By the way, this list does not include baseball broadcasters Jon Miller and the late Chuck Thompson, two of the all-time greats we heard locally for years on Orioles broadcasts pre-Washington Nationals. They were employed by the team for its flagship Baltimore station, and ineligible for this list. Thompson already is in the broadcaster wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Miller should be there soon enough. That's a pretty impressive list, too.

10. The Junkies. That's right sports fans, the ignorant moron is actually going to say something nice for a change about the boys from Bowie. While their show has never been on my personal must-listen list, they've obviously developed an intensely loyal audience for their four-guys-in-a-bar banter now heard every morning on WJFK-FM. Still wish they'd clean up the language a bit and ease off on the sexist and often sophomoric humor, but give them plenty of credit for attracting decent guests, staying on the air for 15 years and still commanding impressive ratings, especially in the younger demographics.

9. Doc Walker. The former Redskins tight end has carved out a nice niche for himself, whether hosting his own show or now reprising his role as the co-host for John Thompson's afternoon show on ESPN 980. Walker has never been shy expressing an opinion on anything, often going toe-to-toe with Thompson and more than occasionally taking on the Redskins, even if Dan Snyder does own the station that employs him. He's also frequently on television, either in the studio or covering college games on regional cable. A very busy and talented fellow.

8. Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban. The main hosts for the Sports Reporters, also on ESPN 980, offer up dueling personalities in a boiler-plate sports talk format, covering all the topical issues of the day in afternoon drive time. In the spirit of full disclosure, Pollin and I were co-authors of a recent non-best-selling book of Washington D.C. sports lists. A native of Montgomery County, he's extremely knowledgeable on most local sports franchises and college programs and usually the voice of reason on the show. And no one on the air in this town knows more about the Redskins past, or present. Czaban purposely pushes the envelope (enough already with the NBA conspiracy theories) and can go off on wacky tangents, but he definitely makes it fun.

7. Warner Wolf. More pioneer stuff that only readers of a certain age will remember. Here's why, from a recent Wolf e-mail. "In September, 1965, I was doing news on WTOP [radio] and the president of the station, John Hayes, came up to me and said 'I hear you know sports. We're going to try something new in the market. It's called talk radio. Do you think you can talk to sports fans on the radio?' Eleven years later, I was still doing the show. It was called "Sports Call." I was also lucky enough to do play-by-play of Maryland football and basketball and Senators baseball. But the most important career assignment was without question the nightly sports talk show on the radio."

6. Tony Roberts. He's been "The Voice" of a wide variety of college and professional teams, including the last play-by-play man for the old Washington Senators before they bolted for Texas. He also was the radio voice for the Washington Bullets and Navy football before going national handling radio play-by-play on Notre Dame football for 26 years, until his controversial and totally unwarranted dismissal by Westwood One after the 2005 season. Roberts also covered sports for several Washington radio stations for many years, as well as Westwood One, which sent him to five different Olympic Games over the course of a brilliant broadcasting career.

5. Ron Weber. The original voice of the Washington Capitals, he was in the radio booth for every single game between the team's inaugural 1974-75 season (all 67 losses, an NHL record) until his premature "retirement" mandated by team owner Abe Pollin after the 1996-97 season when the team moved from the old Capital Centre to its current downtown location. Weber called more than 2,000 games, almost always working solo without a color analyst, and was a cult hero to several generations of Washington hockey fans. On the night my youngest child was born, Weber was on the air for seven hours and four minutes doing the call of the Capitals infamous seven-overtime playoff loss to the N.Y. Islanders. "I always feared my legacy would be that I worked that entire game without ever going to the bathroom," he once said. Not to worry Ron. The legacy was nearly a quarter-century of inspired play-by-play of the town's favorite and still star-crossed hockey team. And now he has won the 2010 Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, awarded annually to a TV or radio broadcaster during the Hockey Hall of Fame Induction weekend.

4. Ken Beatrice. For 23 years, first on WMAL Radio and over the last five with WTEM, the New England native with the pronounced Boston accent held court on his daily sports talk show. He had an encyclopedic memory for obscure stats and arcane trivia and there were times when he tended to embellish just a bit, particularly when it came to college players soon to be drafted by the NFL. One local columnist once boasted about calling Beatrice anonymously to ask him about a fictitious linebacker. The columnist said Beatrice offered height, weight and time in the 40 yard dash, and even remarked on the lad's upper body strength. Still, he could be highly entertaining, was particularly respectful of kids who called in and did a memorable long-running commercial for Arby's, even if a heart problem prevented him from partaking in the curly fries or the Jamoca shakes. "You're Next" was his trademark greeting, and we all knew he didn't have "the sources or the resources" to scout high school players.

3. Tony Kornheiser. The long-time Washington Post sports columnist made his radio debut with a talk show on the old WTEM and it became an immediate success with his eclectic mix of sports, politics, entertainment and other news of the day, not to mention his vast knowledge of rock and roll. Mr. Tony, now on regularly on ESPN 980, has milked that Long Island neurotic act for years, and his acerbic, occasional woe-is-me wit has never worn thin, at least with this listener, also a semi-neurotic former Long Islander of long-standing. Kornheiser may have the smartest so-called sports talk show in America, mostly because he rarely has athletes on as guests. So what if he's been in the tank for Norv Turner, Joe Gibbs and Gary Williams, among others. As long as you can hear Abbe Lowell on the law, Howard Fineman on politics, Lisa de Moraes on television and James Carville on all things Louisiana, how cool is that?

2. Frank, Sonny and Sam. That would be Frank Herzog, Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff, the long-time trio on Redskins games on the radio until Herzog sadly was replaced in 2005, for no apparent reason. Huff, the former Giants Hall of Fame middle linebacker, got there first in '75, followed by play-by-play man Herzog in '79 and Jurgensen, the Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback, in 1981. Herzog's call of "Touchdown, Washington Redskins" is an NFL classic, and the back-and-forth banter/bicker between the three men over the course of a 3 ½ hour broadcast was almost always worth the price of admission, considering it was all free anyway. Yes, there were times when they rooted far too hard for the home team, but in the recent lean years, both Huff and Jurgensen have had no qualms about biting the hand that feeds them -- specifically station and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Larry Michael, Herzog's replacement and a team vice president, has been competent enough, but the old chemistry just hasn't been the same since Herzog's been gone.

1. Johnny Holliday. What hasn't he done in the Washington broadcasting market? Best known these days as the radio voice of Maryland football and basketball since 1979, Holliday is a man with a mouth in perpetual motion, also now gainfully employed handling Washington Nationals studio shows on MASN. Holliday has plenty more on his sterling resume, including stints as a top 40, big city disc jockey, WMAL radio sportscaster, sports anchor for the ABC Radio network, announcer for "This Week With David Brinkley" on ABC television and the former host of "Hullabaloo," that 1960s NBC musical variety show classic, as well as "The Roger Miller Show," also on NBC. Best of all, the man can also act, sing and dance, has performed in more than 30 shows on the local dinner and regional theater circuit and once was nominated for a prestigious Helen Hayes best actor award for performance in "Me and My Gal." If that's doesn't make him No. 1, what would?

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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