The Channel 9 news team can turn up the airconditioners again - sportscaster Mike Wolfe has been given his walking papers.
The 39-year-old Wolfe, who made the unbuttoned shirt and a love-it-or-leave-it broadcast style his trademarks in the year since he replaced the popular Warner Wolfe at WTOP, will continue his telecasts of the Washington Bullets' basketball games until the end of the season, including the playoffs.
According to Wolfe, he was notified by WTOP management last WSednesday that they "were not pleased by (his) performance" and that he didn't fit into plans for a revamping of the situation's TV sports team. Last Friday's appearance was his last as a regular week-night sportscaster for the station.
WTOP news director Jim Snyder said yesterday the abrupt cancellation of Wolfe's two-year contract, which had until December of this year to run, with a third-year option, was "by mutual agreement."
However, Wolfe said yesterday the dismissal "seemed a little sudden. The ratings dumped ane I'm being made the scapegoat."
In the most recent Arbitron and Nielsen ratings, Channel 9 maintained its early evening news lead over WMAL and WRC, but its audience share in the competing 6 to 7 p.m. time slot had dropped in comparison to recent surveys. In addition, Wmal news enjoys a narrow lead at 11 p.m. over its rivals.
Wolfe, who came to WTOP in December 1975 after a career on Denver radio as a sportscaster said that in his "own personal opinion," the reason for the dismissal followed his refusal three weeks ago to wear a coat and tie on the air.
"It's clear they'd have liked to make me over in their image," Wolfe said, but "I'm my own man, like in the Paul Anka song, 'I Did It My Way.'"
Although one Channel 9 executive admitted there had been "some audience resistance" to Wolfe's macho onair style, the sportscaster insisted yesterday he didn't think that was a major factor.
"Lots of people didn't agree with my opinions," he said, "but the sports community received me as well as could have been expected and respected my opinions right or wrong.
"I think I did a good job," Wolfe said. "You know, in January the station gave me what was in effect a $25,000 bonus. My football show last fall with Sonny (judgensen) did better than Warner's did. I think they're just a little inconsistent." His annual salary reportedly exceeded $50,000.
Wolfe said yesterday, "At this juncture I am (already) employed in another city," which he said he cannot reveal at this time.
However, he said, "I'm a competitor. I didn't say this with malice but I wouldn't mind putting myself in a position in this market where I could compete with this organization. I'd prefer to stay in the Washington market."
The departure of Wolfe immediately sparked speculation about the eventual return of Warner Wolf. Warner Wolf left WTOP last March after a highly successful seven-year run to begin a two-year contract with ABC Sports. He is also the 6 p.m. week-night sportscaster at that network's New York station, WABC-TV.
WTOP has first call on Wolf's services if he returns to this market, under terms of his settlement with the station last year.
Synder said yesterday he is "operating on the principle that Warner is committed heart and soul to being a network sportscaster for the foreseeable future. In no way do I consider our current lineup of talent a holding operation until he's available again."
Wolf, contacted in New York, said he was sorry that Mike Wolfe had been dismissed. "I hate to see anybody lose a job." But he said the move did not affect his current status with ABC. "Tell the people in Washington I miss them," he added.
Snyder said yesterday that newcomer Glenn Brenner, a former Philadelphia Phillies' farmhand and Philadelphia sportscaster, will probably take over the bulk of Wolfe's weeknight assignments.
But he insisted that Jurgensen, WTOP radio sportscaster Frank Herzog and Jean Fugett, the Redskin who is starting an off-season career with WTOP, will share the week-night sports, too. Herzog will take over Brenner's weekend chores, according to Snyder.