Sportscaster Warner Wolf, the man who made "The Boo of the Week" part of the local sports vocabulary, will likely return to WTOP-TV-9 next March, The Washington Post has learned.
Wolf's two-year contracts with the American Broadcasting Company and WABC-TV, the New York affiliate for which he does a nightly sportscast, both expire March 1, and he has not yet been offered renewals.
Reliable industry sources say that Wolf will not be retained by the network and that, given the choice between doing local sportscasts in New York or Washington, he will return to WTOP, the local CBS affiliate.
In 11 years with WTOP-TV, Wolf attained a popularity that no Washington sportscaster before or since was able to achieve. He left to join ABC in March, 1976, after lengthy and sometimes strained negotiations to obtain a release from the last two years of a five-year, $85,000-per-year contract with WTOP.
Wolf's entertaining, boyishly enthusiastic daily sportscasts - usually launched with a heartfelt "Hey, man," one of his verbal trademarks - made him a beloved institution in Washington, but he was unable to create a comparable national following in network assignments.
He was dropped from several "plum" assignments, including Monday Night Baseball and the College Football Scoreboard. In the opinion of most critics, his star as a national broadcaster set before it ever rose.
While Wolf apparently is gaining popularity in the local New York market with his nightly sportscasts, the format that best showcases his talents, indications are that he would rather return to his native Washington than stay in New York if his ABC network contract is not renewed.
Wolf was elevated by WABC-TV three weeks ago grom its 6 o'clock news to the more important 11 p.m. show, apparently with positive results. He will likely be given the option of remaining in that position, but is noncommittal about his plans beyond the term of his current contract.
"I don't know what will happen in March," Wolf said yesterday. "The local news has gone pretty good. I haven't had too many assignments lately on the network, which is the reason I came (to New York). But I'm enjoying the local news. What happens after March, I couldn't tell you."
While it was the lure of national exposure, with its material and ego rewards, that drew Wolf to ABC, he says that he has come to realize that the nightly local sportscast gives him the most personal satisfaction.
"I think the most important lesson I've learned is that I have to have the daily sportscast, whether it be the 6 o'clock or 11 o'clock or both," he said. "It's a release for me, I've got a lot of opinions and views. I've got a lot of things to say, and the only way you can release that is on the daily sportscast. I have to have that.
"So regardless of what network affiliation I have, I need that local outlet, whether it be New York City or Washington. That's important to me, and that's something I didn't realize when I signed with the network. The local thing (in New York) was strictly a throw-in at the last minute, a separate deal."
Asked if, given his druthers, he would prefer to indulge this compulsive used for a nightly forum in Washington or New York, Wolf laughed heartily.
"You know, Washington's my home, we still have a home there," he said, referring to his Potomac house he has wanted out ever since moving to New York with his wife and daughter. "That's hard to answer at this time." I think I'd have a better idea in March.
". . . I will say, in all honestly, that I never left WTOP just to come to New York and do local news, because if that was the case I would have left a long time before," he added. "I was offered the local news in New York as long as three or four years ago, but I always considered WTOP the finest local station in the country, so it was only the network offer that made me leave."