The two supreme laws of Washington, D.C., sports talk shows are these: there is still no substitute for knowing how fast the Ouachita Baptist tight end can run the 40, and it doesn't hurt to stay on the sunny side of Sugar Ray.
The Ouachita law is proven each weeknight by WMAL's Ken Beatrice. He lived through a career crisis earlier this year when critics questioned the authenticity of some of his information. But he does have smarts, and that's essential for a sports talker. The very depth of his knowledge keeps him king of the hill.
For support of the Sugar Ray Leonard law we turn to one former talk show host, Harold Bell of WYCB-FM, and a current talker, Rock Newman of WOL. Bell contends he was fired last month because he criticized Leonard for supposedly ignoring his community roots. Meanwhile, Newman has thrived by turning his show into a kind of Ray Leonard booster club.
Bell, whose Friday night talk show and weekday sports reports were excellent, says he was fired the day after the Leonard-Tommy Hearns fight because he focused on "tension" within Leonard's camp in Las Vegas. He says he reported that Ray's former trainer, Dave Jacobs, was working for Hearns and that he had heard of arguments within Leonard's entourage.
"Leonard the Man: Pro or Con?" had been a popular debate in Washington's black community before Bell was fired. Newman mapped out a strongly pro-Leonard stance, and his station, WOL, devoted its morning talk show to the issue the day of the fight. Officials of WYCB this week refused to discuss why Bell, now hoping to land a job with the White House Council on Physical Fitness, was sent to the guillotine.
Where does all this lead? To an encyclopedic talker with staunchly loyal adherents at one end of the spectrum, and to a Sugar Ray cheerleader, also with a following, at the other. Herewith, a survey of the three major shows:
Ken Beatrice, WMAL-63, Monday through Friday, 7:05 to 9; Sunday, for three hours after Redskin games.
You don't tune in to Beatrice to be entertained. You tune in first to hear his opinion on everything from football to stock car racing; second to find out how the Bears' linebackers have been playing the run this month, and only third to hear the guy down the street sound off.
Strengths -- A sports talker has to have information aplenty. Beatrice does a phenomenal amount of homework. He is unerringly polite, especially to children. His show, which averages 16 to 18 callers per hour, is faster paced than the others. Never a cheap-shot critic, Beatrice will apportion blame where due. It's time to stop blaming George Allen for trading away draft choices and start questioning Bobby Beathard in this respect, he suggested last week.
Weaknesses -- Although Beatrice is polite, he occasionally talks at callers rather than with them. He also could be more tolerant of dissent. His producer has an annoying habit of turning down the sound on callers when Beatrice is talking.
Phil Wood, WTOP-1500, Tuesday through Saturday, 7:05 to midnight except when Bullets and Capitals games intervene (Saturdays, 6 to midnight). Al Koken, Sunday, 6 to 9, and Monday, 7:05 to midnight.
You do tune in Wood to be entertained, either by his droll wit or by his guests. "Sports Talk" is a far looser show than Beatrice's "Sports Call." It has an off-beat, free-wheeling quality. Trivia is definitely in. "Al and I do what we like," Wood says. "We aren't song-and-dance men, but we aren't professors, either."
Strengths -- The show has a decided baseball and hockey tilt, so for fans of those sports this may be the place to camp. His guests, or at least the subjects they discuss, are intriguing. Retired baseball star Jackie Jensen popped in the other day. So did Mitch Kupchak, unannounced.
Weaknesses -- Wood just isn't as authoritative as Beatrice, and his comments on current-day sports simply aren't as incisive. Wood and Koken like to counter-program, sometimes to an annoying degree. Monday, when everyone else was talking about the Redskins' 0-5 record, Koken was interviewing Gordon Bradley about resurrecting the Diplomats. Wood says he doesn't have many Redskin guests because they all ask for fees.
Rock Newman, WOL-1450, Monday through Friday, 6 to 8; Saturday and Sunday, 7 to 9.
It often seems that 90 percent of Newman's show deals with boxing and that 90 percent of that deals with praise of Sugar Ray. Newman succeeded the more knowledgeable Glenn Harris in July and began the boosterism. Station co-owner Dewey Hughes says Newman's show is of broader community appeal than Harris,' which was "locker-room oriented."
Strengths -- When Newman does move beyond Leonard, his show can be as stimulating as any in town. He conducted a TV sportscasters' poll the other night (George Michael narrowly beat Glenn Brenner). He regularly puts on excellent guests, such as Tony Dorsett or Brent Musburger. One night, Hollywood Henderson talked about his cocaine habit.
Weaknesses -- The Sugar Ray Leonard puffery is relentless. After the fight, Newman cut off Tommy Hearns supporters while delivering lines like "C'mon, man, this is Sugar Ray city!" Generally, the show moves slowly because most callers are allowed to ramble. It's also "cause heavy." Last month, while Newman served as host of a bid whist card convention at Howard University, he devoted entire shows to the "sport."
It's not easy to interrogate men who are failing in their jobs, or even to ask how much longer they'll be able to keep them. So more power to Glenn Brenner, Sonny Jurgensen and others on TV and radio for performing as journalists first and fans second as the Redskins have gone 0-5 . . . Jurgensen and Brenner were hardly out of bounds asking Coach Joe Gibbs about Joe Theismann's judgment, the club's intensity and Gibbs' own job security Monday. It says here that Jurgensen also was right to disagree with Gibbs on the air when the latter insisted the club was hustling . . . George Michael also gets a nod for refusing to swallow the injuries excuse in one mammoth gulp. "Who's to blame?" he asked the other night. "In the opinion of the bagheads (now hiding out in RFK Stadium), you can blame anyone from Jack Kent Cooke to Theismann" . . . On Monday, Beatrice asked Gibbs if he wouldn't rue the day he took out Theismann. He also disagreed with the coach on another subject, saying the Redskins became "totally deflated" Sunday when they fell two touchdowns behind in the first quarter.