We heard a rumor that Yannick Noah, the tennis player, this week was referred to on WRC radio as Yannick Noah.
A quick phone call to the station explained why. Morris Siegel has been on vacation.
Siegel, from whose treacherously jagged larynx sprung the recent misnomer "Noah Yannick," to no one's surprise, seems to have found a comfortable niche at last for his sports-related rumblings. The longtime columnist, whose writings have in the past graced the pages of The Washington Star, Post and Daily News, is 59, and "bad with names" (as a coworker put it). He also is not particularly precise in areas other than his specialties--namely, football for those who love the Redskins, baseball for those who miss the Senators, and basketball for those who remember that the Washington Caps wasn't always the name of a hockey team. He also coughs into the microphone.
But that's okay -- in a cranky, slightly off-center way, Siegel's live sportscasts on WRC-980 (6 to 9 a.m.) put his roguish bullfrog persona to work better than television used to. TV was too fussy about details, hair styles and posture, anyway. At WRC -- where morning show host Mike Cuthbert has instructions (Siegel says) never to ask him, "How are you?" before 7:15 -- Siegel can be himself.
"The Capitals lead the NHL in ties, or they're tied with somebody for ties," he said on the air recently. "That's silly, having a tie game, that's -- nobody wins, nobody loses and only the customers get bilked 'cause they went to see somebody win or lose . . . "
That's easy for him to say.
WRC sent him to Hawaii this week to be there when the Maryland Terrapins meet the Washington Huskies in the Aloha Bowl. Imagine him saying the following if he'd been sent down with cameras and a union crew:
"Oh, I'm not going to the game," he said from his hotel. "I'll do about 15 tapes and send 'em in to the station. We don't even have a sportscast on Saturdays, and . . . when's the game--Saturday?"
"I'll go play golf," said Siegel, who also has done local TV and covered Maryland in the Sugar Bowl 30 years ago.
"The Aloha Bowl," Siegel growls, unenthused. "I tell you, the greatest story out here -- nobody really cares who wins this game -- right now is the Maryland player (Bobby Gunderman) who wound up on the flight to Caracas . . . "
He laughs. He says he has it all on tape.
"Radio's the nearest thing to newspapering that I know of," he said later. "You can write for radio. On television, everything depends on the picture they're going to use. You can get cute on the radio, you're all alone, you don't have 78 guys telling you which camera to look into . . . "
Cuthbert introduced the first sportscast of a Monday morning not long ago by saying: "You picked Dallas to win that one yesterday, and they certainly did, didn't they, Morrie?"
Siegel's snappy rejoinder: "Pardon? I have a headache . . . "
Later in the day, Siegel renamed GW basketball Coach Gerry Gimelstob "Gary Gimelstob," and Chicago Bulls forward Quintin Dailey became "Quentin Bailey."
"I don't remember the first names always," Siegel said. Finally, this from Jerry Nachman, the WRC general manager who hired Siegel in June (and who had not yet been told Siegel would be on the golf course at kickoff):
"There are two guys who are profoundly important in sports broadcasting; their delivery transcends the content," Nachman said. "I'm talking about Howard Cosell and Warner Wolf. Most of the population can't tell the difference between an I formation and an eye round, really. What these guys do is, by whatever means -- ranging from controversy to bombast to gimmickry -- is take a group much larger than the maybe 25 percent who are sports aficionados, and make it happen for them.
"I consider Mo Siegel that kind of broadcaster," he said.